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Business Presentation: Organization

This lesson is a part of an audio course Nail Your next Business Presentation by Emily Carlson Goenner

So far, in this course, we've identified a variety of different types of business presentations and discussed brainstorming and audience analysis. Now, it's time to begin to put your presentation together.

The basic structure of presentations is simple, but simple doesn't mean easy! Creating an organization and flow that will interest the audience and keep their attention takes time and planning. Let's get started!

The basic structure of a presentation is introduction, body, conclusion. Yes, it sounds simple, and it is, but a lot more goes into creating an easy to follow presentation than just these three steps. Let's start with the body of your presentation.

In the brainstorming step, you identified the main topics and themes of your presentation, and in the audience analysis step, you identified what the audience cares about or wants to know, or how they might respond to the points you have to make. Now, you have to decide the three main points of your presentation. In any presentation, whether an hour-long or 15 minutes, plan to three main points. An audience can retain only so much information, so it is important not to overwhelm them. You can always add supplemental information via a handout or weblinks, but giving too much information during a presentation is a sure way to lose your audience.

So, plan your three main points. Returning to the themes, you developed in the brainstorming section. Which three are most important for your presentation? Consider your audience—what will be most interesting and relevant for them? You may find some information that doesn't fit—that's ok. You don't need to include every idea you have or every data point you know.

You will spend a lot of time on the three points in the body of your presentation. This is the reason people are attending to hear you speak! Begin each point with an overview or main topic, like a topic sentence in an essay. Then, use graphs or charts or research to explain and support your points.

After you have developed your main ideas, then you are ready to think about your introduction and conclusion. The introduction is when you get your audience's attention, and you only have seconds to make an impression. So, start strong.

How do you do this? A hook is a device that catches people's attention. It may be a startling image, an impressive fact, or a story. It may be a question or an "imagine this" scenario. Sometimes the introduction might be big and showy—an image on the screen showing results of a hurricane, for example, in a presentation about climate change—or it might be one huge number on the screen indicating the infant mortality rate in the U.S. Maybe you tell a story—If I was presenting on brain health, I would start with a story of my son's battle with a brain tumor or in a presentation about retirement planning, maybe I compare stories of my father who planned well and my uncle who didn't and their current lives in retirement. Usually, stories, especially personal stories, are relatable; they grab the audience to make them pay attention.

In some presentations, though, large introductions may not be important. In a team meeting that is more focused on a sales pitch to a client, maybe you start with a question to the team, asking about their activities or what the client expects or a new idea you have.

Presentations that start with "My name is…and I'm excited to talk to you today about …." Are almost always dull openings. You can introduce yourself after an introduction catches their attention. Years ago, I had a presentation start with one group member missing. After the presenters started speaking, the missing group member came bustling in late. The team used that—it was deliberate and planned—to introduce the concept of differences in cross-cultural communication. Years later, it is one of the only introductions I remember after years of student presentations.

After your attention-getting introduction, you want to tell your audience the topic. Provide an outline of what you will cover in the presentation. This should be on a slide, stated simply in 1-2 words per point, or in images and icons. We'll talk more about visuals in the next lesson, but be sure to include an outline slide. The audience needs both verbal and visual direction in most presentations.

After the outline, you will give your information. Then, you will provide a conclusion.

Many presentations end with, ‘that's all' or ‘are there any questions'? But, like with the introduction, you want to provide the audience with something memorable. Most people will remember what you tell them last, so closing is important.

At the end, you want to review the main points. You should be able to do this quickly and concisely. Revisit the outline slide ideas that you used earlier in the presentation. Even in a business meeting, where your introduction and outline might be the agenda, you review the points you discussed and steps for action before you close. In a larger presentation, you review the main points.

Then, try to relate your presentation back to the introduction to create unity and a sense of closure in your presentation. If you started with a question, return to it and answer it. If you started with a story, mention it and how the topic you discussed affected it. Emphasize the point you want your audience to remember, or the action you want them to take. If you're discussing retirement planning, for example, what should audience members do—give them an assignment or task. Same in a meeting—what are the next steps? Wrap up the presentation with a strong sentence, possibly one you memorize—and stop talking. It's easy to keep rambling when you're nervous, but get to the end and stop.

Once you have your organization, have planned your introduction, main points, and conclusions—walk away. Just like you did with the brainstorming, give your mind time to reset. Come back after an hour or a day and review the organization. As someone else to look at it. Is it smooth, does it flow, will the audience follow the points you're making. You may need to make some adjustments, add or remove information—that's ok. Never get stuck on your first idea or arrangement—keep changing and editing and evolving. That's what will make your presentation stand out!

So, the task for today is to begin your organization. List your three main points, the topics you will discuss in the body. You can flesh out the ideas now or later. Develop an introduction that captures people's attention. In today's fast-paced world, you only have a few seconds to get your audience's attention. Use the information you gathered about your audience to craft an introduction that appeals to something they care about. Finally, write a conclusion that reviews and/or summarizes your main points, gives the audience something to act upon—often called a call to action—and relates back to the introduction.

Spend some time organizing your information—whether a long formal presentation or a department meeting—because the more organized and prepared you to appear, the more credibility you will have to your audience.

In the next lesson, we will explore how to make effective visual presentations—PowerPoint or google slides—to reinforce the points you are making verbally. See you then!