Are You Burying the Lead in Your Presentation?

The other day in Kanda(in Tokyo, Japan), I listening to M-san`s speech.  M-san is elderly man who always has an interesting story to tell. He was presenting on the possibility that Tokugawa Ieyasu had heard about William Shakespeare’s plays. Who would have ever thought that there was a connection to founder of strong and stable government that stretched for more than 265 years and a simply English playwright? The topic was great. The execution was not.

The Execution of Story Idea is What Matters

When it comes to execution there are many factors that count. One of these is how you structure your introduction. The next important factor is how you frame the story. The introduction needs to structured so that people look forward to the end of your roller-coaster ride. These two are key to a good start.
So, let look at M-san`s presentation. His presentation basically followed in the following order:
1) Tokugawa Ieyasu learned about William Shakespeare from Miura Anjin
2)Miura Anjin background and relationship to Tokugawa Ieyasu
3)Miura Anjin gave a lecture to Tokugawa Ieyasu on Shakespeare’s` four great tragedies
4) Tokugawa Ieyasu was very troubled about succession
5) About King Lear, the play, and the problems with succession
6)Research shows that Tokugawa Ieyasu may have been inspired by King Lear

Don`t Bury the Lead

This order simply “buries the lead” or puts the most important details at the end. After listening to 6) I finally figured out how all the pieces fit together and significance of Tokugawa Ieyasu hearing about Shakespeare in first place. Instead of leaving for the very last,  I think it is better to put this first. You can create intrigue and also mention problem at the beginning. After you mention the problem you can go to solution and then later into the details.


Not only is this structure important, but framing is also important. How we frame our speech determines how our audience will perceive it.
So, let look at how it was done, vs what I suggest.
Paraphrase of the Original
Did you know that Tokugawa Ieyasu may have actually heard of William Shakespeare? These two individuals almost lived at the same time, and died in the same year. Two people could never have been further apart, but research has shown that Miura Anjin gave a lecture to Tokugawa Ieyasu about Shakespeare’s plays. Interesting, Isn`t it? …
This frames the information as an interest fact, something would make great trivia shared around a couple of beers on a hot summer night. But if you look at the general outline I mention before there was way more to this story than that. Unfortunately, the story was sold too short. So, let’s reframe this story in the proper perspective.
My Proposal
B) Did you know that recent research has revealed that Tokugawa Ieyasu that may have actually heard of English`s greatest playwright William Shakespeare? Not only, that was this research also revealed that one of William Shakespeare`s play had an effect so profound that it may have changed the course of Japanese history forever.  
Tokugawa Ieyasu had a problem. This problem was not just his problem, but it had been Oda Nobunaga`s, and also Toyotomi Hideyoshi`s.  Neither of these men were able to do a good job with succession. It was only Tokugawa Ieyasu who was able to establish a government that would last for about 265 years. If Tokugawa Ieyasu had fallen in their same footsteps, we never would have had an Edo period. Japan could have ended up just another colony of Europe. 
However, Tokugawa Ieyasu may have found the answer to the succession problem in King Lear, a play written by Shakespeare. …
By telling the story in this way, we set up stakes and the intrigue. Not only is the fact Tokugawa Ieyasu may heard William Shakespeare interesting, but it is also significant. It is significant in that William Shakespeare`s play may have changed the course of history. This a big deal and should not be tacked on in the conclusion. 

The Problem with Traditional Asian Storytelling Structure

However, this kind of problem is not unusual in traditional Asian storytelling. There is a strong tendency to organize like this:


The tendency to follow this structure leads to habit of leaving the best for last. That can be ok, but it much better to pre-view what is coming, so we can create suspense and anticipation. It is ok to follow this structure, but I think you need to very careful about how create your introduction. The best introductions create intrigue, establish the problem, and make it clear to the audience how significant this problem is.

Copy Movie Commercial’s Structure Instead

This is very similar to how most movie commercials are also made. Imagine the most recent movie commercial you have seen. What happened in that commercial? What information was given? What was not given? Most likely you were introduced to the characters, their world, the hero`s problem and significance of that problem. If it was done well, you would want to see more.


So the next time you are thinking about telling an interesting story, please do not stop and be satisfied that you have a great idea. If the idea is so great, please make sure you carefully plan your introduction.  If you deliberately build in intrigue, you state the problem and its significance at the beginning, you will naturally draw more interest. Don`t just save the best for last, but give them a taste of it at the beginning. Believe me your audience will appreciate you all the more for it.

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