“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
— Alice in Wonderland
When it comes to preparing presentations, many people are as directionally challenged as our dear Alice.
If you replace the word “walk” with “talk,” you’ll understand why so many presentations seem to wander the landscape without a clear road map or destination.
It’s also why so many audiences feel as lost as the people speaking.
A lack of clear organization in a talk is a problem that plagues presenters in organizations everywhere. It drains productivity in meetings and causes deep employee frustration and resentment.
I urge my clients to follow a simple process of using a whiteboard, flow chart or legal pad to mind map their major idea or argument with all the supporting points and evidence.
Once you have all of that in front of you, find patterns that emerge to cluster information and organize your talk and potential slides around the key messages that emerge.
To help you in building your presentation, here are seven of the best strategies for organizing your talk. (Regardless of which approach you choose, I recommend an overview in the beginning and a summary at the end. You should also include one or more stories in any of these structures.)
1) Simple structure: The classic structure, and quickest to use, is simply this: A) Tell them what you’re going to tell them (overview); B) Tell them (body); and C) Tell them what you told them (summary). Fast and efficient. Drop and drag your points and go. You can make the body messaging as simple or as deep as needed. Of course, to orient your audience, you’ll want to do an overview and summary with the following structures as well.
2) Narrative: People love stories. That’s why all presentations should amount to a story, but this approach calls for specifically crafting one long-form story to walk people through the evolution of a new product, a service, a building or many other projects. For example, you’d tell a story about how we came up with the idea; stories about the process of creation; and stories about the final development and execution.
3) Chronological: You take your audience from the past, to the present, to the future. Describe where we came from, what we are doing now and where we go from here.
4) Problem / Solution: This can be a clear and powerful technique, especially with business audiences. Senior leaders who want to get to the point will appreciate you focusing specifically and comprehensively on the problem and clearly defining the options and your recommended solution.
5) Myths vs Facts: For an issue, product or service that is generally misunderstood, laying out a myth and the truth, side by side, can be very persuasive, especially on people who have not yet made up their minds.
6) Physical: When describing issues with a geographic component, physical organization allows you to walk people through the landscape as a journey. You might show a map of the U.S. and work from West to East through the various regions as stopping points for analysis.
7) Compare and Contrast: This method is helpful when your organization, product or service is trying to find differentiation from competitors. Work with others to determine the most important factors of comparison and set up your talk to specifically address each of the top three or five factors. This works well in planning and brainstorming meetings.
There are many more methods for organizing your presentations. It doesn’t necessarily matter which one you use. The key is to use some sort of pattern to organize your thoughts before you begin.
Using a structure has great benefits, including clearer messaging, less time needed to prepare, a guide to creating slides and many more advantages.
But the greatest benefit is for you and your audience because you’ll all know where you’re going and how you plan to get there. It’s like you're all looking at the same GPS device, which means everyone can relax and enjoy the ride.
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