A simple, engaging presentation structure that works every time

A simple, engaging presentation structure is like the air that your audience breaths: invisible, unnoticed and essential.

It will draw them into the content, and they will stay fully focused on what you have to say.

And if you don’t have a simple, engaging presentation structure your audience will suffer!

The benefits of this presentation structure

There are three key benefits, this presentation structure ensures that:

  • The audience connects with your central message and key points
  • You feel confident and in control
  • You can flex the duration of the presentation to different circumstances

More on this last point a little later. Use my presentation structure and you’ll see how you can adapt it to a 1-minute elevator pitch or a 1-hour deep dive into the topic.

The ideal presentation structure

This presentation structure is deliberately simple (structure is not something that you should complicate!). At its highest level, it consists of the opening, content and closing.

Each of these three sections has a very specific purpose.

  • The opening: deliver your central message and 3 key points
  • The content: Dive into the detail of your 3 key points
  • The closing: Recap your central message, Q&A, call to action

There’s more here on the benefits of this presentation structure from Inc’s 3 Tips from Aristotle article.

The opening

Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re proposing a 4-day working week for the whole company (with 5 days’ pay!), and your audience is the CEO and other C-level executives.

Open with your central message:

Good afternoon, I’m here to share with you how a 4-day working week can boost the profitability of the company. I realize that’s a big claim, let me tell you a little more about what I’ll be covering today.

Notice, you didn’t just mention the topic (4-day working week), you delivered your central message from the opening slide: that you can boost the productivity of the company. Motivate them to engage, ensure your central message is compelling to them, and deliver it right from the start.

Move to your agenda slide. This should be structured around 3 key points.

In this presentation I’ll be covering 3 points. How my proposal can: boost our productivity, reduce operating costs and increase revenues.

You’ve already hit your central message and key points. Then transition into the content.

Now, let me jump into the content, looking at our productivity first.

For added impact to your opening, explore how to use a presentation hook (to grab your audience!). 

The content

Structure your content around the three key points to your central message.

Take a look at this ethos3.com article on the rule of three, here’s an extract:

Steve Jobs was famous for using the Rule of Three in his presentations. In 2011, he described the iPad 2 as “thinner, lighter, and faster” than the first. These three adjectives were massively effective; they said everything the audience needed to know.

Three points is complete and perfectly formed. If you use two points, it looks like you’re missing something, four key points and your audience will start to forget. Five, six or seven key points, and your audience will be lost!

Avoid a laundry list of topics (it’s lazy and it doesn’t help your audience!), distill your message into three key points.

The elevator pitch

Earlier I mentioned how this structure will help you flex the presentation to any duration. If you’re in the elevator, and someone asks you about this presentation, just use your ‘opening’ it’s a summary of your complete presentation.

A 4-day working week is a great opportunity to increase profitability. Let me tell you how, there are just 3 key things to know: it will boost our productivity, reduce operating costs and increase revenues. Is this your floor? OK, see you later!

The deep dive

Or, if you have an hour, use this structure to give yourself the confidence to expound on the topic. Talk about each key point in some detail, tell stories, share data, ask for input.

And if you’re doing this deep dive, add in some additional structure, to help the audience navigate. Summarize at the end of each key point, and transition to the next key point.

Use this kind of language to summarize:

That has been a great discussion about the first point I wanted to cover, how my proposal will boost productivity. Let me just summarize…

And this kind of language to transition to the next key point.

Now, as I mentioned, the next big benefit is increased productivity. There are several perspectives on this, let me take the next 20 mins to walk you through and share my experience, feel free to jump in any time…

That’s the beauty of this structure, it gives you control.

The closing

Finally, the closing. Use it to reinforce your central message and key support points, open the presentation for more questions, and your call to action.

Before you open the presentation for more questions, make sure you take a look at these simple and powerful techniques for confident Q&As.

Finally, your call to action. You do have a call to action, right? What is it that you want your audience to do, as a result of your presentation?

There should always be an action. Never present as a ‘briefing’ or ‘for information’. If that’s the case, then send an email. Presentations are expensive. (Take a look at the cost of meetings.)

Presentations can only be justified if there is clear business value, and business value comes from taking action.

Presentation structure, in summary

A great presentation structure is like air. Your audience won’t notice it, because they’ll be fully engaged with your central message and key points.

Keep your presentation structure simple:

  • Open with a central message
  • Structure your content around 3 key points
  • Close with a call to action

Always have a call to action, that’s the business value.

Keep it simple, let your content shine!

Take the next step

Learn to become a great presenter with these effective presentation skills.