Midwest Entrepreneur Conference

Hey guys, these are the three presentations I referred to earlier.

Whether through small anecdotes, audience engagement, or musical numbers, these are excellent examples of speakers using storytelling to illustrate a concept or get a message across.  They all have a hero, a villain and the element of suspense.  Even if they are not obvious, these elements do exist in every good presentation.   Sometimes they can be cleverly disguised and go under the radar.

I know this post is long and tedious, but we believe that by breaking down a presentation, you can greatly enhance your own presentations.  By understanding the structure and purpose behind a great presentation, you as a presenter will learn to emulate the masters and become one yourself.

As you are watching and reading these presentations, jot some notes down and or leave a comment below.  When did the speaker say something that you liked?  Why did the speaker do this or that?  Keep track of the speaker’s tactics and methods.  These are great speakers, but remember, it’s always good to question their ways.  If you have any questions, comments, concerns, criticisms, please let me know and we can chat about them.  I would love to answer any and all questions regarding presentations!

I hope you all enjoyed my talk and will enjoy these presentations.  Have fun at the rest of the conference!

Benjamin Zander “On Music and Passion”

0:16 – Zander begins his presentation with a story, more particularly a joke.

  • From the very beginning, Zander has set the tone for his talk by opening with humor and transferring the message into his first talking point.

0:40 – Ties in the initial joke with his first talking point – the future of classical music

  • By creating a bridge through a joke, he has made the audience much more comfortable and prepared for the main discussion.

0:51 – Tells the audience what he is about to do in very clear terms

  • Instead of simply asking a question or giving statistics, etc., Zander is very transparent in his intentions.  He tells his audience upfront that he is about to engage with them.  This honesty makes them more willing to cooperate.

1:27 – Begins to play the piano, and goes on to play through his interpretation of a child progressing in skill over many years

  • This is a unique and highly entertaining way to play the piano.  Notice how Zander doesn’t simply play all the way through, but breaks up the playing with some insightful commentary and preparation for the next “age” of the child.

3:32 – Introduces the concept of “One-Buttock Playing”

  • Zander has established the concept of “One-Buttock Playing” first through example, not by definition.  This is a fun way to teach or introduce an idea.

3:42 – Begins a new story implementing the aforementioned concept

  • Zander is clever in his anecdotes because he ties them in nicely with his talking points.  This method integrates the fun part of storytelling or joke making into a very practical, useful form.  Zander is combining story with concept in a seamless way.

4:13 – Zander continues with his point about people’s perceptions of classical music by setting up approximate percentages of a sample group according to their taste for classical music.

  • We are back to the primary stream of the talk – people and classic music.  Zander is very close to the audience now, diagnosing and making claims about the very fabric of the crowd.  He has covered every variable of his “experiment” by classifying the audience.  This classification serves to relate these sample groups of people to the audience at present.  Zander has broken them all down, and everyone has heard about himself or herself, if even slightly on target.  They are with him now because he has told them who they are in a vague sense.

5:21 – “You cannot be tone-deaf.  Nobody is tone-deaf.” – Zander makes an interesting statement that most people don’t know.

  • He has created intrigue for the audience, which in turn creates room for explanation.  Throughout his presentation, Zander is keen on providing new insights and concepts that keep the audience attentive and motivated to learn more.

6:06 – Zander declares that he will make everyone who watches this talk “love and understand classical music.”

  • Here it is.  Here is the promise that by the end of this discussion he will have moved us all.  Zander has made a very, very bold statement, bordering on risky.  However, this sort of premature-call-to-action technique is very powerful because it creates an incredible amount of suspense while hitting your main point.  Zander has teased the audience with his daring promise, and we are all waiting to be changed, which is exciting, right?

6:22 – Zander backs up this claim with a strong idea about leadership

  • Zander has made the promise, and now he is backing up his reasoning for making such a bold statement.  He is supremely confident, and he tells us this.

6:57 – Begins to play a piece on the piano

7:44 – Makes a statement as if he is impersonating a member of the audience.

