Three steps to writing and structuring a winning presentation
How many times have you sat down to write a presentation and found yourself staring at an empty PowerPoint slide wondering about the best approach?
- What shall I say?
- How do I start?
- Will I get my message across?
Delivering a presentation can be daunting. But so can creating the presentation in the first place! If you look for help, you’ll find there are hundreds of books on the subject. The wealth of information can make the topic seem complicated. In fact, there’s so much information we think there’s a danger it can seem more complicated than it actually is. Our advice to anyone sitting down to write an effective presentation is simply: keep it simple – and remember a few of the following tricks of the trade.
Get the start, middle and end right
Just like a good story, a good presentation has three sections: a start, a middle and an end.
Common advice you’ll read suggests this breaks down to:
- tell them what you’re going to tell them
- tell them
- tell them what you’ve told them.
But we think there’s a better formula when you need a memorable and exciting presentation. We also take a different approach when it comes to actually writing the presentation. And it all starts with a curve ball…
The power of a good ending
We always write the endings of our presentations first. It’s because the end is the most important part to get right in any presentation.
When you write the end of your presentation first, you’ll still be full of energy and enthusiasm. On the other hand, if you write the beginning of your presentation first, your energy levels will be lower by the time you reach the end. It means all the hard work you put into the start and middle of your presentation could be wasted by a ‘that’ll do’ end. If you’re wondering why the end is so important, it’s to do with a psychological effect called the Peak-End Rule.
It’s explained like this: “We remember experiences in our lives as a series of snapshots rather than a complete catalogue of events. The most emotionally intense points of an experience and the end of that experience are heavily weighted in how we remember an event.”
When you know this, you know you need to take the opportunity to inspire, motivate and encourage your audience to take action. So what does a good end look like? It needs to be clear, so ask yourself what change you’re trying to achieve or what message you want your presentation to get across. Always try to end with an ask, it will make your presentation much more relevant and engaging.
You now have an ending; the beginning should be easy
The beginning of your presentation is where you have to gain your audience’s attention and really connect with them. What you’re aiming to do is to invoke certain emotions into your audience – curiosity, surprise, fear and so on.
One of the best ways of achieving this is to throw in a relatable story. Don’t be intimidated by this. Think of your story as just being something to emotionally engage your audience. Describe a moment or an event where something tangible happened to you.
Alternatively, try opening with a provocative statement as this can create an instant connection. With an unexpected cue, your audience will start to pay attention because they’ll be intrigued to hear what happens next. Capturing this is key, as the audience will become more receptive and less sceptical about the information about to be delivered. They’ll also be more likely to retain the information you give them.
It’s time to fill in the gap
Once your presentation has a good beginning and clear ending, it’s time to fill in the gaps. You’re going to meet the promises you made in the introduction and flesh out some of those ideas that hooked your audience.
The middle of your presentation might be the bit you write last, but it’s likely to be the longest section. You need to make sure you keep your audience with you on the journey. Ask yourself what your audience needs to know from you. Then take time to make sure you’ve structured the key points carefully. People retain structured information up to 40% more reliably and accurately than information that is presented freeform.
If the start of your presentation is where you engaged people’s hearts, the middle is where you engage their minds. It’s why you shouldn’t shy away from using facts and figures to reinforce your messages.
Facts are an astoundingly effective way of persuading people. Not only do they connect you to the real world (as long as they’re current), you are also teaching your audience something they don’t already know, which they will be thankful for. Just try not to make the mistake so many of us are guilty of – peppering the page with so many facts and stats your audience doesn’t know where to look first. You’ve done the hard work in finding these facts, so bring them to the forefront and make them the hero of each slide.
Remember too that using imagery with facts and figures is extremely effective. A study by David Mink found ideas presented with visuals are 6.5 times more likely to be remembered!
Now it’s your turn
The structure of a presentation is the fundamental building block of an effective presentation. We hope we’ve inspired you to follow our approach when you sit down to write your next presentation.
If you do, let us know how you got on!