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Build either top down or bottom up – but always tell the story top down

The easiest way for your audience to understand what you have to say is if you begin telling your story from the top down: begin with a short introduction to set the scene and then work from the overarching ‘big idea' to the smaller supporting details.

This involves beginning with the introduction (the context, trigger and question), then immediately following with the answer before moving step by step to the details. This is also the fastest way to prepare your communication once you are practiced at working this way, although this approach may not come naturally at first.

As a result, you may opt for a bottom-up approach or a mix of bottom-up and top-down approaches when creating your storyline.

If you try a bottom-up approach, start by brainstorming your ideas and then sorting these ideas into groups, perhaps by kind. This helps you, the writer, identify the themes and messages within each group. This process enables you to then work toward articulating the overarching answer, or governing idea, at the top of each section and then eventually for the whole storyline.

Alternatively, you may use a mix of bottom-up and top-down approaches by beginning to narrow the context by articulating the context, trigger and question and taking your time to get this narrative flow tight. The next step is to ask yourself the question and use that as a stimulus for brainstorming the ideas that will, when organised, form the body of your story. Brainstorm these ideas and then sort them into groups by identifying themes and connections between the ideas, and then grouping groups into larger groups and eventually into a complete storyline.

Once this bottom up clarification (problem-solving process) has been undertaken, the writer is ready to tell the story from the top down.

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