Planning your presentation: establishing narrative and structuring content

Many presenters make the mistake of diving right into PowerPoint without giving proper thought to the overall structure of their presentation. Doing so can be a recipe for disaster: your slides will likely end up muddled and ineffective. Planning your presentation is essential to ensuring your deck is focused and impactful.

Planning Your Presentation

In this post, we’ll explore the ideation process you should work through before touching any presentation software. We’ll look at how organise the content, scope and story of your PowerPoint presentation to ensure it delivers your messaging in the most effective way possible.

Figure Out Your Objective

planning your presentation

Firstly, you need to identify what your presentation aims to achieve.

A useful exercise is to write down your objective as one concise sentence. You can treat this as a sort of mission statement for your presentation; when deciding what content to include and cut out, refer back to the sentence and ask yourself if that material adds value to what you’re trying to do.

Whether you endeavour to persuade, sell, educate or train, your presentation content should be shaped entirely around your goal. At the end, it’s likely you’ll want your audience to do something, so form a clear call to action and build you message toward that point; you want to be guiding your audience on a journey to the desired outcome.

Craft a Compelling Story

presentation narrative structure

Your presentation content should be shaped as a story for one simple reason: it’s the most efficacious way of communicating information.

Storytelling enables your audience to connect with your message on an emotional level – something numbers and analysis alone could never achieve. It also necessitates a meaningful structure that makes your content easier to remember. Even the most hard-nosed, data-driven audiences can’t resist a good narrative.

Get to the heart of your message and establish a clear three-act structure with beginning, middle and end. Detail the current state of affairs, introduce audience pain points as the ‘villains’ of your presentation to drive interest and conflict, then build towards a resolution that offers a better vision of the future (with your subject positioned as the ‘hero’ at the centre).

Plan Out Each Slide

planning presentation slides

Once you’ve defined your story approach and hashed out your content in written form, you’ll need to decide what is going to go on each slide of your presentation. A good way of planning out this structure is to sketch your content out onto post-it notes. The space restrictions imposed will ensure you don’t overcrowd slides and will help you limit each one to containing a single, concise message.

This practice allows you to gauge the scope of your presentation in a visual way and establish consistent pacing throughout. It also helps avoid time-consuming design and content edits further on in the process.

Once you’re happy with the arrangement of your slide content, you should fire up PowerPoint and transpose it onto very basic slides to create what’s called a ‘strawman deck’.

Your view on what works best might change once you get your content into PowerPoint, and that’s fine. But the post-it notes method remains important because it initially provides you with a solid storyboard to work from.

You’ll now have the bare bones of your presentation in place backed by a robust structure, and you can begin designing your presentation around this content.

Follow the practical steps in our New Rules of PowerPoint Design to ensure your slides look great and deliver your information with maximum impact.

Ask for help designing your presentation.

Contact us at:  
+44 (0)161 533 7777

Related Articles

Next Steps



The Treehouse, Floors 3&4, 127 Portland St, Manchester, M1 4PZ

+44 (0)161 533 7777


13 Soho Square, London, W1D 3QF

+44 (0)208 064 7777


75 The Mount, York, YO24 1AX

+44 (0)1904 405 700


Book a screen share

Schedule a time for us to
show you our work.

Need help?
Have questions?

Chat live with one
of the team.

Email us