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Presentation Basics and Points that Matter

May 6, 2008

Things that ruin a presontaion

  • No clear point. The audience leaves the presentation wondering what it was all about.

  • No audience benefit. The presentation fails to show how the audience can benefit from the information.

  • No clear flow. The sequence of ideas is so confusing that the audience is unable to follow.

  • Too detailed. The main point is obscured by irrelevant information.

  • Too long. The audience loses focus and gets bored.

Presentation Flow and format

There are proven techniques for organizing ideas into a logical sequence to create lucid and persuasive presentations. They are called the 16 flow structures:

Modular. This method presents a sequence of similar parts, units or components in which the order of the units is interchangeable. This option is difficult to follow and should be used sparingly, as in financial presentations.

Chronological. This option organizes clusters of ideas along a time line. This format is ideal when your presentation consists of a story that deals with change. Take, for example, the fictitious acquisition by Goliath Software of David Software. To help David software developers feel at home, you might use a presentation that shows Goliath’s growth, where it is today, how and why the acquisition occurred, and how the two companies will move ahead in the future. David employees will begin building strong connections with their new employer when they understand the change process.

Physical. This flow structure organizes clusters of ideas according to their physical or geographic location. For example, if you are selling the advantages of using your global distribution network, you might organize your presentation around each location, demonstrating how each connects into a global network that can serve customers better than any other distribution company.

Spatial. This method organizes ideas conceptually. In this case, ideas are arranged according to a physical metaphor or analogy, such as in a pyramid or inverted pyramid or concentric circles.

Problem/Solution. This technique organizes the presentation around a problem and a solution offered by you or your company. Many companies in the life sciences use this format when doing a road show to raise private or public capital. To attract investors, they describe a medical problem and how they can solve it with their unique product or service. Just be sure to spend as little time as necessary on the problem and as much time as possible on your solution.

Issues/Actions. This structure organizes the presentation around one or more issues and the actions you propose to address them. Outside the life sciences, the issues/actions variation of the problem/solution presentation may be more effective. Focus on actions. This is often used by companies in turnaround mode. They identify the issues they are facing and the actions they are planning to take to overcome them.

Opportunity/Leverage. This format organizes the presentation around business opportunities and the leverage you or your company will implement to take advantage of them. This is most often the format of IPO road shows because it appeals to the investor audience’s essential interest in growth. It identifies an opportunity and immediately shows how your company can take advantage of it.

Form/Function. This structure organizes the presentation around a single central business concept, method or technology with multiple applications or functions emanating from that central core.

Features/Benefits. This method organizes your presentation around your product or service features and the concrete benefits provided by those features.

Case Study. This technique presents a narrative recounting of how you or your company solved a particular problem or met the needs of a particular customer. In the telling, you cover all aspects of your business and its environment. A pharmaceutical company might tell the story of John Smith, for example, who suffered from a particular disease and was helped by your company. As you tell his story, you also tell your company’s story and help the audience see the human side to your business.

Argument/Fallacy. This method raises arguments against your own case and then rebuts them by pointing out the fallacies that underlie them. This is a good approach to use with a skeptical or even hostile audience. Raise arguments against your own case and then knock them out of the water by showing they’re false. The idea is to pre-empt audience objections.

Compare/Contrast. This option organizes the presentation around a series of comparisons that illustrate the differences between your company and others. Focus on what makes your company special.

Matrix. This structure uses a two-by-two or larger diagram to organize a complex series of concepts into an easy-to-digest, easy-to-follow and easy-to-remember form.

Parallel Tracks. This format drills down into a series of related ideas with an identical set of subsets for each idea. For example, a biotech company might explain one disease, such as an allergic reaction, and call it the disease mechanism. This is followed by a description of the company’s drug product, an explanation of how the company’s patented drug treats the disease — the mechanism of action — and a description of who is affected by the disease, the market. Each drug in the company’s stable is described the same way: first the disease mechanism, then the drug product, the mechanism of actions and, finally, the market for the drug.

Rhetorical Questions. This technique asks, then answers, questions that are likely to be foremost in the minds of your audience.

Numerical. This method enumerates a series of loosely-connected ideas, facts or arguments. Think of this presentation style as a David Letterman top 10 list.

Capturing Your Audience Immediately

Picture your audience at the start of your presentation. What are they focused on? Chances are it isn’t you. If you were to launch into your presentation at full speed, chances are you would vault ahead of your audience and they would never catch up. Remember, don’t make them think!

The Opening Gambit can overcome this problem. The Opening Gambit is a short statement you can use to seize the attention of your audience. There are seven Opening Gambits from which to choose. They are:

  1. Question. Direct a question at your audience. A well-chosen, relevant question evokes an immediate response, breaks down barriers, and gets audience members thinking about how your message applies to them.

  2. Factoid — a striking statistic or little-known fact. The factoid must be closely related to the main theme of your presentation. It can be a market growth figure, a detail about a demographic, or a social trend.

  3. Retrospective/Prospective — a look backward or forward; a “that was then, this is now” approach. If you’re selling computer chips, for example, start with a look at speeds five years ago, today, and then project them into the future.

  4. Anecdote — a short human interest story, related to your Point B.

  5. Quotation — an endorsement about your business from a respected source. Be sure it is relevant.

  6. Aphorism — a familiar saying. Examples include: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” “Seeing is believing,” and “Easier said than done.”

  7. Analogy — a comparison between two seemingly unrelated items that helps illuminate a complex, arcane or obscure topic. The simpler and clearer, the better.

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