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Presentation Structure: What, So What, Now What

By Paul Barton
Phoenix Public Speaking Founder and Owner

IMAGINE you are going to build a house with the finest building materials available, but without a foundation or a frame. What you’d have is a mess. That’s what a speech or business presentation with great content but no structure is like. Structure helps your business presentation to be digestible. It keeps you on point and helps keep you on time.

In a previous blog, public speaking coach Michele Trent wrote about the need to have an introduction, a body and a conclusion to every speech or presentation, and she explained the format in the easy-to-understand terms “tell ‘em what you’re going to tell them, tell ‘em, and tell ‘em what you just told ‘em.”

Intro, body, and conclusion are the fundamental parts of a presentation.

Presentation Structure

Here’s a different way of thinking about the structure of a presentation that may help you organize your thoughts and frame your points – what, so what, now what.

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • What (Introduction) – What is your presentation about.
  • So What (Body) – Why does it matter to the audience.
  • Now What (Conclusion) – What are you asking the audience to do (the call to action).

Sequence is Key

One key to this organizational format is that it must go in the proper sequence. Have you ever been asked to sign a petition in a parking lot of a grocery store? I never sign them. Why? In part because the petitioner is skipping the “What” and “So What” stages and going directly to the “Now What” stage. I don’t know what they are talking about or why it matters to me, so I can’t commit to taking action.

Don’t assume your audience knows what you’re talking about. Establish a good foundation. Build facts and examples upon that foundation to clearly outline why the issue is important. Then clearly explain what action you want your audience to take.

With a solid structure, you can build a strong case for the change or action you are seeking. Next time you’re preparing a presentation, think about your structure. When you apply a solid structure, you’ll have a great presentation.

RELATED POST: Your Teacher Was Right — Structure Your Speech

Your Teacher Was Right — Structure Your Speech

By Michele Trent
Public Speaking Coach

You probably remember giving class presentations or speeches in middle school or high school. If it was anything like my experience, you weren’t given a tremendous amount of guidance. You were given a general idea of what your topic was to be about, you were told how long to speak, whether you could use visual aids, and not to talk too fast.

As for the structure of your remarks, it was pretty much – tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em, tell ‘em, and then tell ‘em what you told ‘em. Albeit simple, this is still sound advice. When it gets right down to it, your presentation will have an open, a body, and a conclusion. Of course, there’s quite a bit you can do within each section but, at its core, this is the basic structure.

One simple way to elevate your next presentation is to give extra thought to the opening and closing. Many times, presenters just want to get to the guts of the presentation and forget to set it up for the audience and let them know what they are going to hear. Likewise, at the end, it is tempting to go right to the questions and then neglect the close. If you sum up the points you have made, you will drastically increase the likelihood that your audience will remember what you’ve just said.

One reason you may sway from this tried and true formula is that it might seem redundant to you. If you mention your main points three times and then unpack the points during the body of the presentation, isn’t that overkill? Nope. You are familiar with your message. Your audience is not. While they may have varying degrees of knowledge (your manager may have heard the points from you already), they are not immersed in the details the way you are. Plus, we live in a fast-paced, content-overloaded, culture. People are getting message flung at them from all sides. When you have their attention, walk them through your material in such a way that it is impossible to be misunderstood. It is better to have one person say “sheesh, I’ve got it already” than five people walk out scratching their heads wondering what the heck that was all about.

As part of your opening, clearly lay out what you are going to present. Then, present it clearly with illustrations, examples, data, and application. Finally, sum it all up, so that everyone knows the key takeaways. If we all applied this simple structure that was given to us in grammar school, we would find that many of our meetings would be more productive simply because we would be walking out with the same set of important learnings.

Do you have a business presentation on the horizon? Think through your remarks. Are you planning to tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em, tell ‘em, and then tell ‘em what you’ve told ‘em? If not, you may be missing a simple and direct method for clearly communicating what it is you have to say.