  • He makes fun of the audience in this comment, but at the same time, he is identifying a universal habit of ours to wonder off in thought.  He, too admits that it is funny how we all do it.

8:11 – Zander poses a question to the audience

  • Asking a question to your audience is always a good way to liven them up, get them thinking about what you’re saying.  Zander is excellent at posing a question without being awkward in awaiting a response.  He ties in the question to his next point in a way that makes you wonder at, but not worry about, the answer.  Stimulate your audience with questions, and then answer them in a unique and memorable way.  They will learn from you.

8:40 – Begins breaking down the previously played piece by explaining and characterizing the roles and purposes of musical notes

  • Zander is telling the story of this piece by giving us characters and their roles in the story.  “The job of the C is to make the B sad.” This characterization of sounds gives life to the notes being played.  Then, as the notes intermingle with each other, they form a storyline.  He relates this storytelling to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Just remember, stories can be told in many ways.

12:13 – Zander relates his story to Nelson Mandela and the concept of vision over detail

  • By comparing the story of a piece of music, Zander is painting a larger picture of his concept.  He has arranged the theme in such a broad scope that we, as the audience, are greatly intrigued by the upcoming replay of the piece.  Once again, Zander has built up an idea by showing an example, breaking down the example and giving it meaning.  Then, he returns to the example and allows the audience to absorb meaning independently before describing the overarching theme of the example.

12:40 – Zander gives a call to action before he plays the piece

  • Zander requests of his audience to think on a deep, emotional level before we all embark on the journey of the song that is about to be played.  By asking all of us to think on a personal level and apply it to this piece, Zander is yet again increasing the suspense for the musical story that we are about to witness.  Just by default, before he even begins playing, the audience is deeply connected to the song because they are deep in thought. 

15:08 – As the audience claps after the piece, Zander quickly rises from the piano and walks off stage to clap excitedly in front of the audience.  He asks, “Now you may be wondering why I’m clapping.”  Then, Zander tells a story that relates to his clapping in a similar situation that results in a joke.

16:03 – Zander shifts into another story and ties it in with his point. “Classical music is for everybody.”

  • Zander finally directly addresses the situation at hand.  He brings up the issue of moving the percentage of people who love classical music from 3 to 4%.  He is applying everything thus far into real-time, modern-day calculations and posing the question of:  what would happen if everyone loved classical music?

17:25 – Zander tells another story

  • He continues to tell story after story in order to build upon his point.  He is leading up to a grand reveal, and story is a great way to showcase the concept through previous experiences. Zander tells the audience about a realization he had.  He then shares this realization in terms of a broader concept.  He shifts carefully from his epiphany to an explanation of how he changed.  He wanted to “awaken possibility in other people.”

18:05 – Zander walks along the front row, looking at people’s eyes to see if they are shining.

  • Zander has coined another concept and applied to his story/epiphany.  He has expressed the notion of inspiration through this physical imagery of shining eyes.

Zander closes out his presentation with a story about living with what you say and being careful about your choice of words to others.


Passion comes from many places.  Inspiration leaps from passion and leads to understanding.  By inspiring others, whether through stories, music or actions, the world is able to grow in their understanding of life and humankind.  To inspire with passion requires the vision of a better world, belief in beautiful things.

Benjamin Zander uses firsthand stories, experiences and insights to illustrate the overarching vision of passion and inspiration.  As he plays and explains the meaning behind classical music, he is crafting an even larger example of the “vision” of which he speaks.   Zander calls us to live in a way that reflects the passion that we all possess in order to inspire others, to keep their eyes shining.

David Holt – “Mountain Music”

0:19 – Introduces first character, Aunt Zip, giving a description along with the photograph

  • Right off the bat, Holt gives the audience a character to identify with and relate to.  He has set the tone for the entire presentation by beginning with a story.

0:23 – Builds character by reciting quotes

  • This is subtle character development.  Holt has cleverly and successfully characterized a black-and-white photograph within thirty seconds.

0:42- Introduces accompaniment and plays music

  • Music will be very instrumental (no pun intended) in this presentation.  You will see how Holt weaves his songs and stories together seamlessly to convey his passion for Appalachia.

