Presentation Story Structures: In Media Res

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Welcome back to our narrative arc odyssey! In this article, we’re plunging straight into the heart of the action with the In Medias Res arc. This Latin phrase translates to “in the middle of things”, and that’s precisely where this narrative kicks things off.

What is In Medias Res?

In Medias Res sounds fancy, but it’s pretty simple. In contrast to the five other narrative arcs that start, somewhat predictably, at the beginning of a story, In Medias Res hurls the audience straight into the critical action, the turning point or the story’s climax.

Only after the audience’s curiosity is thoroughly piqued by this tantalising flash of no-context action do we flashback to the backstory and describe the events leading up to the turning point.

Structuring a story, or indeed a presentation, around this narrative arc is a shortcut to attention city. It puts your audience on the edge of their seats – confused, concerned and generally psyched to see how we got where we already are.

Applying In Medias Res in your next deck

When it comes to presentations, especially risky pitches, using In Medias Res is the PowerPoint equivalent of an adrenaline shot straight into your audience’s attention. Instead of beginning with the usual dull intros or perfunctory context-setting, you kick off with a dramatic statement, a shocking statistic, a provocative question or the hottest take you have hiding in the slide-sleeves. Essentially, you open with your presentation’s climax.

Then, once you’ve shocked your audience into giving you their attention you can rewind the narrative and fill in the gaps. Explain the whys and wherefores, the ins and outs, retrofitting rational logic onto what were, in the moment, your emotionally-led decisions.

Towards the end of your deck, you circle back to your initial dramatic intro and reiterate it. Your audience, now armed with the knowledge of how we got to this climax point, will be equipped to appreciate its full impact. Cue a chorus of “ahhhs” and then probably a round of rapturous applause.

In Medias Res in action

You can see some classic examples of the In Medias Res arc in pretty much any news broadcast. Especially from the kind of outlets that rely on shock-factor to make their viewership boom. The anchor leads with a gripping headline or a brief overview of their biggest story (the climax), then only after that initial hook has established attention do they delve into the background details and context.

In business, TED Talk presenters often employ the same tactic. Simon Sinek’s Start With Why talk is a classic example. He begins with a bold, thought-provoking intro. Sinek piques audience interest from the get-go, immediately drawing them into his exploration of inspiring leadership.

Pulp Fiction, the Tarantino classic, is a good example of how In Medias Res looks in fiction. The film is constructed out of many nested In Medias Res narrative arcs, weaving together multiple storylines that start in the middle, circle back to the beginning and then move forward at the finale.

Playing by the rules will only get you so far

Incorporating narrative arcs like In Medias Res into your decks can make them more engaging. But storytelling isn’t a rigid science. It’s an art, a dance, a delicate balance! Whilst these narrative arcs can be invaluable guides to help get you off the ground, you shouldn’t think of them as immutable laws.

Your presentations might, like Pulp Fiction, be best off using multiple versions of the same arc nested within one another. Or perhaps your presentation might be best off ignoring traditional narrative structures entirely and smashing several together into a Frankenstein’s Monster of a deck. That’s okay! The primary goal of your presentation is to connect with your audience.

That connection, the deep resonance your deck will ideally inspire, will kindle a spark of unity between presenter and audience (or Guide and Hero, to hark back to our presentation characters). Creativity, authenticity and flexibility are your allies in this endeavour.

And remember, if you need a helping hand crafting your narrative, or if you’ve found yourself In Medias Res without a lifeline, we’re here to help. Get in touch today to start the ball rolling.

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