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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
You do not need to go into detail here, but quickly run over some of the following points:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Here are some additional resources for slide design:
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.
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.
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.
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.