How should you structure a presentation?
With techniques such as the Communication Cycle, we can put our presentations together in a coherent manner
Do you remember the speech that Donald Trump’s wife, Melania, gave at the last Republican convention? Her plea to work hard to reach your goals ended up going viral due to Mrs Trump’s blatant plagiarism of Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech. Melania could have avoided such embarrassment if, instead of choosing to cut and paste, she had followed the steps in the Communication Cycle, a method to structure a presentation by using four phases: opening, positioning, argument and closing.
1. Opening: This is the phase that allows us to connect with the audience by using three elements:
A hook to grab the listeners' attention and generate expectations about what we’re going to say. We could make this a promise of what’s to come, but do be careful because promises must then be kept.
A context to explain the purpose of what you’re explaining to the audience. What are they going to hear?
A presentation of the structure of the presentation. Talk about how, not what.
The opening is the most important part of a presentation - it’s the time when the listener decides whether to pay attention or not so it's well worth rehearsing. A great beginning makes a big impact, while on the other hand it’s very difficult to recover from a bad start. Here are a couple of examples:
This first section should make up 10% of the presentation, so a speech lasting 30 minutes would need an opening of between 2 and 4 minutes.
2. Positioning: in this phase we position ourselves in relation to the topic at hand. If we’re going to talk about the importance of using Hawk-Eye in football, make your point clear in just one sentence. It doesn't matter what the topic is, the most important thing is to make your point as soon as possible, so keep it simple: Subject + verb + predicate. “The Hawk-Eye will make football a fairer sport."
The audience is wary of speakers who hide their stance. Make your point in a simple, direct and, whenever possible, brilliant manner.
Don’t spend more than 5 minutes of a 30-minute talk on this section.
3. Argument: the longest part in which we strive to communicate our messages and arguments. It might not make much sense, but it is the time when the audience’s attention is the lowest, so if we want them to stay with us, we need to be organized.
The key to holding on to the listeners’ attention lies in creating mechanisms of connection by using resources such as famous quotes, rhetorical questions, examples and emotional references.
The argument will take up between 18 and 22 minutes of a 30-minute presentation. It’s the longest section, so remember to take a deep breath and rehearse.
4. Closing: the way you end your speech will make a lasting impression: it’s how the audience will remember you. Try to come up with a memorable ending and choose words with care to make sure you end with a bang.
This phase includes a recap, in which we reinforce the key concepts in case someone switched off at some point, and it’s also the time to give thanks and open the floor to any questions.
5 minutes will be enough time for your memorable farewell. If you’re in need of some inspiration, just take a look at some of the best closing phrases of all time used by the experts over in Hollywood.
The Cycle of Communication should be used as our guide to help us create a solid presentation, and one which will have an impact on our audience. But if we don’t manage it today, “tomorrow is another day”.
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