10 simple structures for your presentation

Last week I wrote about the importance of using a simple presentation structure. I ended that article by pointing out that the remaining question was this: What are some of the simple structures or blueprints we can follow when drafting our presentation?

As promised, this week’s blog post tackles that question.

There are many simple presentation structures we can employ in putting together a presentation that will serve us and our audiences well. Here is a score of those structural options.

  1. Rhetorical question
  2. Chronology
  3. Problem/solution
  4. How it happened (or is happening)
  5. Issues/actions
  6. Features/benefits
  7. Case study
  8. Argument/fallacy
  9. Compare/contrast
  10. Numerical

Let’s explore each with a bit of detail.

Rhetorical question. If we use the rhetorical question as our presentation structure we might initiate our speech with a statement such as: Conventional wisdom says the size and power of the Chinese economy will eclipse the U.S. economy within 10 years, but is that really the case? Having posed a rhetorical question, we know exactly what the rest of our speech must accomplish, as does our audience. Simply answer the question. We might delve into that task by saying, I contend the answer to that question is no because China is on the cusp of social and economic unrest so pervasive it will make the Tiananmen Square protest look like a junior high school fire drill. Here’s why this situation is coming to a head and will inflict great damage on China’s economic growth.

Chronology. A few years ago I was spellbound as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak stood before the San Ramon, Calif. chapter of the Rotary Club and gave a chronological account of how he became interested in electronics as a young boy, studied engineering in college, and partnered with Steve Jobs to create and develop Apple Computer. Chronologies are not a sophisticated way of telling a story, but they are about the easiest way to tell one, and audience members have no trouble tracking a chronology’s progress.

Problem/solution. A member of Congress using this presentation structure might tell his or her audience the problem is a tax code that is far too complex and riddled with loopholes for special interests, and the solution is to abolish the current code in favor of a flat tax with no deductions.

How it happened. Example: How human life expectancy continues to expand in the United States even as tens of millions of citizens are uninsured and receive inadequate health care. Here are the reasons why…

Issues/actions. When using this construct we first enumerate the issues or challenges being confronted (Our company is facing dwindling brand recognition, declining sales and shrinking profit margins), followed by the actions we’re taking to rectify them (We are battling these trends with a new corporate development strategy that includes bigger marketing expenditures, a more rigorously trained sales team, and streamlined supply-chain management).

Features/benefits. This structure is commonly used in sales presentations. Basically, the presenter explains his product’s various features, then the important benefits the buyer will derive from those features.

Case study. This is another presentation structure often used in sales presentations. The case study is an excellent storytelling opportunity, as well as a model that allows the salesperson to give a specific example of how, for instance, another company solved the very same problem by using the services being proffered.

Argument/fallacy. So often the conventional wisdom people accept is founded on misleading or false information or reasoning. The argument/fallacy approach to presentation explodes these misconceptions. Here’s an example containing genuine research: Social scientists have concluded that the longer people live the more health-care resources they’ll consume. However, new research on end-of-life care shows that if you live to age 100 the last five years of life costs just one-third the medical costs of people who live to age 80.

Compare/contrast. This is yet another popular sales presentation blueprint, and for good reason. People make decisions by comparing their options – whether a professional service, a job opportunity or a potential spouse. One of the selling situations where compare/contrast presentations is constantly used is during political campaigns. Political candidates are forever saying, in a variety of different ways, Compare my record with my opponent’s record. The contrast couldn’t be starker.  A variation on the compare/contrast model was used many years by Oracle Corp. founder and CEO Larry Ellison when he proclaimed in Fortune magazine, IBM was yesterday, Microsoft is today, Oracle is tomorrow. Obviously, Mr. Ellison hadn’t account for the resurgence of Apple or the birth of Google, Facebook, and other redoubtable players.

Numerical. This is a favorite among bloggers and other media members, and it is the presentation structure I’ve used for this article, 10 simple structures for your presentation. Other examples might be, Three foods that eliminate belly fat, or The five best overseas options for a comfortable retirement. There is no simpler presentation structure than the numerical method of presenting information. Tick off the points you want to make one by one. How does one get lost when drafting a presentation based on the numerical construct? We don’t. It’s also great for audience members because they know at all times the degree of progress you’ve made and approximate duration remaining.

Always remember that we can combine a couple of these structures into a single presentation. For instance, we can marry the rhetorical structure with the numerical structure in this way: Conventional wisdom says the size and power of the Chinese economy will eclipse the U.S. economy within 10 years, but is that really the case? I contend the answer to that question is no because China is on the cusp of social and economic unrest so pervasive it will make the Tiananmen Square protest look like a junior high school fire drill. Here’s are three reasons why this prediction will come to pass and great damage will be inflicted on China’s economic growth.

Though in the above example we would be dealing with two presentation structures, they can be made to work seamlessly. They’re still a simple blueprint for writing and presenting our text, and still optimal for audience absorption of our content.

These simple presentation structures will make the writing of our next presentation far less onerous and much easier to present. We will head to the tribune confident in our ability to effectively present our material because we have not overloaded ourselves with a sprawling outline that has turned into a data dump that will bore, confuse and punish our audience.

When we use a simple presentation structure and adhere to the less is more concept of presenting, we leave our audiences thirsting for more, rather than shifting in their seats, anxious for our concluding statement.

Step No. 1 in effective public speaking is to use the right presentation structure.

Keep it simple. Keep it narrowly focused. Remember that when presenting less is always more.

Mike Consol teaches public speaking, PowerPoint presentation skills and business writing to companies and business professionals in the Oakland-San Francisco-San Jose Bay Area. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 925-449-1040.