Thirty million presentations are given each and every day. Most will fall into the category of classic Death by PowerPoint presentations, and after listening to enough of those you learn a few things about how to do it right. One of the easiest and best ways to clean up a horrid Death by PowerPoint presentation is by organizing the content into a clear, organized flow. Think about reading a book whose pages were all scattered disorderedly throughout; the meaning would be completely lost because the reader wouldn’t be able to follow. The same goes for a presentation: without a clear flow, the audience will lose out on if not all, then at the very least some of its purpose.
Clarity is Key
After you’ve laid out everything you want to cover, after you’ve scribbled down the most important talking points and after you’ve determined the main thesis you are trying to prove, then you should begin thinking about flow. As you sit down to organize the mess of content in front of you, it’s helpful to reference the organization used in pieces of prose as a guide because it’s that kind of clear, streamlined flow that your presentation needs. The most important part in choosing a flow structure is ensuring that everything is incredibly clear. It should be obvious why that slide follows this slide, why that objective went before that objective, etc.
Don’t make the audience think about why you chose that particular order. Don’t make them search for a reason why that point came after that other point. Make it obvious. Make it intuitive. Clarity and simplicity is key. Construct your presentation so it’s as easy as possible for you to navigate and for your audience to follow.
Choice is Critical
The worst thing you can do when choosing how to organize your presentation is to not choose at all. Indecision is all the rage, we get it, but by not choosing a particular flow you’re condemning your presentation to haphazard organization, which is bad for you and bad for your audience. Be decisive. Choose one, and stick to it.
Jerry Weissman lists sixteen possible flow structures in Presenting to Win. Sixteen! Modular, chronological, physical, spatial, problem/solution, issues/actions, opportunity/leverage, form/function, features/benefits, case study, argument/fallacy, compare/contrast, matrix, parallel tracks, rhetorical questions, and numerical. Oh my! Surely out of those sixteen there’s one that sparks your interest and looks like it will be a good fit for your content. Choose that one and run with it. Don’t look back. Don’t think about other options. The most important thing is to commit to one (or at the most two) and get going.
Full Circle is Effective
Another typical element of a great piece of prose, which is great to use in presentations, is to end where you began. If you start your presentation with a story of an extraordinary dog and his adventures, end your presentation with another story about the same dog. Or muse further on the adventure the dog was on in the beginning.
This full circle approach is effective because it ties up your entire presentation in a neat little package with a pretty bow. Adding this small touch of bringing everything back around accentuates the flow you’ve chosen. It solidifies a clear organization, functioning as bookmarks for the beginning and the end of the presentation.
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