Want to know a secret? There are plenty of ideas about what makes a presentation great. But there is one simple way to categorize all those ideas into a memorable acronym: C.O.D.E.

Handed down from greats like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, these four concepts can help speakers remember the most important elements at work when they present. In addition, this C.O.D.E. is also useful for evaluating presentations. It can help us clearly answer, “What makes a presentation great?”

Let’s break down content, organization, delivery, and effectiveness to see how this simple formula can help us create better presentations.


The content of a presentation is what you actually say and show. It’s the stuff on your notes and slides. It’s important to develop content with your audience in mind. Take into account what they already know and also what they expect to learn.

In addition, aim for content variety. This means you need to fill your presentation with different kinds of material. Consider just a few of these categories you can use: verbal/visual, emotional/logical, serious/humorous, statistics/stories. Your audience needs more than just one type of content to engage with your presentation.


This category of the C.O.D.E. has to do with the flow of your presentation. Audience members like to know what to expect. You’ve probably heard that it’s a good idea to tell the audience where you are heading in your presentation. It’s true. Giving your audience an overview of your organization gives them a map to follow, as well as a sense of control. Author of Science Through Multiple Intelligences: Patterns that Inspire Inquiry, Robert C. Barkman says that when we see patterns in the world around us, we see order instead of chaos. That order not only helps us to understand better, it also builds our confidence and gives us a feeling of control.

You shouldn’t just piece your presentation together in the order you originally write it down. Just like you think about what you want to say, you should think about what order to say it in. Be strategic and make it easy to follow for your audience so they aren’t frustrated with a scattered, haphazard presentation.


Delivery is the manner in which you perform your presentation. It is made up of things like the pitch of your voice and the rate of your speech. It involves how much or little you move around the stage. It includes your facial expressions and also your hand gestures.

Well-known presentation coach Jerry Weissman has my favorite way of talking about delivery. He says that the content of the presentation is the steak, but the delivery is the sizzle. Think about a plate of steak fajitas being carried through a restaurant. The steak may be delicious, but it’s the sizzle that gets everyone’s attention and creates a buzz of excitement. He reminds us though, you can’t have the sizzle without the steak. Delivery can’t stand alone or take the place of solid content.

It’s also important to note that there is no one right way to deliver. Presentations are forms of communication, and we all communicate differently. Instead of asking you to fit some type of predetermined presentation mold, at Ethos3, we help you figure out your own style. Then, we help you develop and enhance that unique style.


The final element of the C.O.D.E. is effectiveness. If the other three categories are at work, this one comes into play naturally. Effectiveness seeks to answer this question: “Have I accomplished what I set out to do?

I once had a student who wanted to teach the class how to solve the Rubik’s cube. He had learned how to solve it and could demonstrate his ability in a matter of a few minutes. He had engaging content and delivery. And his presentation followed a clear chronological format through a sequence of steps. But there was one major problem. At the end of his presentation, if he had handed a Rubik’s cube to those of us in the audience, none of us could have solved the puzzle using his method. He had simply covered too many complicated steps too quickly for any of us to truly have learned how solve it. So it was an entertaining presentation, but it was ultimately ineffective.

Keep your goal in mind always. What is it that you intend to accomplish with your presentation? Keep aiming for that mark.

These four simple elements of content, organization, delivery, and effectiveness can work together to help you create a winning presentation. Keep them in mind and you’ll be sure to leave a lasting impression on your audience.

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