Down the street from where I live, a new home is being built. My girls and I have enjoyed watching it go up from the foundation being poured, to the framework being built, to the roof being laid. On one of our nightly walks, my daughter Clara and I ventured inside the house. As we carefully walked around, she said, “Mom, it’s so cool that all these boards are in the walls holding our house up, too, but we just don’t see or think about them once the house gets finished.”
It’s true. Once a product is finished—be it a job well done, a home built, or a presentation delivered—we sometimes forget about what it took to get there. But, like a home, we know that great presentations are built from strong foundations and solid frameworks, and they have a good “flow.” But how do you pick a plan to get started? Should you just dive in? Start with the first sentence and write from there? You could, but it probably won’t be as effective as starting with a clear plan. What you need is a presentation design. There are a few traditional presentation designs that might help you tackle your speech with a clearer vision. Let’s look at what they are and how to use them.
Categorical: A presentation with a categorical design breaks the subject matter down into natural divisions. For example, if you were presenting research on how birth order affects personality traits, it would make logical sense to break that information into children born first, children born in the middle, and children born last.
Spatial: If you need to walk your listeners through a virtual space, like a tour of a new facility, a spatial design would work well. It starts at a logical beginning point and uses the flow of the space to guide the flow of the speech.
Chronological: This design moves your listeners through time or sequence. If you have to teach your audience how to do something, a sequential design might work well for you. Keep in mind, though, that the human brain has trouble processing and remembering more than 7 items at a time. Keep your steps few and simple.
Narrative: As a variation of chronological design, narrative design follows a story format with a clear beginning, middle, and end. It uses a plot sequence with building action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Because study after study shows that human beings are naturally attuned to stories, this design can resonate strongly with your audience.
Comparative: A comparative design highlights the similarities and/or differences between your plan or idea and another’s. When two things that contrast are placed in close proximity, it helps to highlight the features of the other. For example, if you are presenting that the average customer wait time to reach a customer service agent in your company is 5 minutes, that might sound excessive if it stands alone. However, if your competitor’s average wait time is 10 minutes and you mention that as a comparison, 5 minutes no longer seems so bad.
Cause/Effect: This presentation design traces the cause and effect relationship of the content you need to cover. It may move from cause to effect or vice versa. This specific design might also be helpful if you need to forecast the future based on current trends.
Problem/Solution: One of the most common designs used to help build a persuasive case and move listeners is the problem/solution design. Much of our lives center around identifying problems and constructing effective solutions, so listeners will naturally be comfortable with this format. However, be careful to make sure you have actually convinced your listeners there is a clear problem before moving on to the solution. We will generally opt for status quo until we are convinced otherwise.
Having a framework from which to build your presentation can be incredibly helpful as you arrange your content. Think about the format and flow that would best fit both your material and your audience. And then, start building.
For more ways to craft a master presentation, check out our online presentation skills course for proven, results-driven formulas used by the best in the world.