1:25 – Continues the story with the same character, relating it to his music

  • Holt sets a scene as he sings this song.  The audience feels as if they are sitting on that porch with Holt and Aunt Zip as she says “Black-eyed Suzie.”

2:15 – Banjo/Harmonica/Tap solo

2:35 – Lets the audience fill in the chorus as he sings

  • By allowing the audience to chime in, Holt has not only engaged his crowd, but he has also done something very powerful and extremely subtle.  He has invested his audience much deeper in the main character by coaxing them to say exact same words.  Just as Aunt Zip said, “Black-eyed Suzie” during the chorus, the audience now says “Black-eyed Suzie.”  They have become linked with Aunt Zip .

3:07 – Introduces the next character, Ralph Stanley.  Holt tells us how he met this man, and about his experience with him.

  • Holt characterizes an additional figure in his life.  He uses the black-and-white photograph once more.  This gives life to the descriptions that he is providing.

3:53 – Relates his experience with Ralph to his own journey.

  • With each new character, Holt reveals an additional piece of his story, thereby extending the narrative in a subtle, eloquent way.

4:57 – Reveals how he came to the conclusion that he wanted to be a musician.  He gets some laughs.

  • Holt has led up to this point in his life’s story by carefully weaving other characters into his experiences.  The audience is slowly learning bout Holt through this process, which makes him more relatable.  The audience identifies with the humor of telling his parents he “wanted to be a banjo player.”

4:16 – Begins showing a series of mentors that he has met and shared experiences with throughout his journey.  He sets these photographs to music.

  • Once again, Holt is breaking up the presentation into digestible segments for the audience.  Instead of giving one long speech, he keeps his segments short and to the point then uses music to fill the gaps between points and stories.

6:00 – Ends the stream of photographs, giving some background on Ray Hicks.

  • Holt transitions into this characterization of Hicks by using the last few images, but also by impersonating his voice to the audience.  The audience can appreciate an example of Hicks’ voice because it adds detail to Holts’ reference.

6:23 – Refers the audience to his site (davidholt.com)

  • By referring the audience to his website, Holt is being considerate in not showing all of the people in his tale.  He is giving his viewers a taste of the stories and characters in his story, which adds value to the resource he is providing.

6:31 – Introduces a prop, the mouth bow. He gives a brief background and purpose to the object.

  • The audience is curious about this instrument; a small-scale suspense factor has been added.

6:52 – Tells a short joke about the object, and gets a few laughs, then begins playing the mouth bow and singing a couple of verses.

8:08 – Holt begins to tell another story.  This time, it is a personal one about his family.

  • Holt has now successfully made the full transition into his own personal story.  If you look back, you’ll see the clever way in which Holt has migrated from telling of other experiences that highlighted other characters into his own personal one.  He has now established the main character: Mr. Holt, himself.

9:59 – Holt eases into song during his story.

  • Holt uses music in various ways throughout his presentation.  He has used it as a transition, then as a break and now as a storytelling supplement.  The audience can see and feel the way he and his brother felt in the cotton field that day.  It almost feels like we’re watching a musical.

11:06 – Holt tells us the moral of the story, giving us insight into what he learned.  Among several things, he touches on the fact that music makes hard work easier.

  • We have now entered into a more personal conversation with Holt.  He is disclosing how he felt when he learned a lesson.  He is bringing us closer to his feelings, and therefore allowing us to hear his story in a more meaningful way.

12:09 – Plays the same song from the previous story, but asks the audience to sing along.

  • Once again, Holt is including the audience in a song and prompting them to clap, which enhances engagement and makes his presentation more conversational.

14:03 – Introduces the steel guitar and provides an explanation of its history and purpose

14:39 – “This instrument pretty much saved my life.”

  • This statement is startling.  It increases curiosity tenfold, and places a lot of significance on the steel guitar.  The audience is waiting for an explanation.

14:47 – Reveals that he lost his daughter in a car crash.  He tells the story of how he found happiness.

  • We as the audience have now arrived at the heart of the presentation.  We have been guided by Holt into an extremely personal narrative that ties back into the theme of music and the meaning derived from it.

