The 16 Flow Structures


The 16 Flow Structures

  1. Modular. A sequence of similar parts , units, or components in which the order of the units is interchangeable.

  2. Chronological. Organizes clusters of ideas along a timeline, reflecting events in the order in which they occurred or might occur.

  3. Physical. Organizes clusters of ideas according to their physical or geographic location.

  4. Spatial. Organizes ideas conceptually, according to a physical metaphor or analogy, providing a spatial arrangement of your topics.

  5. Problem/Solution. Organizes the presentation around a problem and the solution offered by you or your company.

  6. Issues/Actions. Organizes the presentation around one or more issues and the actions you propose to address them.

  7. Opportunity/Leverage. Organizes the presentation around a business opportunity and the leverage you or your company will implement to take advantage of it.

  8. Form/Function. Organizes the presentation around a single central business concept, method, or technology, with multiple applications or functions emanating from that central core .

  9. Features/Benefits. Organizes the presentation around a series of your product or service features and the concrete benefits provided by those features.

  10. Case Study. A narrative recounting of how you or your company solved a particular problem or met the needs of a particular client, and in the telling, covers all the aspects of your business and its environment.

  11. Argument/Fallacy. Raises arguments against your own case, and then rebuts them by pointing out the fallacies (or false beliefs) that underlie them.

  12. Compare/Contrast. Organizes the presentation around a series of comparisons that illustrate the differences between your company and other companies.

  13. Matrix. Uses a two-by-two or larger diagram to organize a complex set of concepts into an easy-to-digest, easy-to-follow, and easy-to-remember form.

  14. Parallel Tracks. Drills down into a series of related ideas, with an identical set of subsets for each idea.

  15. Rhetorical Questions. Asks, then answers, questions that are likely to be foremost in the minds of your audience.

  16. Numerical. Enumerates a series of loosely connected ideas, facts, or arguments.

You can use these Flow Structures to group your clusters in a logical progression, making it easy for your audience to follow your presentation, as well as easy for you to construct your presentation. To do that, let's look more closely at each of the 16 Flow Structures, with brief examples of each. The chances are excellent that one or more of these Flow Structures can serve you well in organizing virtually any presentation.

Modular

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 presents them to the audience, one by one. This is the most loosely organized of the 16 Flow Structures, which can make it challenging for your audience to follow.

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 mainly of new product features.

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 logic to the clusters, everyone (that includes you and your audience) is under great pressure to try to track them. Therefore, use the Modular option sparingly and preferably briefly .

Chronological

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 ideally suited for any presentation where telling a story that deals with change is the most important objective.

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 happened ? How are the employees of these two companies, long-time rivals, supposed to begin working together? What do they have in common? What does the future hold?

Senior management has called a meeting to be held in the auditorium of David Software, the acquired firm, and you've been asked to make a presentation to "bring the new team up to speed." Point B, of course, is to help the David Software employees understand the acquisition and begin to feel as though they are a part of the new, expanded Goliath family of companies.

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.

Physical

If the Chronological Flow Structure organizes your presentation according to the logic of time, the Physical option follows the logic of place. A presentation using a Physical Flow Structure takes its cues from geography, organizing clusters of ideas according to their physical location.

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 operate international businesses and are looking for a distribution partner who can serve their needs globally. You might organize your presentation according to the Physical Flow Structure.

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.

Spatial

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.

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I make the point that every presentation has five primary components:

  • Story Development

  • Graphics Design

  • Delivery Skills

  • Tools of the Presentation Trade

  • Question-and-Answer Techniques

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 leaders of a crack engineering team working in an atmosphere of the utmost secrecy to develop Intel's next -generation integrated circuit, the P6. ( The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, " you'd think the P6 was a tactical bomber rather than a computer chip." The episode recalled the title of the popular business book authored by Andy Grove, Intel's Chairman of the Board: Only the Paranoid Survive .) When Randy and Bob were ready to unveil the chip, they brought me in to help them and their team, including General Manager Dadi Perlmutter and Marketing Director Lew Paceley, to develop the launch presentation, which was to take place at the International Solid State Circuit Conference (ISSCC), a highly technical enclave of their peers.

The design team sequestered me in a hotel a short distance away from Intel's ultra -high-tech facility in Hillsboro, Oregon, where I led Bob, Randy, Lew, and Dadi through the steps I described in the previous chapters, including the Framework Form, Brainstorming, and Clustering, until we distilled all their ideas into the following clusters, or Roman columns :

  • Design Rationale for the P6

  • P6 Product Specifications

  • Potential End-User Products

  • System Architecture and Supporting Chips

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:

I really felt sorry for the other presenters, who were incredibly nervous, and did exactly as you predicted : classic data dumps on the audience Because I knew the presentation cold, I wasn't at all nervous when I actually took the stage, despite having the audience so big (~1800 people) The Q&A period was interesting. I didn't get any of the hardball questions I was worried about I wonder if maybe potential hostile questioners were holding back, for fear of "losing" the argument to somebody who appeared to have done his homework and seemed thoroughly in control of the proceedings .

