Most people find it more difficult to take in and remember information that they are listening to rather than reading for themselves. One of the ways you can help your audience follow what you are saying is to create a clear structure for your presentation. The easier you make it for your audience, the more likely they are to be receptive and take the actions you want them to. Working out a good structure is useful for you too as it will encourage you to plan logically, moving from one section to the next.


Use a three-part structure

Every presentation has a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s essential that you include the right content in each of these sections. Perhaps you’ve already heard the advice often given to presenters:

  • Tell them what you are going to tell them.
  • Tell them what you need to tell them.
  • Tell them what you just told them.

It doesn’t mean your presentation should be repetitive. However, it is important to cover your key points more than once – especially when you consider how quickly people forget! It’s estimated that people will forget:

38% in 2 days, 65% in 8 days, 75% in 30 days

Getting off to a strong start

You are likely to feel most nervous at the beginning of your presentation, yet this is the point where you need to capture the attention of your audience. If you get off to a poor start then it can be very difficult to recover. So it’s well worth spending time on working out a strong introduction. Here are some ideas to help you.

  • Build rapport with your audience by smiling and making eye contact with them.
  • Introduce yourself clearly and mention your company or connection with the topic you are going to talk about.
  • Use an ‘attention grabber’ e.g. a surprising statistic, an image, a brief story etc. Don’t be tempted to tell a joke as this has serious risk of backfiring.
  • Answer questions in the mind of the audience by telling them how long you will speak; whether you will take questions as you go along or at the end; whether you will be providing handouts.
  • State the main purpose of your presentation and give a brief overview to map out what you will be covering.
  • Highlight benefits the audience will gain from listening to your presentation.


Keeping your audience with you all the way

With the best will in the world, people tend to ‘drift off’ when listening passively. The time this is most likely to happen is in the middle of your presentation. So you need to work hard at keeping your audience tuned in all the way through.

  • Keep things simple, bearing in mind that it is difficult to concentrate and absorb information.
  • Wherever possible, group your points in ‘threes’ as people tend to retain more this way e.g. give three reasons why; three benefits; three examples.
  • Use a deductive approach. This means stating a conclusion or reason for something and then backing it up with supporting facts. People will generally find this easier to follow than the opposite approach where you give lots of facts and then they have to draw conclusions themselves.
  • Give your audience ‘signposts’ so they know when you are moving on to a new point. Say things such as: this brings me to; I’d now like to move on to; a connected point is; another example is; following on from this; let’s now consider; the next step; another possibility.


Ending on a high note

You might be feeling greatly relieved that you’ve almost reached the end of your presentation, but it’s not time to relax yet! On many occasions I’ve seen presenters undoing their good work by trailing off with a rather limp: “Well, that’s about all I’ve got to say about……”

The way you wrap up your presentation matters a great deal. It’s your final opportunity to get your message across and to impress your audience. Here are some things to say and do:

  • Warn your audience you are coming to the end by saying things such as: finally; in conclusion; I would like to sum up by…; lastly I would like to…; in summary
  • Repeat your main points and highlight any benefits.
  • Invite questions from the audience.
  • If you are making any ‘calls to action’ – do it subtly. Remember no-one likes a pushy salesperson.
  • Most important of all – keep up your energy level and make sure you look and sound positive. End with a bang, not a whimper!

Of course there’s more to a successful presentation than having a clear structure. You must deliver it well too. Come back and view future posts when I’ll be giving lots of valuable tips on how to deliver a great presentation.

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