Boom! wow, wow, wow, BOOM!!

What James Bond can teach us about story structure

(Use this in your presentation, service design or customer experience design)

A lot of my work draws heavily on the principles of narrative structure, or "dramaturgy". I apply these principles to my shows, my presentation training, and to my thinking about experience design and advertising.

But the principles espoused by Aristotle and Freytag are not easily explained or remembered. Instead, I prefer to talk about the "James Bond method".

If you think about it, a 007 film usually starts with a "prologue" scene which is unrelated to the main plot and which ends in an impressive stunt or explosion. Then we get some exposition (M delivers the background information, and James gets his mission) and the film gets rolling.

We go through three or four episodic encounters, each slightly more thrilling and glamourous than the last, before we see a final showdown where the Evil Genius' lair goes up in the biggest fireball of all.

Or, put another way, "Boom! wow, wow, wow, BOOM!!"
Interestingly, stand-up comics (and stadium rockers) use a similar system when planning the order of their material - the comics save the best joke for the end of the show, the second-best gag is the opener. In between, they try to steadily increase the "gag factor" or the pace of the material. The order of songs at a concert follows a similar pattern.

In a gripping presentation, you will see the same structure. The presenter will start with a surprising fact or gimmick (smoke machine, anyone?), present her arguments in ascending order, and finish up with a bigger bang - usually some king of surprise, gag, or resounding call to action. (This, by the way, is why a presenter should never ask for questions at the end...)

And the same excitement curve makes for killer service designs...

So, when you are designing your experience,

1. make a massive effort for a powerful, attention-grabbing start: Boom!
2. arrange the carefully selected highlights that follow in ascending order of power to build the interest: wow-Wow-WOW!
3. and go crazy to be sure your final point tops even your opening spectacle: BOOM!!


We go more into the dramatic arcs of service experiences in Touchpoint, (Vol 4.2 Autumn 2012). Hear more about 007, and learn about some other arcs and what they mean for service people...

PS An excellent refinement of "Boom! wow, wow, wow, BOOM!!" might be described as "Boom! wow, wow, wow, BOOM!!" You'll find it in Bond too - that last little love scene in the inflatable dingy where he gets the girl and there is usually some kind of buddy gag. It brings you down gently from the high drama and death of the final BOOM and lets you leave the cinema with a gentle smile. "Hey look, James is a loser in real life, just like me." It can be a useful tool, as it lets you wink at the audience, shows them that you don't take yourself too seriously, and thus keeps them on your side. After all, no-one likes a show-off.

PPS At a concert, that last element is usually going to be a ballad, or something nostalgic; something for the lighters and hankies.
Hmm. Perhaps a better description might be "Boom! wow, wow, wow, BOOM!! ...Ahhh!" Impress them with spectacle, but send them home with a warm fuzzy feeling. And there lies wisdom.

PPPS In this post, Customer Innovations wiz Frank Capek analyses Disneys' Pirates of the Caribbean ride using the Boom!WowowowBOOM! metaphor.


Vladimir Dzhuvinov said...

Very good advice, I'll try to use this principle in my next presentation :)

Drew Tarvin, Office Humorist said...

I've always kind of instinctively known this in stand-up, but it's great to put a phrase /graph to the concept. And it definitely applies to presentations.


Jon Thomas, Presentation Advisors said...

Great post! Love the idea of both starting and finishing strong. I think most people realize how important it is to start strong, but end with a whimper. Great call on the problem with asking questions at the end. Often the call-to-action gets lost when questions fill the last 10-15 minutes of a presentation.

I recently wrote a post about starting and finishing your presentation "like a lion." You can read it by clicking here.

Again, great post!!

Adam StJohn Lawrence. said...

Thanks John, and I enjoyed your link!

Unknown said...

This is a CD with a track list recorded in responce to your suggestions. Otherwise a miracle happened.
Big Up! Martin

Adam StJohn Lawrence. said...

Thanks Marcin! Yes, this stuff is old news in the music business. You'll find the Boom-wow-wow-wow-BOOM! curve in the structure of many songs...

Unknown said...

Adam, I don't want to apologize. I've steel your idea to make my PLöRK ;b))

I use it since p4a12 and it rocks.


Anonymous said...

Adam, your thinking rings so true. Love your work. However, I think your post would benefit from sound - your orchestral Dramatic Arc truly came alive today in your workshop...

Adam Lawrence said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Adam StJohn Lawrence. said...

Thanks Catherine! Yes, the more senses involved, the better... :)

sukumar rajagopal said...

Brilliant post Adam. Having seen a real demo of this technique in your workshop week before last, I have become a big fan and will be using it extensively.

Adam Lawrence said...

Thanks Sukumar!
There's a package on the way to you which includes notes on our workshop, as well as an article on dramatic arcs.
All the best,

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