Presentation structure: Creating a compelling argument

by Peter Watts

Between the introduction and the conclusion of any presentation, lies the main body of it’s content; the argument. This crucial section comprises the facts and persuasive reasoning that must support your case and convince the audience. 

If two words alone could describe your goal when constructing and then delivering the argument, those two words would be “Prove It!”

During your introduction, you offered a proposition to the audience, suggesting that due to situation A, you believe they should implement solution B. The argument will reveal to the audience the mechanics of your reasoning, and two elements must be considered: structure and relevance.

Structure

The argument is unlikely to comprise just a single fact. You will have multiple points that you want to explain, and each of these points should be regarded as a mini presentation in it’s own right, with it’s own tiny agenda, body, and summary. The technical term for each of these mini presentations is a “division”, referring to the dividing up of your content. As you move from one division to the next, tell your audience that this is what you are doing, and why the content of the division supports your original thesis:

“So, our XYZ product, by providing increased reliability, will help you to increase customer satisfaction. Let’s move on now to consider our next point which is……”

This division of content, accompanied by clearly stated transitions, makes it easier for the audience to concentrate and follow your logic. If, for example, you have three points to make, and 15 minutes in which to make them, the audience then find themselves having to concentrate in short five minute blocks rather than for a prolonged 15 minute discussion.

A further advantage of this approach is that in the event that members of the audience lose track, due to the human habit of allowing their minds to wander, then they won’t have long to wait before the next section comes along when they can re-join the flow of the presentation.

Relevance

Audiences need to clearly recognize why your presentation is uniquely relevant to their interests. “What does this have to do with me?”. To answer this question facts must be customized to the daily realities of the people in front of you.

Consider what is important to the audience. If you are presenting to a board of hospital trustees for example, then link your facts to the welfare of patients, to improved and swifter diagnosis, or to the more effective use of research funds. If you were presenting to the management team of your own company, make sure you have links to company goals, or to challenges currently faced.

Customizing a presentation in this way does not need to be a lengthy exercise. Just one or two relevant illustrations per fact will be sufficient.

Stepping Stones

By regarding the body of the presentation, the argument, as being a series of relevant and interlinked mini presentations, even the most complicated subjects become more manageable for both you and the audience.

Presentation structure: Introductions that win you control

by Peter Watts

“Who is this person, what do they want from me, and how long have I got to sit here?”

Welcome to the internal dialogue of someone about to hear a presentation. The introduction’s goal is to answer those questions, creating an audience ready and willing to listen.

Who is this person?

Who you are and who you represent are foremost with any new audience. Even with groups already familiar to you, if there is just one new face at the table, include a personal introduction.

Briefly include what qualifies you to be speaking. Does your current sphere of responsibility or qualifications make you a specifically credible source on this subject? If so, include it within your introduction. State it succinctly, avoiding any appearance of self-importance.

What do they want from me?

Align your presentation to the objectives of the audience. Intrigue them with how your product / service / idea will help them. This audience is about to give you the investment of their time. State what their return will be on that investment.

Share up-front the objective of the presentation so the audience understand the destination you are heading for.

How long have I got to sit here?

Map the structure of your presentation onto a slide or flip-chart that shows what will be covered and when. Similar to horses that becomes jittery when they sense a rider is not secure with the reigns, audiences need to know you have a clear plan of action. 

Within your agenda include how long the presentation is to last, and how you would like to handle questions: as they arise or during a Q&A session at the end.

Earning control

For the duration of your time at the front of a room, you must be in control, and that control can only be exercised with the willing compliance of the audience. Keystone behaviors for the introduction are therefore humility, warmth, and confidence. Think about the qualities you like presenters to project. Reflect those qualities, answer the audience’s early unspoken questions, and you will have successfully launched your presentation with the strongest of possible starts.



Presentation structure

by Peter Watts

Effective presentations have an architecture that makes them into identifiable structures, and without which they are little more than jumbles of random facts and anecdotes.

When presenting, our message must be mounted into an organizing framework that places its content squarely before the audience. Our tool for making that happen is structure.

At it’s simplest, structure is defined as being “The Three Tell ‘Ems”:

  • Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em
  • Tell ‘em
  • Tell ‘em what you told ‘em

This is achieved by:

An introduction that provides a clear skeleton of the presentation:

  • what you are going to say
  • the sequence in which you are going to say it
  • why you are going to say it
  • how long it’s going to take you

A middle section that puts flesh on that skeleton while delivering the information you promised to deliver and in the sequence in which you promised to deliver it.

A conclusion re-emphasizing the key points that have shaped your argument.

Each of these three phases of structure has it’s own subtleties, not just in terms of the information to be included, but also the best way in which to express that information. Over the next three weeks, we’ll examine each of these three phases in turn, establishing how to create presentation structures that clearly communicate what you want to say.

Next Week: Introductions

Presentation structure: Your main message

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by Peter Watts

The most valuable asset a presenter can have is knowing exactly what their presentation is about.

Thinking about a forthcoming presentation, can you answer, in one short sentence, the following question:

What is the one thing you want everyone to be saying as they leave the room?

  • In a recruitment interview it might be “This person is the best choice for the job
  • In a sales situation it might be “That product is the most reliable
  • Bidding for a budget, it could be “This project delivers return on investment

Encapsulating your presentation down to one succinct message can be surprisingly difficult. The different pieces of information which you want to include can compete with each other for air-time in a noisy log-jam of presentation possibilities! Remember that if you find it difficult to identify that one main theme within your presentation, then your audience will find it impossible!

Simplicity is a priority. The simpler, stronger, and shorter your message, the better. Your goal is to deny the audience the opportunity to do anything other than get your meaning, loudly and clearly.

Imagine your message as the central pole of a huge canvas umbrella, the type you might sit under for an al-fresco meal on a hot day.  You want people to feel comfortable and secure under the umbrella of your presentation, and that pole, your message, is it’s central support.

See the message clearly written down the side of the pole. Every point you make in the presentation must stem directly from it. Just as the individual struts of the umbrella all connect to the pole and support the canvas, anything that isn’t firmly attached, is going to flap around, distracting the audience.

If you need convoluted connections to get points to stay in place, then they don’t belong in the presentation. Leave them out! Keep it simple! Don’t put in extraneous details that will only cause people to become confused.

In a later blog, we’ll discuss how to handle objections in presentations. For now it’s worth noting that many objections are caused by these lose flapping features that make the customer challenge “What’s with that bit, I don’t see where it fits”. Eliminating the extraneous, leads to less objections.

Having a clear and overt main message in your presentation makes things easier for both you and your audience.

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