The Framework, Flow, and Form of A Great Presentation


The Framework: It’s Elementary!

A while back I had the good fortune to be invited to a session at my daughter’s elementary school, along with the other parents, to learn about the process our youngins went through over the preceding few months – on how to deliver an effective presentation. As a marketer deeply invested in and passionate about the power of a great presentation– needless to say, this was an experience that greatly resonated with me.

And what these (mostly) 11-year-olds learned – is right on spot. As were these kids. They got it.

So, what’s this framework? It’s quite simple, easy to remember – and very effective:

  • First: Secure Audience Attention

  • Second: The Body of the Presentation

  • Third & Last: The Close & CTA (call to action)

Let’s take a look.

First: Securing Audience Attention

In a situation where not everyone in the audience knows who you are, before you start talking, it’s important to present yourself with a credential or two about why they should listen to you. Proof points are important for every phase in your presentation, and especially when you’re aiming at securing engagement.

Once you’ve gone through the basic introduction – it’s important to “tell them what you’re going to tell them.” Set up expectations. It’s like landing on a web page without a title. Before I start reading I want to know what I’m going to read about (and make sure I landed in the right place).

Second: The Body of the Presentation

As you outline what you want to talk about – it’s important to remember the “rule of 3.”

Thomas Jefferson was a proponent of the rule of 3. In the US Declaration of Independence, he didn’t have 34 slides, each with 10 bullet points about inalienable rights. He had 3: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The French also have 3: liberty, equality, and fraternity. The examples are endless. Some great ones can be found in this article in Presentation Magazine.

Bottom line – your audience will not remember more than 3 messages. So, pick them well, develop them well, and – here’s the second part of this section – always present the WIIFM ("what’s in it for me").

Your presentation is not about you. It’s about the benefit your audience will gain from what you have to say and offer. Always make it about them.

Third & Last (rule of 3 😊): The Close & CTA (Call to Action)

Before your Thank You slide, assuming you’re using slides, make sure to “tell them what you told them.” Don’t take any chances – reiterate, clearly, simply, and with great conviction and authenticity – the 3 points that will change their lives (and why).

And, the CTA (call to action) - if a presentation comes without a call to action, does it really exist? Maybe it does, but then it disappears into thin air. The next step should always be clearly, convincingly, and invitingly articulated.

This clear and structured order of things can (and should) be mixed up just a tad. Namely, if you really want to get them engaged, on a deeper emotional level – even before you introduce yourself – set the stage (literally and figuratively) with a great story. But, not just any story – a story that in its essence will be connected to the main point of your presentation.

For example, if your presentation is about a great new cyber security software that your team has developed – tell a story about a cyber security failing that really happened and its inglorious consequences. Then, you can naturally segue into the crux of your presentation (after introducing yourself, of course).

If you don’t have a great story – an opening video might work as well. You can find something relevant on YouTube, or even produce it yourself (there are lots of low-cost options even for the tightest of marketing budgets). Regardless of whether you curate or create – it’s best to keep it under 60 seconds.

So, whether you’re a crafty 11-year-old trying to convince your parents that adopting a dog will teach you responsibility – or an entrepreneur on a fund-raising roadshow – the framework of your presentation can be very effective if you remember its simple structure:

1. A short story (or video) goes a long way

2. Introduce yourself and your topic 3. Limit yourself to 3 messages that are all WIIFM

4. Recap the 3 messages

And, as always – let them know that you appreciate the opportunity to stand before them and the fact that they gave their time and attention. ('Please' and 'thank you' really do go a long way).

Flow: "But, how do I tell my story?"

A well organized presentation with a great story will go a very long way. Indeed, it’s your ace in the hole for convincing prospects, wowing customers at the annual event, impressing investors, and so much more. The presentation is often perceived as an extension of oneself. If my presentation is professional, beautiful, impactful, and articulate – then so am I.

So, what are the key elements of the great story you plan to tell with your presentation? It’s not about the bells and whistles. It’s about a simple, yet powerful story, that resonates, differentiates, and – ultimately – converts. The road to conversion is paved with resonance and differentiation, and – of course – relevance and value.

