How do you streamline your presentation's message?

Starting with the end in mind is key to developing a coherent presentation. And as clever as you are (you must be – you’re reading this article), it isn’t easy for anyone to hold multiple complex objectives in their head as they create content. That’s why your presentation needs a single, simple aim.

Typically, you’re looking to change someone’s mind, convince them to act, or provide new knowledge. That means your presentation is a journey that takes your audience from their current state to a future where they’ve changed their mind, taken action, or have that knowledge. That’s all your presentation does. Here’s how to achieve that.

An entire presentation should be able to be distilled and explained with a high-level 20-30 second overview. That doesn’t change, no matter what the presentation is. It’s the DNA that sets out the flow of content. If you can’t distil your presentation into a high-level overview first, the entire process of creating it is harder and it’s not going to make the impact you want it to have.

There are two steps to distilling your presentation: discover and define your objective and lead your audience towards the objective from the start.

Discover and clearly define your presentation’s objective

Before you open PowerPoint, get to your slides, choose images or tinker with your camera positioning to see what your Zoom background will look like, focus in and ask yourself a simple question: ‘What is the purpose of this presentation?’

If you can clearly answer this, you are on the path to develop an outstanding presentation. Getting this right has a massively high return on time spent and is easily done, often in less than thirty minutes (but longer if you’re working with a group and more discussion is needed).

Even if you’re under time pressure to get going creating slides, stop. Do not skip this step. Once you are clear on this question, start to think about what your audience currently thinks and feels. What would you like to change about this? What do they not know that you can help them to solve? Think about this like the process of sharpening an axe: it takes time to get it sharp, but once you’re done, it’s efficient.

Many people resist this idea as they feel that their presentation is too complex, nuanced or detailed to cut down to one purpose. It’s not. We see most presenters trying to communicate three to five objectives on average. It’s far more important to communicate what your single big idea is, rather than four that no one will remember.

Once you’ve got clarity, it’s time to write a compelling and attractive headline statement. Think of this presentation title as the first thing you read on a conference agenda or on the screen when you walk into a room. It needs to be impactful and interesting. It’s hopefully going to be what the audience remembers and talks about after your presentation. The key here is not to be plain and write just what the content is. Instead, think about newspaper headlines and their role. Aim to create intrigue and package up your content and perspective.

Lead your audience from the start of your presentation to the objective

Imagine reading a book without chapters and with a random placement of pages. Utterly confusing, right? Just adding slides with no sense of order is the same thing. With a clear purpose, the next step is organising your content into clear groups and arranging them in a logical way.

You’re looking to map out the journey that will take your audience from the start of your presentation to its clear objective at the end. It gives a framework to what you present. This is the first step in the audience ‘getting’ what you are speaking about.

Almost all presentations break down into three to five groups of content, and the order you choose for these groups is critical. Taking the time to go through this thinking and processing will make things far easier to follow for your audience. If you have more than five groups, double-check and consolidate down to five.

A strong structure for your content

More advanced and better suited to a narrative presentation is to think of the storyline as a structure. A flow. For more formal presentations like AGMs and Investor Presentations, there is some limit to what you can do as there is a relatively set format. For everything else, it’s fair game.

Content can change as you develop the presentation, but you know you’ve got it right when the structure stays the same. Think about it as a skeleton. A weak spine won’t support anything; a strong spine will.

By knowing what you want your presentation’s end result to be, you’ll better understand how to get your audience there. Follow this principle and you’ll see that your approach, your content and even your delivery are that much easier to figure out.