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Get organized, establish a flow.

February 27, 2010

Organized feels simple.

The first way to simplify your presentation is to get rid of anything and everything that’s not essential. Doing that is a big step in the right direction but there’s another, equally powerful part—getting your content organized.

A quick story.

I got some welcome feedback on a presentation I recently did.  Although he had lots of positive comments, the comment from this person that hit home was that he had felt confused at a couple points and commented that he felt like he needed a “map” to see how it all fit.  Wow!  Now I know the importance of that and thought I had one, yet here was feedback that said otherwise.  What I thought was clear, wasn’t.  As I dug into the presentation, what emerged was that I really did have a very nice organizational structure or “map”—the trouble was I had two of them!  Part of the presentation was organized with a time-sequential structure and part of it followed the components of the system.  There’s nothing wrong with either “map,” but in the middle of my presentation they overlapped, got tangled and the flow wasn’t clear to the audience.  I struggled, but fixed it and immediately I felt better about the whole presentation.  The entire thing felt simpler.  What powerful insight I’d been given with that one comment!

That experience illustrated to me (again) just how powerful clear organization and flow can be. Creating a good “map” is crucial for making your presentation feel simple, especially with a complex topic.

Mechanically, there are a fair number of ways to structure a presentation and it’s important to pick something that you’re comfortable with and suits the content and purpose. The most common patterns for the kind of presentations I do are:

  • Time sequential
  • System component-by-component
  • Process flow also known as a scenario-based
  • Problem statement – facts & data – recommendations

Sometimes you will need to combine them—just be careful not to overlap and tangle them like I did!

Tip: watch out for transition points and places where you shift flow patterns. Those are natural points for summarizing or inserting a break but, if you’re not careful, confusion.

In the end I don’t think it’s nearly as important how you organize it, just make sure there is a nice, clear flow through the entire presentation.

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