5 Tips to Help You Structure your Talk and Slides

Overcoming Presentation Challenges Part 3 (of 3): Structuring your Talk

(click below to view the video or read on if you’d prefer!) 

In this third and final article on the topic of presentation challenges, I am turning my attention to how to structure your slides and your talk for maximum impact.

The first article was concerned with overcoming presentation jitters by understanding the three sources of presentation anxiety. The second article looked at presentation delivery
techniques with five tips to help you stand up and speak confidently. If you would like to see the videos or read the articles, you can access them by clicking here and there.

I am dealing with presentation structure last because, for most of us, it is the public speaking aspect which is most challenging. That being said, a dull slide pack will represent a challenge even for a gifted speaker. So here are five tips to make sure you design your talk to enhance rather than detract!

Tip #1: use images the right way!

In terms of the kind of visuals I recommend you invest in for an important presentation, let me illustrate with photos of actual slides. Here is the first one. Does this look familiar? This slide contains a photo but does it work? I’d say ‘not really’ because your eye gets lost in all that text, doesn’t it? If I were to ask you what the main point of the slide is, what would you say? You might hesitate, need to read it again, lose patience, give up…?

Well, here is the main point of the slide: how is that for impact? Notice a number of things here. First the size of the photo compared to the previous slide. But also the contrast between the two pieces of text. And of course, the simplicity of the design. So presentation slide design is not about adding photos to decorate: it’s about contrasting text and images for maximum impact.

Do you know that people remember only 10% of what they hear but recall 65% of what they both see and hear? That’s why slides are important as the right kind of complement to your presentation. Let’s look at another example.

Here is the ‘before’ slide and you can see that the person has understood a few things about presentation design with this one. And yet, tell me what you think of this second version: would you agree that the text stands out much more powerfully? If you do agree, then please let me ask you to not over-invest in images. Images impact when they are quite large-sized but that does not mean they should automatically dominate all your slides.

Tip #2: tell stories

I know this may seem at the very least odd if you are in a business context and at the most very hard to pull off but, recall my tips for confidently delivering your presentation. My main message to you was to tap into and bring forth the animated self you become when you are having a conversation about a topic you are enthusiastic about. And when you are dialoguing, you are usually telling a story. Story-telling is the way we humans communicate most often through. Stories resonate: a story helps you to be conversational even in a setting which does not appear so and establish rapport with your audience.

Stories are wonderful because they allow you to:

  • establish your credibility without bragging,
  • demonstrate success if the success is about you overcoming challenges your audience also faces,
  • add humour without being odd. If nobody laughs it’s not a disaster: it’s just part of the story! and
  • gently raise controversial issues.

I read that "presentations are state-of-the-art but stories are state-of-the-heart". Indeed, even the sleepiest audience will perk up when you say "I’ll tell you about a time when this happened to me."

Tip #3: ask questions

Most of the people I work with on presentation know that it is usually a good idea to let the audience ask questions as the presentation unfolds because this brings a liveliness to the proceedings which keeps the audience engaged. However, very few ask questions of their audience. There are two kinds of questions in a presentation speech: the rhetorical questions and the real questions. A rhetorical question is one you don’t expect an answer to. For example, you could introduce a slide such as the one about the lack of clean water I showed you earlier with "Did you know?" When we use the question mode, we raise our voice at the end of the sentence and this catches our audience’s attention so questions are helpful in keeping the flow of your speech varied rather than monotone.

Real questions serve a number of purposes but let me flag only one here: you create a feedback loop. If your presentation is about raising awareness of the lack of clean water in the world, you may want to hit your audience with both heart-wrenching stories as well as hard-core data to substantiate your point. And when you’re doing that, how do you know that it’s working, that your stories and data are reaching them? Well, ask. So show them the glass slide and then ask: "Are you shocked by this piece of data?" If you get several nodding heads and wide eyes, then you know your emotional approach will be effective.

Tip #4: ‘prep’ your points

Because most of you present in a work and business context, let me share with you a formula to help you structure your thoughts as you structure your presentation slides and the overall talk.

PREP = Point – Reason – Example – Point

Here’s how to use ‘PREP’:

  • Point – you make your point such as ‘Speaking up can enhance your career’.
  • Reason – you explain that people who speak up are perceived as competent and intelligent.
  • Example – you share that David Jones has just been promoted for the second time this year. He speaks up a lot – but he’s no more competent than the rest of us (note: fictional example).
  • Point – you make your point again that ‘Speaking up can enhance your career’.

Have a go and let me know if PREP worked for you!

Tip #5: Oreo-cookie your presentation

Building up on ‘PREP’ which applies to the individual points you will make in your presentation, let me close by offering a simple yet powerful presentation structure, as follows:

In this setup, each point you assert is clearly made twice as per ‘PREP’ and supported by an explanation and an example providing evidence. You need to order your points in some fashion – maybe chronologically, maybe building up the intensity. What is fundamental is that all your points support a main message which you will share twice – hence the Oreo cookie image and the consistency with the ‘PREP’ approach. This structure is also simple so you won’t lose your audience! It may look a bit dull but try it out and see how it helps you builds a powerful presentation!

There you have it. To structure your presentation for impact, be sure to use images in the right way relative to the text on display, share stories and ask questions, and use a simple structure to both your overall presentation and to making the points which back your main message.

I’d love to hear what you thought of these tips. Do you already use images? Stories? And do you have a way of structuring your presentation which works well? Please do share! Let me invite you to be in touch: just click here.


If this article resonated with you, don’t hesitate to contact me for a chat where we would explore what is going on for you and what you would like to have happen. Contact me here.

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  1. Thank you for this post. I am planning on doing a seminar soon, though I’ve never done one before. These tips will definitely help me 🙂

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