6 Steps To Creating A Clear Presentation Storyline
by Andrea Pacini —
The greatest films, TV shows and novels are the ones with the best storylines. The same is true for presentations. A strong narrative can help you bring your presentation alive and make it memorable and successful.
However, most business owners, leaders and professionals don’t pay enough attention to the way they structure their presentations. They fail to develop a clear storyline.
I’ve come across many presenters who simply improvise their presentation around some slides. Their ‘storyline’ tends to be a sequence of predictable slides we’ve all seen a million times before. There’s a title slide, an agenda slide and then a series of others.
When a series of slides don’t follow any structure, the audience is unlikely to be fully engaged. When the participants leave the meeting they don’t understand what has been said, they won’t remember it and they won’t take action. The key messages aren’t clear.
The benefits of a clear storyline
If your presentation follows a clear structure, your audience will be able to follow what you’re saying more easily一and they’ll understand and remember your key messages. It’s more likely they’ll take action from what you’ve said.
Another benefit of having a clear structure is that you as the presenter will find it much easier to remember your key messages too. Even if you lose your way in the middle of a presentation and go blank, it’s going to be easier to remember what the next section is and get back on track.
The aim of a great presentation is to take your audience on a journey from A to B.
You want to transport them from not knowing something to understanding it; from not believing to believing; from not feeling to feeling. The journey will hopefully persuade them to do what you want them to do.
Creating a storyline for a presentation is like baking a cake. The order in which you use the ingredients makes a big difference.
To make a Tiramisu (a proper traditional Italian one) you first beat the egg whites until stiff and set it to one side. You mix the egg yolks, mascarpone and sugar in a separate bowl. It’s only once that other mixture is ready that you gently fold in the stiff egg whites. If you try to mix in the egg whites too early it won’t work.
In just the same way, the structure of a presentation and how you put it together makes a big difference.
According to Matt Abrahams, a lecturer in Organisational Behaviour at Stanford University Graduate School of Business, “people retain structured information up to 40% more reliably and accurately than information that is presented in a more freeform manner.”
What is the best storyline?
Depending on the needs of your audience and what you’re trying to achieve, there are different storylines that work better than others.
However, there’s one structure that works all the time. It’s a six step structure that you can apply to any type of presentation, regardless of the context, the audience or their needs.
Here’s a clear presentation structure:
Let’s look at this structure in more detail and unpack it.
This is the introduction to your presentation. Note I say the introduction, not your introduction. Most presenters make the mistake of introducing themselves at the start of a presentation.
When you start by introducing yourself you’ll never capture the audience’s attention. No one cares that much about you (or me). They only care about themselves.
A better way to start is by talking about the audience and involving them. You
need to tell them why they should care about your presentation. What’s in it for them? Why should they listen to you?
Now you’ve captured your audience’s attention, and put them first, you can introduce yourself.
- Main body — Three key messages
The main body of your presentation should be your three key messages and the relevant supporting points. This is where, in addition to sharing information, facts and figures, you should include stories, examples and analogies.
These personal anecdotes are what will make your presentations more original and enjoyable.
Using the Rule of Three to get your points across is incredibly powerful, as I’ve previously explored here. The article also includes an example from one of our clients.
You’ve delivered your three key messages in the main body of the presentation, now briefly summarise the key takeaway.
Don’t worry about the fact you’re echoing what you’ve already told them. Repetition is good in communication.
If you have an important message to get across and you tell your audience once, they’ll forget it. If you tell them twice or three times during a presentation, they’ll take it away.
What’s important is to mix up the delivery and use some different words and phrases. It would be boring if your recap was an identical repeat of the same sentences. If you deliver the same message in different ways, that’s good repetition.
The aim of the Recap is to focus on the one thing you want your audience to take away from your presentation.
Keep your Recap as brief as possible. When you summarise your presentation, if it takes more than one breath, cut it back.
- Next steps
Most presenters don’t make it clear to the audience what they want them to do after the presentation一or they are not specific enough about the actions.
Remember: a presentation is not a mind-reading exercise. You can’t expect your audience to know what you want them to do. You need to spell it out clearly and tell them what action to take.
Do you want them to express their interest in a discovery call? Tell them.
Do you want them to start collaborating with you? Tell them.
Do you want them to agree to have a more in-depth conversation with your technical team? Tell them.
Another common mistake presenters make is they include the Q&A (Questions & Answers) at the end of their presentations.
They bring their presentations to a faltering finish and then say something like: “Um…ok…that’s it for today…Do you have any questions?
Do yourself a favour and don’t do that! You should never end a presentation with a Q&A.
A presentation should end on your terms with your own conclusion. The last point you make should be to state again your key message and why they should care about it.
A much better approach is to include the Q&A before your conclusion.
The Q&A is important because it allows you to interact with your audience and address their concerns. But it’s not a good way to finish a presentation.
- What - So what - What next
Now you’ve done the Q&A session it’s finally time for your conclusion—the last words you’ll leave your audience with.
This is your opportunity to leave them with the one point you want them to take away from your presentation. The question is一what is it?
This is similar to the question I asked you for the Recap section. Remember: repetition is good in communication.
A great way to end a presentation is to follow the What - So what - What next format as follows:
- What: What’s the one thing the audience needs to remember?
- So what: Why should they care? Why is it important to them?
- What next: Now that they care, what do you want them to believe, feel or do?
A real life example
We previously worked with Toby Trimble, MD and Founder of Trimble Productions, who develops world-class educational programmes for thought-leaders in the veterinary industry.
Toby came to us because he felt he used a lot of filler words and phrases like ‘um’ and ‘er’ when presenting一and relied on improvisation too much, thinking that was a way to come across well.
Toby had been listening back to recordings of himself doing presentations and felt he seemed unprepared.
He wanted to become a more proficient speaker who people would be excited to listen to.
Once we helped Toby to put a clear structure in place he discovered that it helped him grab the audience’s attention immediately and keep them engaged. Finishing with a strong punchline became important to him.
Toby is now doing presentations a couple of times a week and being booked for speaking engagements. People have seen him speak and been impressed by the quality of his presentations.
He told me that he feels much more confident and empowered to be a proficient public face of his company.
Having a clear storyline will elevate your presentations and ensure that your audience understands your key message.
Putting together a deck with a series of slides is not a storyline, no matter how much work has gone into it.
You need to take your audience on a journey and leave them in no doubt at the end what you want them to take away from the session.
There are many possible storylines for presentations.
However, a simple and effective structure which always works is to break it down into six elements:
- Opening: introduce what you will talk about and then yourself
- Main body: your three key messages
- Recap: when you re-iterate the key take away
- Next steps: your chance to deliver a call to action to the audience
- Q&A: the moment you offer to take any questions
- What - So what - What next: your closing remarks when you tell the audience the one thing you would like them to remember
If this article has helped you please get in touch to let me know. If you feel any colleagues or friends might also benefit from reading it, feel free to share it.
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Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash