Use Contrast in the Middle of a Presentation to Transform

By Nancy Duarte

Woman presenting and showing contrast in the middle of her presentation

Doing a quick internet search for “Tips for the beginning of a presentation” and “Tips for presentation endings,” will serve up thousands of relevant results. But just try looking for tips on how to write the bulk of your presentation—the middle, and you won’t find much. That’s because most people don’t understand the significance of the middle of a presentation, and in turn, tend to overlook it—even though it has the power to be the most persuasive part.

The middle is the longest section of the presentation and the place where you can persuade an audience to your position on how to solve a problem. The middle is also where you can give your talk a narrative structure, based in story frameworks, that creates suspense to hook your listeners, which can make your talk riveting.

How Do I Write an Effective Middle of a Presentation?

Outline of mountains leading to a peak with a sunrise, which leads to a body of water, and ends at a mountain with a flag on top

Use Story Archetypes and Make Your Audience the Hero

Write your talk as if the audience is the hero of your idea who will help you make it a reality.

To effectively shape the middle of a presentation around your listeners, get to know them well enough to craft content that feels relevant. Create an Audience Needs Map so you can better understand who they are and what will speak to them.

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Once you’ve investigated things like audience fears, goals, hopes, interests, daily roles, responsibilities, and more, try to anticipate their resistance to the ideas you are presenting. Or, predict the obstacles they might encounter while trying to adopt them.

Write the middle of a presentation as a story about overcoming that resistance or surpassing those obstacles. Stories are inherently about overcoming hardships to get to a desired goal. A presentation utilizing this structure will feel familiar to them and help them digest the information you have to offer.

A great example of a talk that portrays the audience as hero is Bill Gates’ 2009 TED Talk “On Mosquitoes, Malaria, and Education.” Gates describes several global issues his foundation is trying but struggling to tackle (i.e. rampant malaria and poor education). He then defers to audience members as the brilliant minds who can help him fix the problems.

By outlining potential solutions and predicting possible hurdles, Gates paints a clear picture of what would be needed from listeners to help reach his goals and inspires them to take action.

Apple and an orange

Capture and Keep Attention by Weaving in Contrast

Contrast is key when it comes to creating a compelling middle of a presentation. Infuse contrast into the middle so it grips and holds people’s attention. You can:

  • Juxtapose “What Is” vs. “What Could Be”: Describe your hero’s current state with the one they could reach if they support your idea or do what you’re urging. Create contrast by describing a not-so-great present that will make them see the need for change. Then, talk about a potential much-better future if they take action on your ideas. Contrasting the present and the possible future is a powerful technique for creating suspense and propelling listener’s mindsets forward.
  • Incorporate Emotional and Analytical Content: Stories trigger emotional appeal. Facts can work to convince through logical appeal.Throughout the middle, alternate emotional narrative elements with illustrative facts and stats. Contrasting the type of content you deliver keeps an audience from feeling your content is mundane. It also helps you appeal to a variety of listeners: those who prefer creative, story-like content, and then those who are more analytical-brained and need cold, hard data to be persuaded.

A hand with its palm up, reaching towards a heart symbol

Step in and Be the Mentor They Can Trust

When listeners feel you relate to them, you can more easily demonstrate empathy, and studies show that empathy directly generates feelings of trust.

When the audience trusts you, you can influence the audience at critical junctures. Just like the mentor in stories, you appear in the journey to help them move past blockades of doubt and fear.

Explain how the ideas and beliefs you are presenting help them get unstuck. Be authoritative and knowledgeable about how and why. As a trusted guide, you can convince listeners that your ideas are worth adopting, and then inspire them to heed your call for forward movement.

A successful talk has three parts—each of which has a job. Your beginning may start you off on the right foot and your closing can hammer home your message. But the middle of a presentation is where the action really happens.

Write the bulk of your presentation as if it is a story about a heroic audience member who struggles—but succeeds—at their mission. You’ll have them lured into a story about how they can improve their present situation and inspire them to adopt new behaviors that help them (and you) reach their goals.

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Illustrated by Haley Rich

Topics Covered

Presenting, Storytelling

Written by

Nancy Duarte

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