16:20 – Begins playing the steel guitar

  • As you listen to this song, think about the story Holt has just shared.  Think about the feelings that he has just conveyed to us, his audience.  We are close to him in thought and emotion, and this music is packed with more meaning because of the “connection” to which Holt refers.

19:11 – Starts with a new topic and a new story about inventions

  • Holt has completely shifted direction, mentioning “I think I’ve got time to tell you about this.”  This isn’t a standard transition, but it does keep the audience on its toes.  Holt doesn’t want to end on a sad note, so he changes the subject to a more positive one.

19:53 – “Damn, those are gonna be some big pants.”

20:02 – Holt transitions into a new story that relates to his experiences with inventing and experimenting

  • Once again, Holt says, “Maybe I got time for this.”  He is having fun on stage.  He is enjoying telling story after story, which makes the audience have fun listening to it.

22:54 – “I call this Thunderwear.”

  • We can see that Mr. Holt is having a lot of fun at this point. He has gotten the audience excited about his stories by being excited himself.  He ends the story on a joke, and then transitions into his final drum solo by beating on his hands, knees and chest. 


The power of music is versatile.  From enriching experiences in the Appalachian Mountains to learning lessons in the cotton fields of Texas to healing heartbreak after the death of a loved one, music transforms life into a fantastic reality. 

David Holt’s presentation tells a story that involves many characters in many places, but the overarching theme of the story is a personal reflection on musical intervention.  Holt carefully and expertly blends a few outside stories with his own commentary to produce an interwoven examination into the sights and sounds of life and its experiences.

J.J. Abrams “Mystery Box”

• :21 – 24

o Loosens up audience with humor

• :40 -1:08

o Addresses theme for presentation: “mystery”

• 1:09

o Introduces personal story

o Tells the presentation like a story, not like a pitch

o How the grandfather impacted Abrams

o Shows how important he sees his grandfather; he characterizes his grandfather throughout so that the audience can relate to the grandfather in later examples and feel the way that Abrams does about the grandfather. Everyone’s on the same page.

o This is a pivotal moment in the presentation where he established an emotional connection.

• From this point on, Abrams will nurture the connection he has forged with the audience by showcasing further character traits and concepts that will reinforce Abrams’ points.

• 2:07

o Paints a picture of himself interacting and being influenced by this character (his grandfather)

• 2:15

o Shows props for visual aid

o Builds up how Abrams loves boxes

• 2:44

o His grandfather inspired him to make stuff

• 2:47

o Lends credibility to his grandfather for planting the idea of film in Abrams’ mind

• 2:55

o Shows the importance of his grandfather’s gift and how important it was for him in the beginning

• 3:37

o Ties the story together

o It helped Abrams’ realize his dream of making things

o Abrams is revealing the theme of this introduction—the point of the story: why he’s so inclined to make things (his grandfather’s influence)

• 3:45

o Beginning of second story

• 3:59

o Set the scene

o Elevators leading to the magic shop

o Magical atmosphere in a magic shop

o Using powerful words and imagery to make the audience feel like they are witnessing the setting

• 4:03

o Demonstrates a magic trick

o Further emphasizes the story (gives credibility to the story)

• 4:13

o Unveils an object, which creates suspense

o Tied this together very well by introducing the magic shop

• 4:37

o Tells the audience his thought process, which induces the audience’s thought process

• 5:01

o Culmination of all the questions

o Leads to a final questions: “why have I not opened it?”

