October 10, 2019

Structuring the Perfect PowerPoint Presentation

Good preparation is everything: this applies to a successful PowerPoint presentation as much as everything else in life. This is relevant even before you start to consider the content of your presentation; the way your presentation is set up and structured can make all the difference to its success. This blog sets out to provides handy tips on structuring a presentation.

When Is a Presentation Needed and What Should it Cover?

A presentation consists both of the topic to be covered and the occasion on which it will be delivered. For example:

  • a sales presentation to a customer in order to present products or services
  • to present company figures, e.g. for the management board
  • as part of employee onboarding, to educate new colleagues about the company
  • to celebrate company anniversaries
  • to present the company to schools or universities
  • to present research results, e.g. for a scientific congress
  • and many more

No matter what the topic or occasion, your presentation should always have a coherent structure; without this, even the best facts and figures can fall flat. If your audience can’t follow you, you’re going to fail in whatever the presentation aimed for, such as winning a new customer.

Structuring a Presentation

Without going into details at this point, a presentation should always follow a structure which boils down to: introduction, main topic, and conclusion. This may sound glaringly obvious, but it isn‘t always easy to work out how to keep your audience’s attention in terms of structuring your presentation. So what do you need to think about in each section?

1. Introduction: Arousing Curiosity

How you start a presentation is a very important part of structure. The main object is to pique the audience‘s interest, ideally generating sympathy for your ideas. There are a couple of effective ways to start:

The Gentle Introduction

Starting this way, you pick up the audience at their current level of knowledge and gradually move to the core content of your presentation. Your first slides should therefore be relatively uncomplicated and familiar to your audience. The audience should be able to follow and agree on all your points leading up to the main topic. So the first step describes the current situation, the second step the challenge, and the third step discusses ways of reacting to this challenge.

The Surprise Effect

In this form of introduction, you use the element of surprise to your advantage: you start the presentation by shocking or surprising your audience with a statement. Controversial statements or shock results from studies, for example, are great for this. Choose statements that are both demonstrably true and relevant to the audience, or you risk losing their trust. After the introduction, the presentation follows a similar pattern: first describe the situation, then what happened or could happen, then outline the possible consequences, and finally discuss how you should react.

2. The Main Topic – the Essential Core of the Presentation

The middle section of your presentation should make up about seventy percent of the total, and is all about getting your points over to your audience. You can go for a standard lecture-style presentation if that works for you, or actively involve your audience in some sort of question-and-answer scenario, which is pretty much guaranteed to retain their attention. It always helps to consider how you would react if it were you in the audience rather than giving the presentation.

As to structuring the meat of the presentation, there are two strong options:

  • The Main Topic as a Pyramid

In this structure, you state your core message at the beginning of the main part of your presentation. If you address it too early, during the introduction, your audience might well wonder what you are trying to say, but using the introduction to lead up to this moment means the audience will be 100% with you. If you want to use a question-and-answer session, it is extremely effective to have it follow on from your core message.

  • The Main Topic as a Funnel

This way of structuring a presentation sees the core message delayed until the end of the main thrust. This can be very effective if the topic is known to arouse controversy or has a high emotional content; if you introduce such things too early, losing control of your audience is a possibility. It is a risky approach, and requires a highly experienced presenter. This structure does not lend itself to dialogue with the audience, but can deliver a powerful impact.

3. The Conclusion: Rounding Off Your Presentation

The final part of your presentation feels like it should be easy, because the most important part has already taken place. It’s worth taking a bit of time to hone your conclusion and leave your audience on a high, though. Repeat the gist of your core message, including a short recap of the situation, the challenges, and possible courses of action. Be well prepared for any questions the audience may pose, if you have chosen to allow questions or an open discussion. With either of these options, it is essential to tell your audience at the beginning of the presentation, so they have the opportunity to take notes and think of possible questions. An open discussion can be fascinating and enlightening, but might well require an experienced presenter who is an expert on the subject and can think on their feet.

Simplicity is the Key to Success

As is so often the case, less is more when creating a professional presentation. A presentation is not about you, but about convincing your audience. Again, putting yourself in the audience’s position when you create the presentation is important:  what would you need to know to be convinced, what counter-arguments might occur to you? Keep the jargon to a minimum; that way your core message will come across strong and clear to as much of your audience as possible. A strong and simple message will convince better than a confusing and unstructured bombardment of facts and figures. Hone your arguments until they stand firm, then emphasize them as follows:

  • Use Visual Elements

Audiences for PowerPoint presentations are no longer excited by bland lists of bullet points (if they ever were!). Make use of the myriad possibilities PowerPoint can now offer. Animated videos, for example, can be used to stunning effect in your presentation, then saved to use elsewhere, such as on social media. These are especially good for presenting complex information in an accessible way; heaping raw data on your audience might well alienate them. Infographics are also a cutting-edge and effective means of attracting audience attention; a picture can say a thousand words.

Your company’s corporate design can be subtly incorporated into your presentation. Too many colors, or an overload of solid text, though, can overwhelm your audience. Use visuals sparingly to make them most effective; no more than one visual element per slide is recommended.

  • Choose Your Slide Titles Carefully

When giving a presentation, remember that the first thing to catch your audience’s eye will be the title of each slide. Ideally, the title should distil the content of the slide, so that your audience is immediately attuned to the message or the facts to be presented.

A positive, active voice makes for what’s known as an „action title“ (for example, „Positive Sales Development in 2019“ rather than „Turnover 2019“); this will help bring your audience along with your enthusiastic storytelling. If what you need to communicate is too long for a title, use subtitles to support your message.

  • Use Navigators

A presentation usually represents your thoughts on a specific topic. You can integrate these thoughts into the structure of your presentation, in the form of hints (or navigators), to helps the audience to follow your thoughts. A navigator can be designed individually – for example as a number, letter, symbol or small diagram. They stay in the same place in all your slides, but you change the content of the navigator during the course of your presentation.

Involving Your Audience in the Presentation

Studies show that presentations are best appreciated and remembered when the audience is involved in some way. An involved audience is more lively and is more likely to buy into your ideas. Use a vote in your introduction, for example, to get your audience’s attention immediately, or throw out questions throughout to involve your audience. Such questions should be presented in an encouraging and open manner, but with a certain polite determination. Try raising your hand to give the question; people tend to mirror behaviors and will be more likely to raise their own hands to answer you. Make sure the questions are at the right level for your audience; too easy and they will be bored, too difficult and you risk losing them.

Another good way to involve your audience is in a kind of interactive quiz; instead of just reading out particular facts and figures, you could give the audience three possibilities and let them guess the right answer. You can also integrate a certain amount of physical activity (depending of course upon your audience). This helps shake off the fatigue of sitting for a while just listening, but is also an opportunity to give your audience a different perspective; you could, for example, ask them to bend down to see the situation from a child’s point of view. Your audience is now right inside your presentation, not just sitting and passively listening.

If you need help developing a presentation structure or setting up your presentation, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We are always happy to support you.

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