When we present, we want our audience to listen, understand and learn, and leave knowing more than when they arrived. We need to guide them through our presentation, so they don’t feel lost or confused – this is why it’s so important that your presentation has a clear and effective structure.
The 3 key elements
An effective presentation needs an introduction, main body and a conclusion. Let’s consider each of them in more detail:
At the beginning of a presentation, both the presenter and the audience are nervous! However, a good start can work wonders, so the first thing you need is an effective INTRO:
Get the audience interested right from the start! Begin by showing an amazing picture or short video, or sharing an interesting fact or anecdote: “Did you know that last year, in the UK alone…”
Point out that they need to know what you’re about to tell them – your presentation will enable them to do this, or give them the following skills…
Tell them about the timings and how they can respond to your presentation, i.e. state your question policy: “This presentation will last for about half an hour and I’ll be answering any questions you may have at the end”.
Then, clarify your objective: “I’m here today to bring you all up to speed redevelopments in…”
2) Main Body
This will be the largest part of your presentation. There are various options here for ensuring a smooth presentation flow. If you’re telling a story, e.g. the history of the company, then chronological order is the way to go. If there are several sub-topics, give them equal billing and cover each one in a logical order.
Finally, your conclusion should provide an effective recap of the key points. If your presentation is a proposal, you will add your recommendations here regarding a course of action supported by the information presented.
Primacy & Recency
Another reason for creating a structure like this is the concept of primacy and recency. It’s all about the human memory (for example think about the last film you saw) – we can remember the beginning (primacy), and we’re good at recalling the end (recency), but our memories of the middle part are rather hazy! So, to reinforce the main body, in the introduction we tell ‘em what we’re going to tell ‘em, in the main body we tell ‘em, and in the conclusion we tell ‘em what we just told ‘em!
When planning a presentation, some people write out a Hollywood-style script. Please remember to use spoken language, not written language, because you are going to be saying it! The language needs to be easy for the audience to understand and relate to, otherwise they will keep asking you to repeat yourself because they didn’t get it the first time!
Signposting helps you move through your presentation, making a smooth transition from one topic to the next. For example, you could begin with a rhetorical question: “So, what happened in 2010? Well, this was when…” To signpost the end of your presentation, you simply say “to conclude” or “in summary”, letting the audience know that you’re about to finish. Also, if you’re using PowerPoint slides, the titles at the top of your slides act as signposts – the audience will know what’s coming next.
To be properly structured your presentation needs an introduction, a main body and a conclusion. Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em, tell ‘em, and then tell ‘em what you just told ‘em! When preparing content, use spoken not written language, and use signposts to guide the audience through the presentation.
A good structure can make all the difference. Happy presenting!