• 5:07

o Answers all the previous questions and reveals the point of this second story: it represents his grandfather

• 5:10

o Pauses for effect

• 5:23

o Reveals a deeper meaning to the box: it represents infinite possibility

o His grandfather helped him to realize what infinite possibility means

• 5:35

o Defines what the box means to him and how it has led him to do what he does

o Sets the stage for the audience to relate as well

o If it makes him feel this way, the audience begins to feel the same way

• 5:42

o “Mystery is the catalyst for imagination”

o This is the theme of the entire presentation

o He has tied together the themes of the last two stories to illustrate a larger point

o This is the “profound statement” that Abrams mentioned earlier (TED told him to be profound)

• 5:46

o Begins telling another story

o “Mystery is more important than knowledge” is the initial statement that sparks this story

• 5:56

o Revisits the mystery box concept, but explores it and how it relates to his own work

• 6:05

o Talks about the process of writing “Lost”

o Relating this process to the theme of the story

o “What could this be?” is a question that invites the audience to think about the mystery that was involved when creating “Lost”

• 6:13

o Addresses the audience by saying “I’m sure you all know people..”

o He highlights that there was no time for these kind of questions, saying that it “is kind of amazing” actually

• 6:32

o Shows a clip from “Lost”

o The audience is now on the same page

• Everyone is now aware of the feel of “Lost”

• 7:33

o Tells a joke

• 8:01

o “That blank page is a magic box”

o Powerful metaphor

o Also relates back to the mystery box concept

• 8:38

o “What are stories but mystery boxes?” is a question that reinforces the metaphor

o The blank page is now filled up with stories, which then turn into more and more mystery boxes

• 8:45

o Lays out the concept of stories

o The first act is the teaser

o Makes the transition from concept of stories being like mystery boxes to the implementation of the concept into storytelling

• 8:48

o Gives examples of implementation of concept with storytelling

o Star Wars

• 9:19

o Shifts into another type of mystery: imagination

• 9:30 +

o Withholding information (a.k.a. mystery boxes) makes stories more compelling and meaningful

• 10:00

o Final thoughts about the mystery box

o Transitions into a new meaning of mystery box concept

• 10:03

o Setting the stage for the next theme of the story: “What you think you’re getting, then what you’re really getting.”

• 10:10

o Using a story (movie) to illustrate the point of mystery boxes as examples of character development

o The mystery box concept applies to these stories (E.T., Die Hard, Jaws) because the underlying meaning is masked by the surface premise of the films (i.e. ET is really about a divorce and a family and a little kid who has lost his way, but on the surface is about an alien and a kid)

• 10:40

o Uses an example (clip from Jaws) to illustrate the previously stated theme and further enhance his point

o It shows the audience (physically shows them) what specifically he is talking about

o Everyone is on the same page and can clearly comprehend the connections being made between concept and example

• 12:28

o Abrams sees that the investment of character is really inside the box

• 12:45

o “Ultimately, you know, the mystery box is all of us.”

• 12:49

o Metaphor

o Movie theater is a big mystery box

• 13:12

o Identifies himself as an apple fanatic, which is why he watches Steve Jobs and how Jobs relates back to the mystery box himself

o Transition into another story that will be used as an example

• 13:35

o The mystery box has come full circle (apple products inspired him to create “Lost”, and in turn “Lost” is used to sell apple products)

• 14:00

o Relates back to the grandfather in his example of the tools that people have now, he only had limited access to when he was a kid

o Technology is more accessible now than it used to be (when he was a kid)

• 14:22

o “The most incredible sort of mystery, I think, is now the question of what comes next.”

• 14:26

o The creation of media is everywhere

• 14:35

o There is much more opportunity out there than what Abrams was exposed to when he was a kid

• 15:12

o “No community is best served when only the elite have control”

o Revealing the theme: anyone can create mystery boxes

• 15:33

o Scene from Mission Impossible 3

• 16:57

o Talks about a scene in MI3

o Incorporates the Super 8 camera from the first story of the presentation

o This brings back his original theme of making things and using the tools and the innovation that he used and learned from as a child

o These lessons and tools are applied to his current work

• 17:51

o “The mystery box, in honor of my grandfather, stays closed.”

o This ties up the entire theme of the presentation: the mystery box, with the examples and explanations of the lessons learned from his grandfather.


Movies can be made and stories can be told by anyone using technology that is accessible to them. This, combined with the compelling “mystery box” factor, allows the creation of quality entertainment to be possible.

All of the elements in this presentation are equally important and play different roles in telling Abrams’ story. The description of his grandfather, the various movie clips and even the slight pauses are all manufactured by Abrams as a way to tell a fantastic, magical story.

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