Felicity Barber published an article several months ago called “How to Deliver A Pitch-Perfect Presentation.”
In it, she detailed the three building blocks she felt were necessary to putting together your pitch: content, structure and style. In other words, what are you trying to say, in what order are you saying it, and how are you going to get your thoughts across?
I’ve sat through many, many presentations, as I”m sure you have as well, comprised of endless Powerpoint slides, each containing far too much information. Don’t fall into that trap…..throwing information up on the screen because it’s easily accessible and takes up space. I agree with Barber that your content should be organized around one central message or argument, since the audience will probably only remember two or three things you say. So figure out what your main message is, and then find different ways of driving the same point home.
To organize your presentation, you need to stitch it together in an orderly, progressive structure that your audience will understand. Barber’s favorite is the pyramid:
“You start at the top (the pointy bit) with a story that illustrates the topic you want to tackle. In the middle you talk about the general issue or problem – this will probably include some facts or statistics. At the base of the pyramid (the most important bit) you show how your speech is relevant to the audience. This might be where you give them an action to do or a takeaway to think about.
The great thing about the pyramid is that the story will get the audience hooked, you’ll have space to evidence your argument, and everyone in the room will know why your speech is relevant to them.’
The pyramid isn’t your only option, though. You might organize your speech according to a time sequence, or causally, from cause to effect or effect to cause, in a pro/con format, or even using a gimmick that employs a memory device such as alliteration or rhyme, or initial letters that spell a word, depending on the occasion, of course. There is no one way to structure, but whatever method you choose should proceed logically, suit your content and reinforce your main idea.
Once you’ve developed your main message and decided how to organize your ideas, here are eight tips for presenting with style:
1. For me, storytelling is the most powerful, impactful, and engaging way to get your point across in any kind of speech or presentation. Stories give the audience characters to identify with and ideas to relate to. Just make sure your story is totally relevant to your message.
Another good tip from Barber:
2. “Facts and statistics provide really important evidence, but think about how you represent those facts.
Don’t say: we have a customer base of 38 million.
Do say: we have a customer base the size of the population of California – more than 38 million people.
The visual image of California will stick in the audiences’ minds much better than a random number. If you want to represent a number in this way, stick it into Google with a phrase like ‘size of’ or ‘population of’ and see what comes up.
3. Metaphors are a clever way of making a complex topic easy to understand. When I’m talking about speeches I often use the metaphor of a gift. For example: a speech is like a gift you give to the audience, so think about what they’d like to receive.
And to extend the metaphor: the structure is like the box the gift comes in – everything has to fit in the box and it needs to be the right shape, so use a structure that works with your content.”
4.When it comes to language, stay within your conversational comfort zone, because your audience will immediately know by your delivery if you are parroting words or expressions that don’t come naturally to you.
5. Barber also notes the power of three, the magic number in everything from horticulture to memory to well….presentations. Use three points to support your argument, three adjectives to describe something…..and the phrases will not only sound more pleasant to the ear, but stay in the hearer’s memory longer.
6. Similarly, parallel constructions as you write, with their harmonious balance, will help to drive home your message.,
7. So will alliterative phrases, because they are simply more memorable.
8. You can never go wrong posing a question; in fact, it’s a great way to open a speech because it immediately engages the audience. And if you can manage it, returning to that question at the end of your presentation, having satisfactorily answered it, and/or proved your main point through it, is an elegant way to end your remarks.