"Thank you for the wonderful presentation today. I personally found so many valuable things to take away with me, and I saw a lot of note taking. Your own presentation skills are a testament to your work. You were engaging, charming and left an impression on the audience. I hope that we can coordinate future opportunities to learn from you."

Jennifer Rodriguez, Associate
Squire Patton Boggs, LLP

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Secrets of Great Presentations: 6 Ways to Structure A Compelling Talk

(posted: March 30th, 2015)

Great presentation and communication skills are the secret to holding people’s attention, making a persuasive point, being remembered and appearing competent and confident.

You may be giving a talk to an auditorium filled with people, or you could just as easily be asking your boss to give you a raise, hoping that a roomful of investors will back your new company or product, or convincing your friends to watch a specific movie. In all cases, your success comes down to how effectively you share your ideas in public. With some knowledge and some hard work, you can develop the skills to inspire people, get them interested, get them on your side and fire them up to take action.

In Secrets of Great Presentations we'll build your speaking skills step by step. In this second post of the series we look at structures you can use to organize and streamline your presentations.

If you read my previous post, Understanding Your Audience In 5 Steps, in the Secrets of Great Presentations series, and you followed the 5 steps, you know that you can't just dump all of your accumulated information, statistics, facts, data, knowledge and trivia onto your audience.

People can only absorb small amounts of information within a given period of time. A long, meandering talk jammed full of information forces your listeners to work much too hard. You want your audience to think about your talk, share your ideas, and act on them.

As Bill McGowan says with his Pasta Sauce Principle:

"Less is More. Pasta sauce is better when it's cooked down, its flavor concentrated. So is your message. Keep it as brief, and as rich as possible. Avoid the temptation to overwhelm your audience; leave them hungry for more."

So now that you understand your audience, know how you want them to feel at the end of your talk, and know what your overall intention is, you can choose the best structure or template to use to draft your presentation. It will make your presentation much more effective, and as a bonus, it makes it easier for you to write it, too!

Choose the Best Structure For Your Talk

1. Problem-Solution

Illustrate the problem quickly and broadly, in just a few minutes, then dive deeper, making both intellectual and emotional arguments for the severity of the problem. When you know your audience, you'll have them nodding in understanding and agreement at this point. Then, give your solution, making sure to lay out how this solutions benefits them. Finally, give the audience something to do at the end – an action step, something simple and relevant to the solution.

2. Opportunity/Benefits/Numbers

This framework is particularly effective with busy, executive audiences. You start with a quick outline of what the opportunity is, segue into an outline of the benefits - what the audience stands to gain - and then follow up with the proof by showing them the numbers. This simple template reduces the complexity of your message, pares down the facts you might otherwise be tempted to add, and helps you stay on track.

3. Cause/Effect

Arrange information to show the different causes and effects of various situations. This is effective when promoting action to solve a problem. There are several variations on this, including compare/contrast and advantage/disadvantage, all of which employ contrasting elements. These work well for persuasive presentations.

4. Chronological or Historical

Arrange information related to events according to their time progression (forward or backward). You'll want to use this only if the information is inherently compelling. A variant of this method is to begin at the end of something, with a startling result, and then circle back to tell the beginning and the journey that we took to that result.

5. Sequential or Process

Arrange information according to a process or step-by-step sequence. This is usually used in a report or to describe a product rollout.

6. Why/How/What

This is what Steve Jobs did with such success, and it is one of my favorites. First talk about the WHY – why the product is needed, why I should listen to you, why your idea will make a difference. Then move into HOW. How is your product/solution/idea going to make an impact on me? Or my team or my company? Finally, WHAT. What do you want me to do, what is the call to action? This is a powerful structure that is effective for many presentations, not just product announcements. It also, by its nature, helps you to emphasize your open and close. Remember, it's critical to open with a bang and captivate with your close!

You may find that you want to combine a couple of these structures into a single presentation, and long as you are not complicating your material, that's great. Remember the Pasta Sauce Principle: Less is always more, keep it simple, and leave 'em wanting more!

Join us for the next post, where we'll talk about crafting the actual content of your presentation, including using stories to engage your audience.

Challenge Yourself
  • Which, if any, of these structures have you used for your presentations? How did it work for you?
  • Which of these structures do you want to try the next time?
  • Do you use combinations of these, or find that certain structures work better for certain types of presentations? We'd love to hear your experiences, so please share in the comments, below!

Read The Series

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KLR Post

Hi Bill - You make really good points! The emotional component is critical, and I like your suggestion to work on each section separately to make sure you've built in a memorable, emotional bit.

Wouldn't you also agree that you've got to create a compelling opening so that you grab your audience right from the start?

Thanks so much for your comment!

- Kristi

Posted by Kristi

(on Apr 16th, 2015  5:28 PM)


All great ideas for a presentation structure. Within any of these frameworks, there are a number of high impact techniques for captivating an audience. One of my favorites is to structure each piece of the talk with two things in mind: (1) make it 'memorable' (usually emotional wallop trumps lots of facts and figures) and (2) plant a teaser that makes them 'want' to hear what comes next.

Anyway, Kristi, nice job. I admire your work.

Bill Paradis, CEO
Center for Leadership Excellence

Posted by Bill

(on Apr 16th, 2015  5:28 PM)

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