Structure is the backbone for any presentation: never neglect it
Structure, structure and structure again. This is how you can get people to understand, agree with and remember any presentation you create and deliver. A presentation without structure is a presentation without logic. And would you trust and follow people without logic? I bet not. So why should they trust and follow the ideas your present if they are not structured?
So before you dive in creating slides, you might want to start thinking about how you are going to structure your presentation. And there are actually some really powerful methodological tools to help you achieve this.
The Pyramid Principle: how it works
The Pyramid Principle was developed for consultants at McKinsey by Barbara Minto, to help them structure their reports and make a decisive impact on clients. It is now widely part of the toolkit every strategy consultants around the world needs to learn and use.
The Pyramid principle is a hierarchical structure to create a logic and data-supported storyline. It should be prepared in advance. To make it short, your presentation needs to start with an introduction that states both the issue and your answer, and the rest of the presentation is here to support your answer.
That key message is supported by a combination of supporting arguments that, together, create a logical storyline naturally leading to conclude that your key message is true. Each supporting argument is made irrefutable with the help of supporting data.
Step 1: build the SCQA logic
First things first, you need to make clear what you are going to talk about, why it’s important, what problem you are going to answer, and what your answer will be. This will make sure that you are on topic, and it will allow your audience to clearly identify where you are going. It is called the SCQA:
Situation: describe who or what we are talking about (e.g. “The client is a leading car manufacturer”)
Complication: you wouldn’t be here if everything was good, so what’s wrong? (e.g. “the client is losing money”)
Question: formulate what you are trying to solve. It needs to be a single and simple question. (e.g. “how can the client make profit again?”)
Answer: the brilliant solution you have found out or worked on to solve the question (e.g. “the client needs to focus his effort on the light vehicles segment of the market”)
This exercise can be more complex that it seems. The good news is, when you have done this , your presentation’s introduction is also ready. But we will get back to this.
Step 2: write the logic that supports your answer
Now people now what your answer is, but they do not necessarily agree. You need to convince them that your statement is strong and relies on solid logic.
Define the supporting arguments that, together, lead to your conclusion. The supporting arguments should be MECE (Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive).
For instance, if you recommend focusing on the light vehicles segment, three supporting arguments could be “the light vehicles segment has the highest margin”, “that segment is currently growing” and “we have the ability to capture a good share of this market”.
Depending on the size of your presentation of on the complexity of the topic, each supporting argument can be itself supported by sub-arguments.
Step 3: back your arguments with supporting data
You have probably done some research or analysis before you have reached to your conclusion. This is where you use it.
Don’t just make statements, bring proof. If one of your supporting arguments is “the light vehicle segment has the highest growth”, then back it with a comparison chart that will clearly show that the growth in this segment is the highest, and that your argument is irrefutable.
If you have a lot of data to support your arguments, you can also just state the gist of it and keep the details in annexes.
Step 4: write the introduction
A presentation needs to start with a clear introduction. Most of the time, people don’t read your slides until the end (oh sorry, I though you already knew that). Also very often in business meetings, some people have to leave before you are done, or you get short on time. And if you haven’t reached your brilliant conclusion yet, you never will or nobody will hear you. People will be distracted, tired, bored or hungry and will not be paying attention anymore.
So make sure everything that really matters is in the introduction. That way you are sure everyone hears it.
And what people absolutely need to know is the SCQA logic you have already done in the very beginning. So just reuse if to write your introduction! You can also add in your introduction the key supporting arguments for your answer. If you don’t, people will probably interrupt with a question like “why is that your recommendation?” which is also fine, since it logically leads you to the slides that come next.
Step 5: challenge your structure
Now that you have your SCQA storyline, your supporting logic, the data to back it and a concise introduction, you are ready to challenge your structure. You don't want to spend hours producing dozens of slides before you get challenged and have to change it all, do you?
So as far as you possibly can, stop right here, go meet some colleagues or your boss and make sure people are convinced with your presentation's structure. If you structure is solid it should resist. If it doesn't then you will just need to rework the structure, not a huge number of slides.
Step 6: prepare the rest of your slides
Now that you have defined your logic and what piece of data is going to support it, just make the corresponding slides. It should be much easier now that you know exactly where you are going.
Make sure your titles reflect that logic and that if people only read the title (like that guy sitting last row in the room who forgot his glasses), they will still understand your storyline.
Remember to use action titles, i.e. actual sentences with a verb in it. In that way people don't need to guess what your point is or interpret the content of your slide.
If you want to make slides nicer and faster, you can use tools such as the Power-user add-in for Microsoft 365 PowerPoint. With dozens of features such as icons, maps, diagrams, special charts or automatic formatting tools, you can make the process of creating slides a formality, and focus on your structure.
If people can’t disagree with the logic supporting your key message, and if each argument of your logic is supported by data, then you won. How could people disagree with that?
So save this link in your favorites, and next time you prepare a presentation, get back to it and make sure you are following the logic!
Note: The Pyramid illustration is also available in the Microsoft 365 PowerPoint templates library of our Power-user add-in. Download it to keep this structure always close to hand.