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Brainstorm content ideas that captivate with these 3 easy steps [How To]

Brainstorm content ideas in 3 easy steps [How To]

So….. what are you going to talk about?

If you regularly produce content either online or for live presentations, you know that coming up with fresh ideas is challenging. Even if you have a general topic, you’ll need to decide how you want to narrow that topic so it is interesting and relevant for your audience, is technical enough to add value, but not too technical to confuse or overwhelm the audience, and fits within your allotted time/space. Having a system to brainstorm content is critical, but you don’t want to systematize that process so much that you kill your creativity. That is a lot to think about!!

In this post, you’ll learn how to use Kenneth Burke’s pentad to brainstorm content for your presentation, video or post.

I first discovered the pentad in a rhetorical studies class. It is used to analyze a rhetorical situation, specifically to uncover the drama and motivations behind actions. This is perfect for brainstorming content because that is exactly what you want to do; that is, you’ll want to discover their motives for action. Once you discover the motives, you can create a captivating story about any topic.

There is always drama under the surface, even in mundane topics. Since it it tax season, we’ll use accounting as an example.

Following are three steps to use the pentad to identify the drama in any situation, giving you something interesting to talk about.

Brainstorm content ideas

Brainstorm content that captivates

Step 1: Learn the 5 Parts of the Pentad

The first thing is to understand the pentad. There are five parts.

  1. Actor – who is involved
  2. Purpose – the motivation
  3. Agency –  the means – the how
  4. Scene – where did this take place
  5. Act – what happened

The second step is to identify these elements in your particular situation. To do this, make a list of all the components down the side of a paper.  Then, assign each element to a piece of a story or text.

Example:  You are an accountant. It is tax season. This isn’t sexy stuff. Yet, you’ll want to find the drama in the situation – that which is motivation for your audience to take action. Let’s see what we can come up with.

Step 2: Analyze the Situation

Actor: The small business owner.

Note:  There are always multiple actors. Let’s just analyze one for now and you’ll get the idea.

Purpose: to adhere to all tax laws while still paying as little as possible and saving time in the process.

Agency: An annual event

Scene:  Quickbooks, Freshbooks, the internet.

Act: Searching for information to help.

Step 3: Find the Tension

Now that you have used the pentad to analyze the situation, you can now begin to look for tension between these elements.

The purpose of the pentad is to identify the drama. By finding the drama, you will locate the emotion behind any situation. It always exists. As you begin to analyze each element, try pairing each up. For instance, pair the actor with the purpose. Does the actor carry some sort of fear that is motivating the act? What about the agency and the scenario? Did the situation elicit some sort of special circumstance that made this event possible when it otherwise wouldn’t have been?

In this situation, perhaps there is tension between the actor and the purpose. For instance, if we identify a small business owner as the actor, s/he might fear adhering to all laws. Or, might fear the amount of fees involved with the entire process. Could you capitalize on this emotion while telling your own story? Could you create a blog post or presentation that specifically highlights a small business owner who is experiencing this fear and confusion? Can you brainstorm any other content ideas by looking at other possible areas of tension?

The fun, the excitement and the interest lies within the tension. Find the combination that your audience can best identify with and that is where your focus lies. This will serve as a way to brainstorm content for your audience and allow you to use drama and narrative to convey your points. For more information about the effect of story in your message, see this article that summarizes a study from Ohio State University.

You’re now able to brainstorm content that captivates using these 3 easy steps.

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About the Author Sandy Donovan

Sandy empowers the young and talented to increase their power and influence by improving their ability to be heard and be clear. She does this by providing access to rigorously tested research in the communication, psychology, and marketing fields.

  • Maureen Murphy

    You have a beautiful website full of great Information and free giveaways. Thanks for providing all this valuable information in a clear concise way! Thanks Sandy!

  • Maritza Parra

    Fantastic stuff here Sandy!

    Wish I had this when I was first becoming a speaker/trainer. About a decade ago, I did my first live, in person online marketing event. I decided I would make it the most valuable day long training ever… and I proceeded to absolutely overwhelm my attendees. :O

    It taught me so much about brainstorming and creating content your listeners/ subscribers/attendees can actually get interested in and more importantly use! I wish I’d had this process to do it and I’m definitely adding this to my bag of effective techniques.

  • Celest Horton

    Great resource Sandy! I do often struggle week to week to think of new content for my podcast. It’s a great thought process for me to go through as I think about who to invite to be a guest on my show and what points to hit on. I need to really find the drama and hit that angle hard. Thanks Sandy!

  • What a useful resource. So often when people brainstorm they start with a blank sheet of paper. Thank you for sharing this structure to enable people to determine a valuable topic on which to write within their niche.

  • Ooh, this is a pretty interesting perspective. I am going to test this against the content I’ve already written and apply it to what I write in the future. I love that you’re not focusing on so much the information, but how it affects us. Getting into the drama is more engaging, and throwing the lessons in the middle makes them stick. Love it! At least, that’s my takeaway. : )

  • Sandy, I love it! Such an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide that will be helpful in so many situations. Thank you for taking the time to write this out and share it with us!

  • Justin Williams

    Hey Sandy! this is great! I love how you put it on these simple steps. and as what Kate said this is such an easy-to-follow guide! Thanks for sharing!

  • This makes the process WAY sexier! Finding the drama or the tension in the situation makes it more of a great plot than another boring piece of content. Loved it!

  • Charlie Poznek

    Excellent article! Just used your tips to create my month’s worth of blog topics. This is such an interesting look at coming up with content, and I think it will truly captivate, as promised!

  • Thank you Sandy for sharing! I like how you broke everything down into simple steps. I like how you mentioned find the “Drama” the emotional tug that will help you really relate to your audience.