by Lisa B. Marshall
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.
Point, Example, Point = PEP
That means you make a point, you support it by example, and then you make the point again to reinforce the idea. When I say example, I am using the term very broadly. Examples could include personal stories, news stories, statistical evidence, research conclusions, expert testimony, personal testimony, analogies, photographs, or even a quote.
So with eight minutes you could make the point in a minute or so, tell a six minute story, then make the point again in slightly less than a minute. Or, you could break the supporting point into two subpoints, each with a shorter form of support (perhaps 3 minutes of statistical evidence and two or three minutes using an analogy).
Pathos, Logos, and Ethos Are All Important
When I was working with Henry I noticed that he relied heavily on one form of support only--appeals to emotion (or pathos). His examples were mostly personal stories of emotional events using vivid, concrete language. His speech was motivational, so this was a good start, but I reminded him that in order to reach everyone in the audience he also needed to consider including at least one appeal to logic (logos or factual data, such as statistics, quotations, or citations from experts). Every presentation needs to appeal to both the heart and mind of your audience. The balance between the heart and mind depends on your audience and the type of presentation you are making.
Language Choice and Audience Interaction
Once he had fully developed the main body of the presentation, it was time to talk about language choice and audience interaction. I suggested a few changes to how he might talk about some of his ideas to make the language more consistent with what the audience may already be familiar with. In addition, we developed a quick activity that would get the audience up on their feet and involved in the topic.
Starting and Ending with Pizzazz
Finally, we talked about how to effectively start and end the presentation. Together, we developed an analogy that was both interesting and tied directly to the overall theme. It was an analogy that anyone could relate to and it nicely introduced the supporting points. It was also easy to adapt that analogy for both the attention-getting opening and for the final residual message.
Within an hour we had transformed his jumbled pile of ideas into an organized presentation. My final parting advice was to ask two or three people to give him feedback on his speech. I told him to ask for three specific things that went well and three specific things he could do better next time.
After hanging up with Henry, I wondered how he would do. He had only an hour or so before he was going to deliver the presentation. Believe it or not, this was the most he’s ever prepared for a presentation.
The next morning he called to let me know how it went. He received some valuable comments. I could hear in his voice that he was finally convinced that preparation ahead of time was absolutely necessary. I’m not sure if it was the positive comments that convinced him or the constructive feedback. Either way, I was glad to hear he may no longer be the king of procrastination.
Sometimes organizing your thoughts and ideas seems overwhelming and time consuming, but if you follow this simple process you can quickly transform a jumble of ideas to a powerful, effective presentation. Henry, if you’re listening, next time, I’m hopeful you’ll earn at least a B+ on your outline and an A+ for the delivery!
This is Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.
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