And, if we must boil it down to its simplest elements – a good marketing story should unfold as follows:

  • What is the need (or what is the opportunity in case of investor decks)

  • How we solve this need

  • What makes our way different and better

  • Benefits

  • Proof points (including 3rd party if possible, e.g. analyst quotes)

  • Call to action

Once we’ve got this basic flow – how can we nuance our story to ensure memorability and emotional engagement? When it comes to storytelling, it really is an art. Storytelling is not just about campfires, myths, and legends. It is the key to being memorable – and memorability is one of the main pillars of a great presentation.

So, how does storytelling impact memorability? Well, if we listen to a PowerPoint presentation with just lists and lists of bullet points, certain parts in the brain will get activated. That is, this information hits the language processing parts in our brain, where we decode words into meaning. But that’s it, nothing else happens.

However, when we are being told a story, cognitively – we are actually experiencing it. This means that not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use were we to actually experience the events of the story, are also activated. The greater the activation, the greater the memorability.

So, if storytelling is crucial to effective (and convincing) presentations – what makes for a great story? There are different approaches and prisms through which we can consider the answer to this question.

One approach, is Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why.” In his famous Ted talk Simon presents his theory of the ‘Golden Circle’ – where the construct of a great marketing story starts with the ‘why,’ and only then moves on to the ‘how’ and the ‘what.’

He gives Apple as an example of great brand storytelling. That is, Apple is a great storyteller because they don’t say:

“We make great computers. They're user friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. Want to buy one?”

Rather, they say:

“With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo. We aim to think differently. Our products are user friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

Pretty convincing.

Then there’s Nancy Duarte’s “Secret Structure of Great Talks.” She posits that every great talk (or presentation) has the same structure. She studied the likes of Martin Luther King, Abe Lincoln, and more.

According to Nancy – the key to engagement is to first present the problem with the status quo and then follow a rhythm of reminding them of the issues of the problem and how a ‘new bliss’ can change their lives forever for the better.

Regardless of the approach you take (and actually these are complementary, rather than conflicting), the flow should always go from problem to solution, with proof points and a call to action.

Form: "And, what about my slides?"

Ok, now that we’ve got the basic framework and flow down, what are we supposed to do with our slides? While some of us may have the luxury of the corporate template produced by the company’s marketing team – not all of us have access to a designer who can wave their magic wand of creativity and whip up something breathtaking and unforgettable.

But even if you don’t have a master designer on hand – you can still make sure that your presentations are clear, memorable, and aesthetically sound. In fact, it is our responsibility to make sure that they are.

To avoid the painful, death by PowerPoint, Aaron Weyenberg, UX lead at TED shares tips for how to create slides that effectively communicate your idea.

First, he presents tips for “the big picture”:

  • Create a consistent look and feel – to keep your audience flowing with you instead of staying behind dazed and confused.

  • Think about topic transitions – that is, slides that are dividers should be designed the same, yet different from content slides, for example. This helps the audience understand the flow of your story, when to pause, when you’re turning right, or left, or continuing straight ahead.

  • With text, less is almost always more – this is self-explanatory, yet, unfortunately, oh-so elusive.

  • Use photos that enhance meaning – a powerful image goes a long way to touch upon emotion and engage your audience. Though don’t overdo it. The image should never detract from the content, it should only support or enhance.

Another great source for tips about the aesthetics of a presentation is Canva, the fabulous online tool that helps non-designers create marketing assets that look and feel professionally designed.

These tips include using a consistent set of icons, images, colors, fonts, or – just about everything – consistency is very important. And I would add what I believe is the most important one, which isn’t on their list, and is a must – i.e. don’t kill them with bullet points!

If you’re wondering what kind of images to use, check out this blog post from Buzzsumo.

It's about about which images were the most popular on Buzzfeed and why. Some of the common characteristics of these images is that they were:

  • Relatable

  • Had a ‘feel good’ about them

  • Included tips

  • Expressed passion

  • Were humorous

So, next time before you go thinking about that presentation you need to put together, remember these tried and true rules of crafting a framework, flow, and form for a differentiating, memorable, and converting presentation.

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