Lesson 1 – A properly structured presentation is more effective

Research by Professor Richard Mayer shows that using a clear structure for a presentation improves audience understanding.  A good structure is even more important for those who are not as familiar with your topic area, as it gives them context.  Today’s lesson focuses on how we can structure our presentation and how the sequence helps improve the effectiveness of our message.

First decide on the goal of the presentation

The first step is to decide on what the goal of the presentation is.  What helps me is to complete a sentence that starts with “At the end of the presentation the audience will do/feel/know …”  If I know where I want the audience to be at the end, it makes it easier to plan how to get there.  If you can’t complete this sentence, you need to step back and consider what message you are trying to communicate and what method would be best..

Second, figure out who your audience is

If you know where you want the audience to be, you need to know where they are now in order to define a path to reach your goal. You can use surveys, interviews or audits to find out who is going to be there, what power they have, what their prior knowledge is on your topic, what their bias is towards your position on the topic and what your credibility is with them.  This is critical information to use in the next step.

Third, define your major points

Now that you know the starting and ending points for your audience, you need to figure out the path that will take them from where they are now to where you want them to be.  I usually aim for 3 to 5 main points.  If there are more, it is too much for a single presentation and I suggest you consider more than one presentation.

Finally, support your key points

You have to back up or prove each key point you are making in order for the audience to make the journey to the end point.  Find statistics, expert opinions, quotations, analogies or stories that support each key point and arrange them in a logical sequence.

Sequence your material with the conclusion first

Research published in John Medina’s book Brain Rules shows that the traditional sequence of a presentation, delivering all the data before stating the conclusion, is not the most effective approach.  A better approach is to state the conclusion first, then show how that conclusion is supported by the detailed data.

Lay out your presentation with sticky notes

The easiest way I have found to create the structure for a presentation is to use sticky notes.  I write each key point on one note and each supporting point on its own note.  Then I arrange all the supporting points in sequence under the appropriate key point.  This allows you to see the entire presentation laid out on a table or wall, and allows you to move items or groups of items around until they flow well.

Always start with the structure and sequence of your message before you use PowerPoint.  Great slides cannot save a poorly structured, confusing message, so start with the structure first.

To learn more, I recommend these resources

I read research published in books and journals to keep myself informed on how we, as presenters, can improve the effectiveness of our presentations.  I have found two books that I suggest every serious presenter read in order to understand some of the research that leads to more effective structure and sequence to presentations.  The first is “Multimedia Learning” by Professor Richard Mayer.  This book summarizes his most important findings from the extensive research he does in this area (he has probably done more research than anyone else in the area of effective presentation visuals).  The second is “Brain Rules” by John Medina.  In this book, he gives twelve rules for how our brains work.  This is important for presenters as we consider how we can present our information in a way that is easiest for our audience to understand.  You can buy these books through Amazon using the links below.

Click here to buy Multimedia Learning by Professor Richard Mayer     Click here to buy Brain Rules by John Medina

By Dave Paradi

Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don't overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 4.8 million times and liked over 17,000 times on YouTube.