The 16 Flow Structures
You can use these Flow Structures to
A presentation organized in modular form is a sequence of similar parts, units, or components in which the order of the units is interchangeable. Think of the Modular Flow Structure as a plug-and-play approach: The presenter makes an arbitrary decision about the sequence of units and then
Sometimes a presenter has no other choice than to use the Modular option. Financial presentations fall into this category; even a financial module within a larger presentation. In an IPO road show, the CEO usually uses one of the other, more accessible Flow Structures to organize the main components of the presentation in a meaningful order; but the CFO, who presents the annual results, quarterly results, balance sheet, income statement, and other financial data, can do them in almost any sequence. It hardly matters whether the annual results precede or follow the quarterly results. The CFO can simply order the items in whatever sequence feels right and discuss each one in order.
There are other instances in which the Modular option is appropriate. For example, it can be employed for a product introduction presentation that consists
The Modular Flow Structure provides a couple of advantages. If need be, you can easily rearrange the items at will. Or, if you're faced with time constraints, you can even omit one or two items. Convenient, yes, but challenging for your audience to follow and for you to deliver. Because there's no compelling
to the clusters, everyone (that includes you
your audience) is under great pressure to try to track them. Therefore, use the Modular option sparingly and preferably
Far more accessible than the Modular option is the Chronological Flow Structure, which organizes your clusters of ideas along a timeline. This option, reflecting events in the order in which they occurred or might occur, is
You might have to make a presentation whose main purpose is to explain to the audience how a particular state of affairs came to be. For example, suppose you are the human resources director of a large company (let's call it "Goliath Software, Inc.") that has just purchased a smaller competitor ("David Software Co."). The announcement of the acquisition came as a surprise to nearly all the employees of both companies, and now many of them have questions and concerns: Why has this
Senior management has called a meeting to be held in the auditorium of David Software, the
One effective way to organize your presentation could be the Chronological Flow Structure. Present a timeline showing where Goliath Software started, where it is today, how and why the acquisition occurred, and how the two companies will move forward together in the future. By making your audience conversant with Goliath's history and by showing them that the acquisition is a natural outgrowth of the convergence between the two firms, you are likely to assuage the concerns of the David Software team, and to begin to build strong connections with their new employer.
If the Chronological Flow Structure organizes your presentation according to the logic of time, the Physical option
Suppose your company is a distribution operation whose points of presence around the world represent its major competitive advantage. And suppose you are asked to make a presentation to an audience of potential customers who
You might introduce your clusters by saying, "Worldwide Distribution, Inc. has warehouses and shipping centers at 11 strategic locations on five continents, from the U.S. to Australia, from Brazil to France, from China to North Africa. To help you see why Worldwide is better positioned to serve you and your customers than any other distribution company, let me walk you through how each of those centers operates and connects within our global distribution network." This is an intuitive, easy-to-follow structure for the presentation.
In contrast to the Physical option, which follows a literal geographic arrangement, the Spatial Flow Structure organizes your ideas conceptually, according to a physical metaphor or analogy, providing a spatial view of your topics: for example, from the top down, from the bottom up, from the center out, or from the outside in.
I often give presentations at industry or financial conferences, where I'm asked to discuss what it takes to create an effective presentation. For this purpose, I use a Spatial Flow Structure: from the bottom up. I depict this graphically as a pyramid, as in Figure 4.1.
Figure 4.1. Spatial Flow Structure: from the bottom up.
I make the point that every presentation has five primary components:
I go on to say that a really effective presenter masters all five components. Of these five, the most fundamental is the story. I start with the story at the foundation, and then go on to describe all the other components, working my way up the pyramid to the peak, the question-and-answer skills. As I go, I describe techniques to optimize each component, illustrating with examples and anecdotes.
The techniques and illustrations I use vary from one conference to another, but the Spatial Flow Structure remains the same. It creates an image that audiences find easy to understand, remember, and transmit to others: "What did Jerry say about the effective presentation?" "He said it's like a pyramid, with the story at the bottom and question-and-answer skills at the top."
