How to Structure a PowerPoint Presentation
March 22, 2017
In a world without order, chaos is king. If you’re planning a PowerPoint presentation, here’s how to structure it like a pro.
If you’ve been in the PowerPoint game for a while, a topic like “How to Structure a PowerPoint Presentation” may cause you to scratch your head. How do you structure it? You don’t – it structures itself, just as you don’t need to think about how to clean your teeth; you’ve done it so many times your brush automatically gets into all the angles without requiring conscious thought.
Every PowerPoint presentation has a structure, yet if pressed on the matter most people would struggle to explain how they structure their presentation and what makes it successful. Well, let’s take a moment to delve into the art of successful structuring. If you’re a PowerPoint newb, the following pointers should prove invaluable, while if you’re a veteran of Microsoft’s presentation software, the tips you’re about to read will help you correct bad habits.
How to structure your PowerPoint presentation
When you sit down with a blank set of slides in front of you, the notion of completing an entire presentation can seem daunting. What’s the best approach: to start at the start and slog it out until you’ve reached the 20-slide mark? To work in reverse, devising your summary slide and then using its bullet points to inspire the body of your presentation?
We’re not saying you couldn’t enjoy results with such an approach. There’s more than one way to peel an egg, skin a cat and, yes, structure a PowerPoint presentation. However, in our own experience (and – spoiler alert – we have a lot of experience of assembling PowerPoint presentations) we’ve found that it helps to think of a presentation as a story. Or a movie if you prefer; it’s the same thing.
This means that your narrative should follow a conventional arc, with an opening that sets the scene. This could involve any of the following:
- Introducing your protagonist: “Meet Lucy. Lucy is a small business owner who struggles to keep track of her expenses and client invoices. She’s disorganised and her filing is a mess.”
- Introducing a problem: “Transferring funds between African immigrants and their families back home is costly and inefficient. Current methods leave a lot to be desired.”
- Introducing a big idea (let’s call it the ‘I have a dream’ method): “If you could create one labour-saving app, what would it do and what would you name it?”
What each of these examples have in common is that they set a level of expectation. They prime the audience for what’s to come without revealing the denouement (that comes later). We’ve previously discussed ways to start a corporate presentation, but suffice to say there’s a wealth of options. The only limit is your imagination.
Okay, so we’ve got that tricky opening part out of the way. What’s next?
How to arrange the body of your PowerPoint presentation
There’s a school of thought that says you should follow the rule of three when fleshing out a presentation. Aim to introduce no more than three primary points, the idea being that an audience will struggle to retain any more than this. This isn’t an absolute rule and we’re not going to insult your audience by suggesting that they’re incapable of juggling more than three ideas at a time.
We’ll say this though: don’t bite off more than you can chew. Don’t attempt to find a cure for cancer, achieve peace in the Middle East and resolve the riddle of what happens to odd socks in a single presentation. Three ideas – or even two, or one – answered satisfactorily will be far more effective than half a dozen ideas, half-answered in a half-baked fashion. Keep it lean.
If we return to the storytelling or movie analogy once more, the body of your presentation is where the action happens. It’s where you grapple with the big issues and tackle the big ideas you’ve raised. If you’re gonna get technical, it needs to happen here. If you’re gonna cite statistics and pull out bar graphs and pie charts, now’s the time. Don’t bamboozle your audience, but don’t skirt around the main issues either. Now is the time to drill deep. Now, dammit, and not a moment later, for before you know it, the conclusion will be upon us….
How to structure the conclusion of your PowerPoint presentation
Finally, we’re here. The thrilling climax of it all. The money shot. The reason why you wrote this thing in the first place: to solve a problem, to reveal a stunning truth and to send your audience home enlightened and informed. Okay, so not every presentation will be revelatory in its denouement. It’s hard to incorporate a stunning plot twist when you’re presenting on your office’s fire evacuation policy, say, or the life cycle of phytoplankton, algae and cyanobacteria. (We could be wrong on that last topic. Perhaps the world of phytoplankton is awash with drama, intrigue and revelatory findings).
The point is this: your conclusion is the apex of your presentation. It’s the apotheosis of the roller coaster ride you’ve just taken your audience on. It’s the point at which you summarise your key points and leave your audience with a take-home message they won’t forget. If you’ve got a killer image, a memorable soundbite or a rousing exhortation, it goes here.
In movie parlance, this is the camera panning out at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark to reveal a cavernous warehouse filled with dusty artifacts. It’s Carrie reaching out of the ground to claim her last victim from beyond the grave. It’s Morgan Freeman’s character from Shawshank Redemption walking across a beach to greet his old friend Andy.
It’s your presentation and you’re at liberty to end if however you like. If you’ve structured your introduction and body properly, though, you should find that the conclusion writes itself. If you’re planning a PowerPoint presentation, make sure you actually do plan it before so much as a slide has been written. That way, when you do start assembling slides, they’ll slot together perfectly like the pieces of a child’s jigsaw puzzle.
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