The odds are high that you’ve been the victim of a meandering presentation. Unorganized presentations follow an invisible, neurotic pathway that only makes sense to the presenter. When an audience is unable to recognize structure, it’s usually because the presenter either didn’t have time to organize the information or didn’t care enough to package the content in a way the audience could easily process.

Without structure, your ideas won’t be solid. Structure strengthens your thinking.

The most widely used structure for presentations is topical. A logic tree and outline are common forms to help visualize structure.

Notice how all the supporting information hangs off the larger topics. Points are held together under one unifying big idea from which the topics cascade down.

outline charts for presentation development

We recently talked to the Chief Marketing Officer of a public company about the way she had modified her process for developing messages for her CEO. In the past, she and her team had always used slide shows to “pitch” ideas to the CEO. Inevitably, after three or four slides, he would derail the process by complaining that some particular piece of content was missing. His pet content was there, which he would have seen it if he’d held onto his shorts—but that would have meant waiting through fifteen more minutes of slides. With a laugh, she shared a monumental idea her team had come up with. Instead of slides, they presented him with a detailed outline. He quickly grasped its structure and immediately spotted his pet content. He then went on for the rest of the hour, building on the team’s ideas. Long live outlines!

There are benefits to looking at a presentation’s structure holistically.

It creates a snapshot of the structure so you’re looking at the whole and not the parts, which keeps you focused on the construct instead of the details.

It ensures that you have one clear big idea bolstered by supporting topics.

It filters out tangential subtopics that may fall within the topic but that don’t purely support the single big idea.

It helps the review team get a quick read on the structure and messages, saving them time so they can give more thoughtful feedback.

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