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Pixar’s 22 rules of Storytelling

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling are a set of guidelines that Pixar Animation Studios developed to help their creative teams create compelling and engaging stories for their films. While these rules are primarily focused on storytelling in the context of animated movies, they can be adapted and applied to various forms of communication, including business presentations. Here’s how you can use them to enhance your business presentations.

Their Rules of Storytelling were not developed by a single individual, but rather emerged as a set of guidelines that creative professionals at Pixar Animation Studios collectively refined over time. They reflect the storytelling practices and principles that have been cultivated within the studio’s creative process. While the origins of each rule might be traced to various people and experiences within Pixar, they were compiled and shared with the broader public as insights into the studio’s storytelling approach. The rules provide valuable advice and perspectives on crafting engaging and emotionally resonant narratives, which have contributed to Pixar’s success in creating beloved animated films.

You admire a character more for trying than for their successes. Example: Present a case study of a project that faced challenges but highlight the team’s determination and innovative problem-solving approach.

You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. Example: Instead of diving deep into technical details, focus on the aspects of your product that resonate with your audience’s needs and pain points.

Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free. Example: Condense complex market research data into key trends and insights that directly relate to your presentation’s main message.

What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal? Example: Explain how your company tackled a situation where they had to pivot their strategy due to unexpected market changes.

Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working upfront. Example: Start your presentation with the desired outcome or conclusion, then build your arguments to support that conclusion.

Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world, you have both, but move on. Do better next time. Example: Conclude your presentation even if you feel there’s more to add. You can always follow up with additional information or a Q&A session.

When you’re stuck, make a list of what wouldn’t happen next. Lots of times, the material to get you unstuck will show up. Example: If you’re struggling to structure your presentation, create a list of points that don’t logically follow. This can help you identify missing connections.

Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it. Example: Analyze successful presentations by other companies to identify elements that resonate with you and incorporate those elements into your own style.

Put characters you love through the wringer. What’s the worst thing that can happen to them? How do they deal? Example: Share how your business faced a challenging situation, such as a major product recall, and highlight the steps taken to manage the crisis and rebuild trust.

You have to identify with your situation/characters; you can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make you act that way? Example: Craft a story about a customer who faced a pressing problem that your product or service solved, emphasizing their relatable emotions and motivations.

Write what you know: your unique observations and experiences will bring authenticity to your story. Example: Share personal anecdotes or insights that directly relate to the topic of your presentation, making your content more relatable.

Give your audience something they recognize (a stereotype, a trope, a cliché) and then twist it to make it fresh. Example: Introduce a common industry challenge and then present an innovative solution that disrupts the typical approach.

Come up with 3 possible outcomes. No one wants to hear one story. Example: Present multiple scenarios for the future of your industry or market, discussing the potential implications of each scenario.

What are the stakes? Give us a reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against. Example: Highlight the potential benefits your product offers and the negative consequences of not taking action, making the audience emotionally invested.

No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later. Example: If you have content that doesn’t fit the current presentation but is still valuable, save it for future presentations or repurpose it for other content.

You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best and fussing. Story is testing, not refining. Example: Avoid spending excessive time on minute details or design elements. Focus on delivering a clear and compelling message.

Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating. Example: Use real data and evidence to support your claims and recommendations, avoiding any reliance on convenient coincidences.

Simplify the plotlines and focus on the core message to maintain a clear and engaging presentation. Example: Structure your presentation with a clear introduction, main points, and conclusion, avoiding unnecessary tangents.

Use dialogue as a tool, not as a crutch. Let actions and visuals convey information whenever possible. Example: Accompany your spoken content with compelling visuals, infographics, and videos to enhance understanding and engagement.

Exercise your point of view: what are the unique perspectives your audience might have? How can you address them all? Example: Anticipate potential objections or concerns from your audience and proactively address them in your presentation.

You must identify the central theme and emphasize it consistently throughout your presentation. Example: Keep circling back to your presentation’s core message, reinforcing it with various examples and supporting evidence.

Don’t be afraid to break the rules when necessary to best suit your audience and presentation goals. Example: While following these rules can enhance your presentation, adapt them to your specific audience, industry, and context for the best impact.

By incorporating these principles from Pixar’s storytelling approach, you can make your business presentations more engaging, memorable, and impactful. Remember that the ultimate goal is to effectively communicate your message and leave a lasting impression on your audience.