Effective Presentations

Transform your jumbled ideas into a persuasive and powerful presentation.

Lisa B. Marshall,
May 29, 2009

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For over a week I've been home sick with the flu (you can probably hear it in my voice last week and again this week). The only work related activity I did was to help my friend Henry with a presentation he was delivering.

How to Go From a Jumble of Ideas to an Organized, Effective Presentation

Last week I asked him to send me his three or four main ideas along with supporting stories for each of his main points. What I received was a jumble of ideas, quotes, and stories. It was just hours before he was to deliver the presentation. I call him the King of Procrastination!

Anyway, I called him via Skype to help him clean up his outline. I told him, "I would have given you a D+ for this outline." Henry's reply was, "Yes, but Lisa, I’ll get a B+ for my delivery." Henry is a good friend; we both had a good laugh.

I thought I'd write this episode to walk you through the work we did together to shape his ideas into an effective presentation. Henry reminded me that it's valuable to have a process to transform a jumble of ideas into a persuasive and powerful presentation.

So here's what we did. 

What Do You Want The Audience to Think, Say, or Do Differently?

First I asked him to summarize his one main overall idea that he wanted to communicate-- in essence the title of the speech. He was able to articulate that easily. When I work with clients I usually ask "What is it that you want your audience to say, think, or do differently as a result of hearing you speak?" The answer to that question should be one simple main idea. Most people can do this step easily.

The next step in creating an effective presentation is to, at a very high level, outline the three or four main points. So I said to my friend, “OK, what are your three main points you want to make?” His outline only had one main point listed. The organization was, at best, unclear. So we started discussing possible supporting points. However, one of the points he was making, although interesting, didn't directly support his main overall idea.

So I challenged him to explain the relevance. After a few attempts, he finally said, "OK, I get it; it would be stronger if I didn't talk about that, but instead talked about this." 

A disconnect between the overall main idea and the key supporting points is actually a very common mistake. I think it happens because of the process. As the key points are taking shape, the person is further developing the main idea. The points evolve, sometimes straying from directly supporting the original main idea. 

Once the main points have been fleshed out, it's important to review to be sure the supporting points and main goal are still consistent with each other.

Main Goals and Supporting Points

So once the main--or key-- points have been fleshed out, it's important to review to be sure the supporting points and main goal are still consistent with each other. If not, you'll either need to change the points that don't fit or change the overall goal of the talk. In the end, the main overall goal of the talk needs to be directly and clearly supported by the main points. It seems like an obvious point, but again, it is a very common mistake.

With Henry, once we initially discussed the main points, the next step was to put them in the "right" order. One of his points was a bit controversial and the other two were likely to be easily accepted. I suggested he start with the most important of the easily accepted ideas and save the controversial point for last. In general it's a good idea to start and end strong, putting your weakest material in the middle.

The next step was to flesh out examples for each point. But first we needed to know how much material he needed for each point. His talk was 30 minutes, so we subtracted six minutes (3 ½ minutes for the opening and 2 ½ minutes for the closing), which left 24 minutes for three points or 8 minutes per “PEP”, that stands for Point, Example, Point.