Ever sat staring at a computer screen, agonising over how to structure that crucial presentation? The future of humanity depends upon it, and so far, you have a blinking cursor... ...And a note to pick up some chicken spice.
For those difficult days when your mind is on the fritz, here's a 'copy and paste' selection of structures that you can simply choose and use. Use any one of them in isolation, or blend a few together. Fifteen speech structures:
- Opening, body, conclusion
This is the simplest possible structure, taught at school level. It's still taught because it still works. But if you're feeling even a tiny bit artistic, we can do better.
- Tell them what you're going to tell them - then tell them - then tell them what you've told them
A variation on the first structure. Use this one for absolute clarity in your message. Again, clunky, but enough to get the job done.
- Use a metaphor and sub-points
This is a very powerful structure and one used widely by professional speakers. As a simple example, I have a keynote called 'Big Bum Thinking.' It asks, "Do you blame the jeans, or do you hold yourself accountable for the size of the bum?" I then extend this humorous metaphor into a presentation on victimhood.
- Make a point, tell a story; make another point, tell another story
Very simple, but very effective. Deliver your idea, then tell a story to back it up. Deliver your next idea, back it up with another story.
- Use PSA
Point, Story, Application. A variation on the structure above, this comprehensive approach will work in almost any presenting scenario. I highly recommend it. You can also shake it up by changing the order. Open with the Story that leads up to the Point, then provide the Application.
- Use the problem-solution model
Do you need to be persuasive? Then here is your tool. Don't begin by selling your idea. Begin by emotionalising the problem. Once they are intellectually and emotionally invested in the seriousness of the problem, relieve the tension by supplying your answer. This is a structure that works well in conjunction with just about any other structure listed here.
- Pose a question, then answer it. Pose another, answer it
If you absolutely have to use PowerPoint, and if you're insisting on using text, at least do it this way around: show a set-up question on the screen, and then you answer it verbally. Then show the next question. Then answer it. This structure also works without the slides; you can simply pose the question out loud and then provide your answer.
- Make a bold promise, then make them wait for you to deliver on it
Promise something of great value upfront, then give it, as promised, right at the end. This is one way to keep them with you. A word of warning, however: you must keep your promise.
- Start at the end, then recap
This model is useful when you need to get to the point quickly and the explanation is less important. Start with the conclusion. Then spend a little time justifying it.
- Start and end with the same idea
This is generally a good formula and shows polish. You began by talking about an impoverished company, struggling to survive. End your speech by referring back to it. Circular storytelling is immensely appealing.
- Constantly repeat a memorable phrase until it becomes a theme
Useful for persuasive speaking and rally-scenarios. This classic 'rah-rah!' technique allows you to build emotional momentum around a catchy phrase. It's also useful for hammering home a simple but important point.
- Co-present with another person, acting out a conversation
A word of caution: this approach requires skill and rehearsal, not to mention a certain natural chemistry between the two presenters. When it doesn't work, it looks awfully amateurish. Nevertheless, it is an option.
- Use a repetitive 'A versus B,' structure
This particular structure is highly effective. It is also very compatible with other structures. Essentially, it goes, "Amateurs do this, but experts do that; amateurs do this, but experts do that..."
The back-and-forth rhythm between two opposing qualities or ideas is intellectually attractive, and helps to draw very clear delineations between how to, and how not to. Any presentation in which you hope to change audience behaviours from an undesirable to a desirable will benefit from this structure.
- Use a loose outline, then co-create with your audience
Only for experts and only for the brave. Introduce your topic, then throw it open to the audience, asking them what they'd particularly like to hear about. This structure is incredibly agile, allowing you to meet the exact needs of your audience. But it's frightening in that you won't know in advance what those needs are.
- Use the 'expert positioning' model
This one is the basis of all thought Leadership, and it works equally well in speeches, media interviews and written articles:
...And all of this has the underlying message: 'Follow me'.
- Tell them what things they should be paying attention to now and why
- Tell them what those trends mean in their industry; pitfalls and opportunities
- Tell them what things will work going forward
- Tell them how things will turn out
Don't be intimidated by the blinking cursor. Effective speaking technique is neither voodoo, nor a national secret. Go ahead. Pick a structure and promote your point with power!