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 partners ; the wires and pipes of the internal infrastructure depict the technology; and the glass, brick and mortar of the external interface stand for the marketing and branding. Many different companies in many different industries have tracked their entire business model with this recognizable format.

Problem/Solution

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 ( pharmaceuticals , genetic research, medical devices, health care) use this Flow Structure when doing a road show to raise private or public capital. To attract investors, they describe a particular medical problem and how they can solve it with their unique product or service. In their field, Problem/Solution is synonymous with illness /cure.

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 began with "The Problem with Presentations." Everything I've covered since then has been my set of solutions for you.

If you consider using Problem/Solution for your presentation, be careful about getting the emphasis right. Many people in business spend too much time on the problem and not enough time on the solution, leaving their audiences feeling as if they have slogged through a tragic Russian novel .

This matter of time and weight can best be illustrated with an analogy. In a Western film, the problem part (the Indian attack, the bad guys in the black hats, the tornado , the wildfire ) lasts for a long time, virtually the full running length of the movie. That's because these problems produce suspense for the audience and empathy for the endangered protagonists. Those emotions are what keep the audiences glued to their seats, and buying lots of popcorn. The solution, by comparison, takes a very short time: the U.S. Cavalry arrives and rescues the hero and heroine. The End.

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 marching band . After all, that's the part of your presentation you want your audience to remember most.

Issues/Actions

While virulent cancer and invasive surgery along with man- eating sharks are clearly problems, remember this caveat about using the Problem/Solution option in areas of business other than life sciences: Businesspeople don't like to be reminded of their problems. Many sectors in the high-technology field, including software, hardware, and applications, court customers who are saddled with antiquated and cumbersome legacy computer systems. These customers are painfully aware that they have sunk a lot of time and money into equipment they can't simply abandon; they don't need salt rubbed in their wounds. So rather than remind your audience about their problems, describe their issues and tell them what actions you and your company propose to address them. This is more than euphemism; it shifts from a negative focus to one that is concerned and active. Audience Advocacy in action.

The Issues/Actions Flow Structure is frequently used for presentations by companies that are in a turnaround mode. They identify the issues they are facing and the actions they are planning to take to overcome them, producing a list of clusters that might look like this:

Outline: Turnaround Plan for Stumble & Falter, Inc.

Issue:

Out-of-Control Expenses

Action:

Immediate Cost-Cutting Measures and Hiring Freeze

Issue:

Unprofitable Product Lines

Action:

Sale of Three Business Units

Issue:

Flat Revue Growth

Action:

Accelerated Development of Two Promising New Products

Opportunity/Leverage

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 superior products, distribution methods , partnerships, or competitive strategy your company has developed to take advantage of that opportunity. Again, this is more than euphemism or mere semantic difference. This structure directs the focus to your audience's interests and how you can meet them. It is the embodiment of Audience Advocacy.

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 enormous potential of networking before trying to explain the technology that did the networking. Thus, they chose the Opportunity/Leverage Flow Structure.

In their outline, the Cisco team began by describing the shift in computing from mainframes to PCs. This shift was neither a problem nor an issue; it was purely an opportunity. They then moved on to delineate the rapid growth of local area networks and wide area networks (LANs and WANs), and the recent improvements in technology that brought significant increases in speed, bandwidth, and power. They ended this cluster with a look at the anticipated shift in business from enterprise-centered to remote-based computing. All of those trends, taken together, represented the opportunity.

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 dozen items for the presenter to explain and the audience to track, there were had just two: Opportunity and Leverage. The forest view.

Form/Function

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 starring role, front and center. Use it when you're presenting a single central business concept, method, or technology that has many applications or functions emanating from that central core. Think: one core technology and multiple applications; a main theme and several variations; a hub and its radiating spokes ; a foundation idea and its dissemination by way of multiple franchises.

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 sticking glue (the Form) and then gone on to describe its myriad uses (the Functions).

The Form/Function approach is often used by biotech companies because it not only brings the franchise science to the forefront, it organizes complex subject matter.

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) cells or tissue because it recognizes such tissue as foreign and therefore rejects the graft . Patients with major burns don't have enough of their own skin to be used as grafts. BioSurface discovered a way to take a postage -stamp- sized piece of a patient's skin and, in three weeks, grow it into enough autologous skin to cover the entire body surface.

