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Communication media are constantly changing. Despite this, some guidelines for good communication are timeless. Consider Aristotle’s book Rhetoric, for example. He outlined the essential parts of a speech as the introduction, the statement, the argument, and the epilogue. That structure is as sound today as it was in Aristotle’s time!
Aristotle further elaborated on how to develop a speech. First, you should make the audience well-disposed towards yourself and ill-disposed towards your opponent. Then you need to magnify or maximize the leading facts. Next, you excite the required state of emotion in your audience. And finally, you refresh their memories.
In modern times, Aristotle’s structures have been further refined, mostly by clergymen in their sermons! It can be summarized as reminding your audience of something at least three times before it sinks in. In other words, tell them, tell them what you told them, and then remind them by telling them again.
When preparing a presentation, it is worthwhile to remember these classic guidelines. A well-structured, impactful presentation should have three parts. First is the beginning, or what Aristotle called the introduction. Then you have the middle, or the statement and argument, to put it into Aristotelian terms. And finally, you have the end, or Aristotle’s epilogue.
Let’s dig into these three parts in a bit more detail. The beginning is a good place to start! When preparing your presentation, use a ‘grab’ opening for maximum impact. In other words, grab your audience’s attention and hook them into your story.
And what about the middle? Here’s where the ‘three times’ rule come into place. You first preview what the presentation contains – tell them what you will be telling them. Then you deliver the core of the presentation, telling them your message in one to five items. And next you review the main points of your presentation. In other words, tell them again.
This brings you nicely to the end of the presentation. End with a ‘grab’ close and a clear call to action.
Within these general guidelines for structuring a presentation, you should also bear in mind a number of key pointers.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with beginning by simply introducing yourself. “Hello, my name is….” However, it’s not very exciting, is it? A high-energy, maximum-impact presentation begins with a ‘grab’ opening. For example, “Beginning today, this team is going to learn how to double its social media following within a month!”
Having hooked the audience, you can then deliver your presentation. Remember to apply the KISS principle: keep it short and simple. Less is more. Design your presentation to be as visual as possible, with very little on-screen text. Tell your story visually with images. If your audience has to squint to read large, dense blocks on text on screen, they’re not going to be listening fully to you.
This lends your presentation an essential air of authority. Research your content well. If you are unsure about the accuracy of information, don’t include it!
But don’t bury your audience in dry, dusty statistics. Use eye-catching graphs and tables. And animate them so they build up in a compelling way. Make sure you don't overload the audience with information. Ideally, the core middle section of your presentation should focus on one to five items only.
The golden rule in all communications is to correctly target and deliver a message to your audience. In other words, pitch your message correctly. Find out how much your audience already knows about the subject. What is important to them? How can you deliver value to them? If you present at the value level of your audience, you’ll ensure not only that your message is understood, but also that it is pitched correctly.
For example, a presentation on a simple technical process will be vastly different if the audience consists of new-hires or the Senior Management Team. In advance of your presentation, research or contact audience members to ascertain their level of knowledge. If you have no alternative, stand at the door and greet your audience on arrival and question their level of knowledge. And then adjust your presentation accordingly. And as you deliver your presentation, check that your audience is still with you and understanding what you say.
Facts and statistics make your presentation sound more authoritative. However, try to bring the facts to life. Show them in action. To do this, try to include stories and anecdotes. After all, your presentation is a story by another name. So, if you can tell a story, you can make a presentation and vice-versa.
Presentations and stories contain a beginning, a middle, and an end. Does your presentation-story make sense? Is it logical and relevant to the audience? Are you so close to the design and preparation of the content, that you may have lost sight of the narrative? Try a practice presentation with an impartial colleague and ask for feedback.
Tell stories to illustrate your points and make them more ‘human’. When we make a personal connection with information, we remember it better. Anecdotes are best, as they can be molded to fit your story. People may not remember the specifics of the item you are presenting on, but they will retain for a very long time the anecdotal story you told in support of your item.
For example, you could tell the story of a CEO who was cynical about the impact of social media marketing. In time, he saw his company’s profits skyrocket after deploying an effective social media strategy. As result, he was able to retire early and devote his time to his passion for sailing. By engaging with the potential of social media, he was able to change his life.
Link your grab close back to your grab opening. You do this by reminding the audience of the same sentence or near enough, that you used at the beginning and close out with it. You might open with a question and end with the answer to that question. Or you might return to a character you introduced in the opening. Or present the solution to a problem you raised in the introduction. This enables you to finish your presentation story and connect the start and finish neatly for your audience. Remember that the last thing you do or say is what the audience will take away with them, so make it a call to action.
For example, suppose your opening statement was: “Why does social media matter?” Your closing statement could then be: “And that’s how social media changes people’s lives.”Back to Top
Kevin Reid is CEO of Personal Skills Training, Senior Coach at Kevin J Reid Coaching, Co-founder and Communications Director of The Counsel.ie, and Lead Collaborator of LeitrimMade.com.
In this module, Kevin is the instructor for the ‘Enhancing Your Problem-Solving Skills’ and ‘Improving Your Presentation Skills’ lessons.
Cathal Melinn is Digital Marketing Manager at Digital Marketing Institute.
In this module, Cathal is the instructor for the ‘Enhancing Your Creativity’ lesson.
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ABOUT THIS DIGITAL MARKETING MODULE
Creative skills aren’t just for artists and designers! Everyone can learn to be more creative. In fact, the ability to think creatively is an invaluable skill in today’s workplace.
In this module, you will learn how to enhance your creative thinking skills – which should help you generate new ideas, find innovative solutions to problems, and develop new products and services. You will also learn how to remove barriers to creativity and the importance of persevering when your ideas fail.
When it comes to tackling specific workplace difficulties, you will be introduced to a six-step method you can use to solve problems. And you’ll learn about the skills you need to cultivate in order to be an effective problem-solver.
You will also turn your creative attention to the art of giving presentations. You will discover how to create and structure an effective presentation, and the preparations you need to make in advance, as well as useful tips on how to deliver an engaging presentation and how to hold a Q&A session at the end.
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