Friday, April 25, 2008

Developing Your Presentation's Flow

Authenticity Rule #5 is Know Your Flow.

How do you decide how your presentation is going to flow? What is your presentation going to be about, what goes into the outline, and what comes first, second, third, etc.? Here is a simple strategy I have used roughly 2,250 times (I have given over 150 presentations every year for 15 years.)

1. Begin by asking, "What is at the core of my presentation?" Your answer should be the most important concept, idea, or learning lesson you want the audience to walk away with. It should be simple, clear and meaningful. Everything in your presentation should make your core stronger, clearer to understand, and/or easier to remember/implement.

2. Detail out the presentation logistics: number of people, presentation length, room set-up, audience ages/backgrounds/reasons for being there/expectations/etc., AV tools at your disposal, and organization makeup/history/challenges/etc.

3. Brainstorm a long list of options to support your core and that will fit with the logistics. Your list will include stories, more points, quotes, visuals, pictures, props, activities, exercises, videos, handout pieces, facts, data, etc. This list should be intentionally long. Everything won't make it into the presentation, but you need to get all your options in front of you.

4. Now you are ready to start putting together your flow (i.e. - your outline). This is simply an exercise in pulling elements out of your options list and moving them into your outline based on these characteristics: powerful, fresh, creative, deep in meaning, easy to understand, authentic to you and your story/experience/expertise, and connects back to your core (point #1.) Take into consideration the time elements and remember to plan on using only 80% of your allotted time. The cardinal sin for any presenter is going over time. This normal happens by trying to fit in too much information. Remember, less is more.

This strategy will work for short presentations (1-10 minutes), keynotes, workshops, breakout sessions, informational presentations, etc. Remember to save not only your final flow, but also your options list. We use Microsoft Outlook Exchange for our contacts/calendar/etc. and Blackberry devices. I save the final flows and the option lists in both the calendar notes for the events and the memo/notes feature. This allows me to be able to access both via my laptop and my Crackleberry and everything is backed up on both devices, as well as the Exchange server.

A future post will officially introduce to Authenticity Rule #5...

The 7-Iron Rule - Know Your Flow

You can only improve after you learn how a correct presentation flow feels.


C.J. Cavin said...

This sounds like something I learned at a Presentation Workshop. Thanks for all the help Rhett, the team learned a lot and we really appreciate the time you took to help us become better presenters!

Terry Gault said...

Thanks for the post Rhett! Forgive the long-winded reply, but you got me thinking about structuring presentations, so I will give my two-cents (and then some).

As all presenters know, in the all seems like chaos. Your thoughts, your mind, what you want to get across, what you want to tell your audience.

To create an effective presentation, you must create order out of this chaos.

The ancient Babylonians portrayed chaos as the dragon-like Tamat, the Chaos Monster. To create our ordered universe, the cosmos, Tiamat had to be slain and her body cleft in two, one-half forming the heavens and the other the earth.

To create a structure for your presentation, you will have to face your own "Chaos Monster" and, like an archer, master the organizational techniques that follow.

The basic structure of a presentation is in three parts: Opening, Body, Conclusion.


Like the archer's release of the arrow, the Opening of a presentation should begin in silence as the archer takes a breath and centers himself. As the archer pulls the bow string back, potential energy gathers, and then "twang!" the arrow accelerates in an explosion of energy, sound and speed. One moment -- quiet; the next -- a blur of action that demands attention.

When you stand to open your presentation, center yourself like the archer. Allow a moment of silence as you visually connect with your audience. Focus on individual faces in the audience. Let the silence build tension and audience anticipation. Then shatter the calm with something that demands that people turn their attention away from their private thoughts and tune into what you are saying. Use an opening technique -- "a hook" -- and deliver it with dramatic voice, gesture and technique.


The arrow represents the Body of your presentation, as the arrow traverses the distance to reach the mark. It covers a vast space and carries your point home.

The Body of your presentation is the longest segment of the presentation. Do not let it be dull or be seen as "rambling." Like an arrow, give the Body of your presentation a finely honed point -- call it the central thesis or main takeaway sentence. Distill your entire presentation down to one sentence that encapsulates your point. Explain clearly to the audience how everything you say is related to your central thesis. Use repetition to make sure the audience gets your point. Use segues like "Why is this important?" to clue the audience in to what you are about to reveal. To give your presentation an arrow-sharp edge, write down each section of your presentation with this thought in mind: "What is my point and how does this idea support it?" If an idea doesn't support your thesis, drop it. It belongs in another presentation.

Is there a story or metaphor that conveys that central point? Use that story by referring back to it frequently for real-world examples that illustrate your point. Drive the point home with the use of imagery that reminds us of your metaphor.

Now that you have your audience's attention, how do you keep it?

Lead your audience:

-Add perceived structure by numbering your points.

-Create clear transitions between your points, using questions, like "What else do we need to do to succeed?"

-Use familiar metaphors, analogies and examples to explain new concepts.

-Stimulate right-brain activity with visual aids: an image, prop or diagram. (Anything that is not a letter or number stimulates both hemispheres of the brain.)

Keep your audience interested:

-Vary vocal delivery by changing pitch, volume and intensity.

-Use expressive and specific gestures. Move about the room.

-Ask questions, both rhetorical and/or directly aimed at the audience.

-Make eye contact.

-Involve your audience, even if only with a show of hands or a quick survey.

-Have fun; humor helps.

-Increase credibility with carefully chosen moments of stillness and silence.


The completion of your presentation is your target -- a bull's-eye -- a great Conclusion. To avoid allowing your Conclusion to fall short of its mark, let the audience know when you are in the process of concluding by saying: "In conclusion..." or "What does it all mean?" for example.

In addition to content, make sure your vocal inflection clearly signals the end of the presentation and not merely a pause. Write out your final sentence so your voice signals the concluding syllable (Usually the volume goes up in the last few words then down for the final syllable.). End with authority and certainty.

After the Opening, the Conclusion has the second highest impact of your presentation. It leaves the audience with the final impression of you and your message. Human beings seek completion and resolution. Without a clear Conclusion audiences feel left hanging. Provide your audience a powerful sense of completion by crafting a strong Conclusion.



Andrew said...

Good advice as always, Rhett.

2250 presentations? Wow!

Jay Koontz said...

Thanks Rhett! this gave me a fresh perspective that i'm going to use next time i present.

usually i switch up 3 and 4, going for the outline first and then brainstorming how to approach it.

last time i did that, i wound up changing my entire outline the day before to fit in a more inclusive presentation. it made for a late night.