10 Presentation Tips: Tip No. 4 — Go with a Flow

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This is the fourth post in a 10-post series on tips for effective presentations. For an explanation as to why I’m adding this series to a data-oriented blog, see the intro to the first post in the series. To view other tips in the series, click here.

Tip No. 4: Go with A Flow

Avoid the temptation to make a big list of things you want to cover and then simply laying them out in a somewhat logical sequence. You will wind up with partial non-sequiturs, and each abrupt shift in topic will give your audience a golden opportunity to tune you out.

Be leery of a narrative that looks like this, though:

  1. We had this problem
  2. I set out to solve the problem by exploring a whole lot of things (that I’ll now list for you)
  3. I got to an answer
  4. Here is the answer

While, yes, that is a logical narrative, in that it uses the sequential flow of your personal history, and it seems somewhat cinematic, in that it builds to a climax (“Ta-DA!!! The. ANSWER!”)…it’s often a narrative flow that is disconnected from the interests of your audience.

This, I realize, is one of the tougher tips to put into practice, because it is so situational. But, I’ve had success with a few different approaches here:

  • Use a personal anecdote or experience as a unifying theme (more on this in Tip No. 9) — the key here is to make sure that the link between that experience and the topic at hand is real; typically, this will be through an analogy of some sort, so make sure the analogy holds to a reasonable extent
  • Different aspects of a single core point — in some cases, there is truly one core idea that you are trying to convey, and the presentation is simply exploring different aspects of the idea; in these situations, you can think of your presentation as a diagram with a single idea in a circle in the center with each aspect listed in a spoke coming out of the circle; you may even want to sketch  it out this way to think through what the logical sequence of those different aspects is
  • Along the same lines as the above, spending some time diagramming out your material in a non-outline format makes sense. Does it fit in a 2×2 matrix? A pyramid? A circular process? You may find that the diagram winds up as supporting imagery for the presentation, but that is by no means the goal — you’re simply looking to identify an optimal structure for the content so that, when you convert it to a linear model (because presentations happen in real time, and real time is linear), you have the best chance of doing that in a way that flows smoothly

Don’t be afraid to adjust the flow over time — you will find out as you rehearse (Tip No. 5) that there are hiccups in the flow, and adjusting the sequence of content and how you bridge from one point to another will very likely necessitate changing the order in which the material gets presented. That’s okay! The more a presentation flows, the easier it will be for the audience to focus, as they will not need to spend brain cycles simply adjusting from a jarring transition from one point to the next.

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