The Spatial Flow Structure can be used the other way as well: from the top down. Here's an example:
At Intel Corporation, Randy Steck and Dr. Robert Colwell were the
The design team sequestered me in a hotel a short distance away from Intel's
The Design Rationale described the technology at its highest level (the concept behind the design); the Product Specifications described the result of the design; the Potential End-User Products described the applications of the P6; and the System Architecture described how all the components worked together. Each layer drilled down a little deeper, from the top down, creating a Spatial Flow Structure.
After the presentation at the ISSCC, Bob Colwell wrote to me with a post-mortem:
There are other uses of the Spatial option. For example, the market for a product can be presented in terms of concentric circles, like those on a target: the heart of the market, those customers who are most certain to be interested, are in the center circle (the bull's eye), while the outer circles represent other markets that are larger, more diffuse, and increasingly hard to reach. The center-out Spatial Flow Structure organizes these ideas in a way that's easy for an audience to grasp, follow, and recall.
The simplest variant of the Spatial Flow Structure is the physical metaphor of constructiong a house. The foundation serves to describe the platform product or service; the supporting beams of the superstructure represent the organizations and
The Problem/Solution Flow Structure is attractive because it has a built-in WIIFY. When you use this option, you organize your presentation around a problem and the solution offered by you or your company. In this option, the benefit your company has to offer through its product or service follows naturally.
Many companies in the life sciences (
In the field of education, Problem/Solution is synonymous with learning. The essence of learning is to replace a lack of knowledge with skills. As a coach, I am also an educator, and so I use Problem/Solution in my programs, and in this book. Think back to the very first chapter. It
If you consider using Problem/Solution for your presentation, be careful about getting the emphasis right. Many people in business
This matter of time and weight can best be
However, if you decide to use Problem/Solution for your business presentation, shift the weight. Touch on the problem very briefly, then bring in the Cavalry troops of your solution and let them parade majestically, in splendid full-dress regalia, complete with a rousing
While virulent cancer and invasive surgery along with man-
The Issues/Actions Flow Structure is frequently used for presentations by companies that are in a
A close cousin of the Problem/Solution and Issues/Actions Flow Structures is Opportunity/Leverage Flow Structure. With this option, you begin by describing an attractive business opportunity: a huge new market, a change in technology, an economic shift, or some other driving force. Then in the leverage section, you describe the
The Opportunity/Leverage option is the Flow Structure of choice for most IPO road shows because it appeals to the investor audience's essential interest in growth. Remember that I helped Cisco develop their road show presentation when they went public. At the time, Cisco's technology was an esoteric novelty. (Even today, as the established leader in computer networking equipment, their complex technology is still difficult for laypeople to understand.) Since the potential investor audiences for their initial offering did not yet fully understand how computer networks operated or why they would be so important in the future, the Cisco road show team decided to start their presentation by demonstrating the
In their outline, the Cisco team began by describing the shift in computing from mainframes to PCs. This shift was
Next, they talked about how their new device, called a router, could internetwork all networks. They explained how Cisco manufactured the router, how they serviced it, how they sold it through channels and strategic relationships, and where they intended to go with the router in the future. All of these facts, taken together, represented Cisco's leverage of the opportunity.
Notice how this Flow Structure simplified and organized the presentation. Instead of having a
The above three Flow Structures (Problem/Solution, Issues/Actions, and Opportunity/Leverage) are close cousins. The Form/Function Flow Structure is distinctly different. It moves your company's business offering (its solution, action, or leverage) into the
A salesperson might use the Form/Function option when presenting any product or service with multiple applications. For instance, the first salespeople who brought 3M's Post-It notes to market might have used this Flow Structure to introduce the novel lightly
The Form/Function approach is often used by biotech companies because it not only
As an example, BioSurface Technology went public on the strength of a novel tissue engineering technology they had developed. (BioSurface was later purchased by Genzyme.) The BioSurface approach was based on the fact that the human body tends to accept autologous (self) cells or tissue as grafts because it recognizes such tissue as its own. Conversely, the human body tends to reject allogeneic (non-self)
In the BioSurface road show, CEO Dave Castaldi began by describing his company's innovative core science: how they extracted a patient's own cells, preserved them, cultured them, grew them, and then transplanted them back into a patient's own body, without
From the sublime to the ridiculous:
Imagine that you're the CEO of Mom's Barbecued Chicken, seeking investment money to expand your business. In this case, Mom's barbecue recipe is the secret sauce, or the Form. The Functions would include all the ways the secret sauce could be developed as a business: by rolling out 600 franchised outlets, operating them with economies-of-scale, provisioning them with just-in-time deliveries, promoting them with
From the ridiculous back to the sublime:
Make it once, sell it many times. Gillette's razors and blades, Kodak's
This is the traditional product launch approach. In a presentation organized according to the Features/Benefits Flow Structure, you would discuss a series of features of your product, or your service, and for each one you would explain the concrete benefits provided to your customer. Once again, notice that the WIIFY is strongly woven into the very fabric of the presentation.
