Many presentations look like they were cobbled together more or less arbitrarily. A random collection of facts and figures on slides. “Oh, there’s another thing that just came to my mind…bam, let’s put it on a slide and copy it in my presentation!” If those presentations were books, they wouldn’t sell a single copy. Just like a good book, a good presentation needs a compelling and convincing story. So please, make an effort and think about the structure and story of your presentation before you put it on slides. It is worth it, since your presentation will just become so much more convincing and memorable. I suggest three steps for developing a good storyline:
1. Brainstorm: Start with a white sheet of paper and just note down your thoughts. What do you want to say in your presentation? What are the main messages? What is not that important, but you still want to bring it across? How many slides do you need? How many slides do you have? You should not, for example, plan with 15 slides for a 10-minute-presentation. What of the content you want to present is so important (or substantial) that it deserves a single slide of its own? Which topics can share a slide with one or two other topics? Just brainstorm and note down all those things.
2. Structure: Having done the brainstorming, start to structure your thoughts by bringing all your elements in an order that is logical, comprehensible, and convincing. The best way to do this is to separate your presentation in chapters. The number of chapters depends on the length of the presentation, of course, but in most cases, a threefold structure has proven useful.
Usually, you start with describing the initial/current situation. You don’t want to go like a bull at a gate, so you need to pick up your audience and explain to them the context and background of the presentation (what is it all about?). Then you go into detail. What is it that makes the situation you described initially so problematic? What is so special/good/bad about it? Where do we need to dive deeper to better understand it? If you have data or figures, this is the chapter to include it. Finally, you provide a conclusion. What are we gonna do about it? What does the future look like? How can we avoid this/continue to do this/improve this/enforce it in the future? What are the next steps?
In practice (especially in Consulting), two or three formulas have emerged which follow this threefold approach and are very easy to use and to remember.
The first formula is called “Situation – Complication – Solution” and is probably the most popular one in Consulting.
– Situation: Describe the situation: Where are we now?
– Complication: Describe the problem: What are the implications of this situation? What makes it negative / difficult? Why do we need to do something about it?
– Solution: Suggest a solution: How can we approach / solve the problem? What do we need in order to be able to solve it?
A second popular formula is called “What? – So what? – Now what?” and is very similar to “Situation – Complication – Solution”. However, it does not necessarily focus on a negative, problematic situation.
– What? Describe the situation: Where are we now?
– So what? Describe the implications: What does that mean for me/you/us/our business? These implications can also be (other than in the first formula) positive.
– Now what? Describe the next steps: What are we gonna do next?
A third formular would be “Claim – Confirmation – Consequences”. This formula is a little different from the first two, as it does not focus on solving a problem or analyzing a situation. Instead, it is more about claiming something and arguing for it in the most convincing manner.
– Claim: You make your statement, for example: “Eddy is an idiot and completely unsuitable for the position of vice president in our local golf club”
– Confirmation: You back up your statement (or, even better, prove it) with facts and figures, for example: “Eddy is unable to count to three, Eddy has a drinking habit, Eddy had six conflicts with the police in the last three months, Eddy has done this, Eddy has done that…”
– Consequences: You draw a conclusion, for example: “That’s why you should not vote for Eddy but for Bobby for being our next vice president”
3. Once you know the structure of the presentation, the final step is to build a “straw man”. A straw man means that you take the number of slides you need, bring them in the right order (both of which should be easy for you after having completed the first two steps) and assign a title to each of your slides. The titles should be action titles, so they should already describe what you will put on each slide later. Do this for every slide and there it is – your storyline! Check for yourself if the storyline works by reading all the action titles one after another. Do they make sense? Do they read like a convincing, logical story? Would someone else understand it? You know that you have a good storyline when the whole presentation can be told just by reading the action titles.
4. Then, as the final step, design your slides. You know what to put on your slides, because basically you have already described it on each slide by your action title.
For more detailed and comprehensive advice on developing convincing storylines, I recommend the Minto principle (also called Pyramid principle). This method is used by most of the leading consulting companies and has proven to be very useful and successful.