How to Structure your Presentation, with Examples

November 27, 2017 - Sophie Thompson

For many, the thought of delivering a presentation is a daunting task and brings about a great deal of nervousness. However, the key to giving a great presentation comes down to one simple thing: preparation.

If you take some time to understand how great presentations are structured, and then apply this structure to your own presentation, you’ll appear much more confident and relaxed.

Here is our complete guide for structuring your presentation, with examples at the end of the article to demonstrate these points.

Why is structuring a presentation so important?

If you’ve ever sat through a great presentation, then you would have left feeling either inspired or informed on a given topic. This isn’t because the person presenting was the most knowledgeable or motivating person in the world. Instead, it’s because they know how to tell a story. They have the ability to craft their message in such a way that the audience can keep up with them every step of the way, and be able to take away a key message.

Crafting this story is all part of structuring your presentation in the right way. In fact, not only is structuring a presentation important for the benefit of the audience’s understanding, it’s also important for you as a narrator. A good structure helps you remain calm, stay on topic, and avoid any awkward silences where you're not sure if you forgot to discuss something crucial.

What will affect your presentation structure?

Generally speaking, there is a natural flow that any decent presentation will follow, and that will be discussed shortly. However, you should be aware that all presentation structures will be different in their own unique ways, and this will be down to a number of personal factors, including:

  • Whether you need to deliver any demonstrations
  • How knowledgeable the audience already is on the given subject
  • How much interaction you want from the audience throughout
  • Any time constraints there are for your talk
  • What setting you are in
  • Your ability to use any kinds of visual assistance

When reading the points below, think critically about what things may cause your presentation structure to be slightly different. You can add in certain elements and add more focus to certain moments if that is what you require.

Good presentation structure is important for a presentation

What is the typical presentation structure?

This is the usual flow of a presentation, which covers all the vital parts and is a good starting point for yours. It allows your audience to easily follow along and sets out a solid structure you can add your content to.

1. Greet the audience and introduce yourself

Before you start delivering your talk, introduce yourself to the audience and clarify who you are and your relevant expertise. This does not need to be long or incredibly detailed, but will help build an immediate relationship between you and the audience. It gives you the chance to briefly clarify your expertise and why what you are about to say is worth listening to.

Read our tips on How to Start a Presentation Effectively

2. Outline the talk

You do not need to go into detail here, but quickly run over some of the following points:

  • How long the talk will be
  • The main topics you will be covering
  • Whether you want audience interaction throughout

3. The main body of your talk

Depending on the nature of your presentation, clearly segment the different topics you will be discussing, and then work your way through them one at a time. Allow time for people to take relevant notes and stick to the topics you have prepared beforehand rather than straying too off topic. Whenever rehearsing this main body, ensure that the points of discussion flow naturally from one to the next.

4. Summarise the key points

A great presentation will be one that has a specific goal in mind. That could be to convert a number of the audience members into customers, lead to a certain number of enquiries to make people knowledgeable on specific key points, or to motivate them towards a shared goal. Regardless of what that goal is, be sure to summarise it at the end. This clarifies the overall purpose of your talk and drives home your reason for being there.

5. Conclude and invite questions

Conclude your talk by thanking the audience for their time and, as is usually customary, invite them to ask any questions they may have. As mentioned earlier, personal circumstances will affect the structure of your presentation. Many presenters prefer to make the Q&A session the key part of their talk and try to speed through the main body of the presentation. This is totally fine, but it is still best to focus on delivering some sort of initial presentation to set the tone and topics for discussion in the Q&A.

Key slides for your presentation

Slides are a useful tool for most presentations: they can greatly assist in the delivery of your message and help the audience follow along with what you are saying. Key slides include:

  • An intro slide outlining your ideas
  • A summary slide with core points to remember
  • High quality image slides to supplement what you are saying

There are some presenters who choose not to use slides at all, though this is more of a rarity. Slides can be a powerful tool if used properly, but the problem is that many fail to do just that. Here are some golden rules to follow when using slides in a presentation.

  1. Don't over fill them - your slides are there to assist your speech, rather than be the focal point. They should have as little information as possible, to avoid distracting people from your talk.
  2. A picture paints a thousand words - instead of filling a slide with text, instead, focus on one or two images or diagrams to help support and explain the point you are discussing at that time.
  3. Make them readable - depending on the size of your audience, some may not be able to see small text or images, so make everything large enough to fill the space.
  4. Don't rush through slides - give the audience enough time to digest each slide.

Here are some additional resources for slide design:

Example of great presentation structure and delivery

It’s all very well and good reading this and trying to craft some ideas, but having examples of great presentations will help inspire your own structures. Here are a few such examples, each unique and inspiring in their own way.

How Google Works - by Eric Schmidt

This presentation by ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt demonstrates some of the most important lessons he and his team have learnt with regards to working with some of the most talented individuals they hired. The simplistic yet cohesive style of all of the slides is something to be appreciated. They are relatively straightforward, yet add power and clarity to the narrative of the presentation.

Start with why - by Simon Sinek

Since being released in 2009, this presentation has been viewed almost four million times all around the world. The message itself is very powerful, however, it’s not an idea that hasn't been heard before. What makes this presentation so powerful is the simple message he is getting across, and the straightforward and understandable manner in which he delivers it. Also note that he doesn't use any slides, just a whiteboard where he creates a simple diagram of his opinion.

The Wisdom of a Third Grade Dropout - by Rick Rigsby

Here’s an example of a presentation given by a relatively unknown individual looking to inspire the next generation of graduates. Rick’s presentation is unique in many ways compared to the two above. Notably, he uses no visual prompts and includes a great deal of humour.

However, what is similar is the structure he uses. He first introduces his message that the wisest man he knew was a third-grade dropout. He then proceeds to deliver his main body of argument, and in the end, concludes with his message. This powerful speech keeps the viewer engaged throughout, through a mixture of heart-warming sentiment, powerful life advice and engaging humour.

As you can see from the examples above, and as it has been expressed throughout, a great presentation structure means analysing the core message of your presentation. Decide on a key message you want to impart the audience with, and then craft an engaging way of delivering it.

By preparing a solid structure, and practising your talk beforehand, you can walk into the presentation with confidence and deliver a meaningful message to an interested audience.