In the book business, each
If the sales rep presents book's features and benefits convincingly, the WIIFY and Point B will follow naturally. The rep can say to the bookstore buyer, "As you can see, these features and benefits are sure to make this new book one that dozens of your customers will be
A case study is
The human interest angle is particularly
I helped develop the IPO road show of a company that digitizes television commercials and transmits and retransmits them, from the advertising agency to the broadcaster and from the
There may be times when you must make a presentation in the face of a highly skeptical or even downright hostile audience. At such times, consider using the Argument/Fallacy Flow Structure, in which you raise arguments against your own case and then rebut them on the spot by pointing out the fallacies (or false beliefs) that underlie them. The idea is to
This is a risky Flow Structure to use. It tends to sound either defensive or contentious, and sets a negative tone. Reserve the use of this option for situations in which the negative ideas about you and your company are widespread, and therefore unavoidable.
One company used this Flow Structure to its distinct advantage. The chairman of the board was scheduled to appear at a major investment conference to represent his company. He decided to title his presentation "Seven Reasons Why NOT to Invest in Us." He drew the seven reasons from negative analysts'
The point of the Compare/Contrast Flow Structure is to compare or contrast you or your company with others. How is your offering unlike that of any other company in your sector? How do you stack up against the competition? What is your competitive advantage? A presentation built according to this Flow Structure might focus on a series of comparisons, showing exactly what makes your company special along each parameter.
Like the Argument/Fallacy Flow Structure, choose this option with caution. By bringing another company into even partial focus, you run the risk of sounding defensive, or
For these reasons, save the Argument/Fallacy and Compare/Contrast Flow Structures for customer and industry presentations where you know your audience well, and there's less of a chance that you'll generate negative feelings that don't already exist.
You're familiar with matrices: those two-by-two, three-by-three, or four-by-four boxes that can be used to organize items according to combinations of ideas or qualities. Business audiences love matrices. Why? Maybe it's because a matrix imparts a quasi-scientific feeling, or maybe it's because, like many of the other Flow Structures, a Matrix Flow Structure organizes a complex set of concepts into an easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow, and easy-to-remember form.
The Matrix is a close cousin of the Spatial Flow Structure in that it organizes concepts in a visual format. The difference between the two is that the Spatial Structure implies dynamic relationships or movement (top-down, bottom-up), while the Matrix implies stationary or stable relationships.
Figure 4.2 is an example. It shows how the market for personal financial services might be divided into four categories, based on divisions along two dimensions.
Figure 4.2. A two-by-two matrix.
The two-by-two box creates a form you and the audience can follow through the whole presentation. You can analyze each of the four sectors in some detail, explaining why your company has
The Parallel Tracks Flow Structure is a compound form of the Matrix option. It takes a matrix and drills down into each sector with identical subsets of information; or a series of related ideas and drills down into each idea with an identical set of subsets.
Let me give you an example. This one is drawn from the world of biotechnology, which is one of the most technically complex of all subjects. Presenters need to work extra hard to find ways of simplifying and organizing their information. The Parallel Tracks option is one effective way of doing so.
Tanox, Inc., is a public biotechnology company that develops proprietary drugs to treat diseases that affect the human immune system, including asthma, allergies, AIDS, and others. For allergic diseases, Tanox's initial focus is to develop products that can treat asthma, seasonal allergic rhinitis (ragweed and pollen), and severe
Here is how Nancy uses the Parallel Tracks option: First, she talks about how, in allergic patients, their bodies produce specific Immunoglobulin E, known as IgE, to the specific allergens that the patients are allergic to; and how IgE can trigger histamine release and cause all the disease symptoms of asthma and allergy. In Tanox's world, this is called the
allergic disease mechanism
. Then Nancy describes Xolair, Tanox's
that treats allergic diseases. She describes how Xolair can
Next, Nancy moves on to severe peanut allergy, AIDS, and others. One by one, she goes through each disease with the same points: the disease mechanism , the Tanox drug product and its mechanism of action , and the size of the market . By the time she finishes describing Tanox's product pipeline, her audience could almost sing along: disease mechanism, product, mechanism of action , and market . Thus, Parallel Tracks Flow Structure makes a set of complex and technical biological facts easy for a lay audience to digest.
This Flow Structure may be the ultimate form of Audience Advocacy. It takes the audience's point of view, immediately involving them by saying, "You might be wondering " and then answering the question for them. Of course, it's best if the questions are ones that your audience
An entire presentation could be built around the Rhetorical Questions Flow Structure. Each of your idea clusters could be linked to a particular question, which you would then answer.
Here's an example:
Cyrix, a company that designed, developed, and marketed semiconductors, went public in 1993. (Cyrix was later acquired by National Semiconductor and then by Via Technologies.) For the IPO road show, Cyrix CEO and co-founder Jerry Rogers decided to use the Rhetorical Questions Flow Structure.
In Jerry's opening statement, he said: "Cyrix competes against the established giants Intel and AMD (Advanced Micro Devices), as well as two other large, well-
Jerry showed the three questions on a slide. Then he spent a few moments and a few slides providing an answer to each question. His final slide showed three declarative sentences, answers to the three questions.
In the course of answering the three questions, Jerry covered diverse topics such as chip architecture, manufacturing strategy, average selling prices, intellectual property rights, the prospect of litigation, and the competitive landscape. But he tied all these topics together in three Roman columns, and then tied the Roman columns together in the Rhetorical Questions Flow Structure.
Finally, there's that old standby, the Numerical Flow Structure. "There are five reasons why our company represents an attractive investment opportunity." Then you list the five, counting down as you go. Like the Modular option, this is a very simple, rather loose Flow Structure. I recommend the numerical format only if none of the other options works for your presentation.
Back in 1983, Compaq Computer Corporation chose the numerical option for their IPO presentation. At the start of their two-week road show, the team offered 10 reasons why an investor might want to buy shares of Compaq. But they soon found that all those reasons tended to drag on their investor audiences, with their
The popularity of David Letterman's nightly "Top 10 List" brought the higher number back into favor. It also brought better luck for Hugh Martin, the CEO of ONI Systems, a provider of optical telecommunications equipment (now owned by Ciena Corporation), when he presented at the Robertson, Stephens and Company Technology Investment Conference.
I attended the ONI presentation and took a seat at the back of the room, as I always do at such conferences, so that I could watch the audience as well as the presenter. Most of the time, because few presenters provide flow (one of the Five Cardinal Sins), the MEGO syndrome quickly sets in. I see the backs of the audience's heads start to shift about. First they glance down at their handhelds, then they lean over to whisper to their neighbor, then look back to a copy of
The Wall Street Journal
, and often, before long, they jump up and leave the room to
Hugh Martin avoided that fate. He began his presentation by saying, "I'm a fan of David Letterman, and so, in the same spirit, I'm going to structure my presentation along the lines of the 'Top 10 Questions' I get from institutional investors." As Hugh stepped through the 10 questions, and his responses to each of them, none of those occupationally hyperactive heads shifted, and no one left the room.
After the conference, Hugh gave me the following post-mortem:
The 16 Flow Structures
In the Line of Fire: How to Handle Tough Questions...When It Counts
The Power Presenter: Technique, Style, and Strategy from America's Top Speaking Coach
Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences
Presentation Skills 201: How to Take it to the Next Level as a Confident, Engaging Presenter