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 rejection . This core tissue engineering technology represented their Form.

To demonstrate how it functioned, Dave then described how BioSurface was able to apply this science to a patient's own skin for permanent skin replacement, then to allogeneic skin from an unrelated donor for acceleration of wound-healing, then to cartilaginous tissue, and finally to ocular tissue. One Form, multiple Functions; and, of course, each Function represented a potential source of revenue and profits for BioSurface, and a business opportunity for potential investors.

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 co-op ads; and then by selling the secret sauce in 16-ounce jars in supermarkets and in plastic single-serving containers to airlines.

From the ridiculous back to the sublime:

Make it once, sell it many times. Gillette's razors and blades, Kodak's cameras and film, Hewlett Packard's photocopiers and replacement toner cartridges. The cost is in the development of the core product; the profit is in the disposables: a high-profit-margin business.

Features/Benefits

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 season 's list of new book titles is presented by the publisher's sales representatives to buyers from the bookstore chains, like Barnes & Noble, as well as to buyers from individual, independent bookstores. For each title, the representative is expected to explain the specific features of the book and the benefits it will provide to readers. A new atlas, for example, might boast features like larger type and brighter colors on its maps; the benefits to the readers are that the maps will be easier to read and use. The latest book in a series of thrillers might have as a feature "the most deadly and sinister conspiracy ever faced by Detective Cliveden"; the benefit is that the new book is a real page-turner. Fans of the series will spend several sleepless nights in delightful agony reading it.

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 eager to buy" (the WIIFY). "That means you'll want to buy a lot of copies to stack in the front window of your store!" (Point B).

Case Study

A case study is essentially a story, a narrative recounting of how you or your company solved a particular problem, or how you or your company met the needs of a particular customer. In the telling, the case study covers all the aspects of your business and its environment. The Case Study Flow Structure provides a central spine that connects multiple diverse components.

We humans find stories, especially stories about people with whom we can identify, inherently interesting. Thus, a case study is an excellent way of capturing and keeping an audience's attention. It's an easy and practical way to make a product or service that is technically complex or apparently uninteresting become more vivid , personal, and understandable.

The human interest angle is particularly applicable in medical business presentations. Let's say your Case Study is about a patient named John Smith. You can describe the illness John has contracted, how many other John Smiths there are in the world, how much money is spent on all those John Smiths, and how long they've suffered without a cure. Then you can talk about how your company's drug cured John Smith, the patents you have on the drug, its regulatory status, its clinical status, the cost of manufacturing it, its average selling price, and its potential profit margin. Finally, you can describe how John Smith was rehabilitated and reimbursed, thus explaining how your drug will sell in the managed care environment. The story of John Smith provides a way to organize and humanize all the details of your company's entire story.

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 broadcaster back to the agency, for audit. For the road show, we took one Dodge automobile commercial and followed it through the whole process, demonstrating all of the company's services and products as a superior alternative to conventional shipping methods. The Dodge case study served as the spine for the entire presentation, making the company's capabilities and its potential as a business tangible and convincing.

Argument/Fallacy

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 preempt any objections in the minds of your audience, thereby creating a level playing field for a positive presentation of your company's real strengths.

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' reports , and one by one he rebutted them. When he was finished, the inescapable conclusion was that his company's stock was indeed a good buy.

Compare/Contrast

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 worse yet, having your audience remember the other company rather than your own. Moreover, when you attempt to throw a positive light on your own company by casting a negative light on another company, you may inadvertently offend someone in your audience who may have a direct connection with, or own shares in, the company you are criticizing.

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.

Matrix

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.

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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 chosen to focus on Sector 2 as the most promising sector in developing its business.

Parallel Tracks

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 peanut allergy. The founder and CEO, Dr. Nancy Chang, a Ph.D. in biological chemistry , often has to present complicated scientific processes to an audience of investors, giving them sufficient detail to convey the business potential that Tanox's science creates.

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 proprietary drug that treats allergic diseases. She describes how Xolair can potentially remove IgE from patients' bodies, thereby preventing the initiation of allergic disease and the resulting symptoms. In Tanox's world, this is called the drug's mechanism of action . Finally, she talks about the number of allergic patients who could potentially be treated by Xolair, in other words, the market .

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.

Rhetorical Questions

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 members are likely to have in their minds rather than ones that you strain to devise . The use of the Rhetorical Questions option is not effective if the questions are forced.

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- funded companies. So as a tiny startup trying to establish itself, I have to respond to some challenging questions from potential new customers about the IBM-compatible microprocessors that Cyrix designs. Three questions keep recurring: 'Will Cyrix microprocessors run all software applications?' 'How will Cyrix compete with Intel?' and 'Does Cyrix have the financial stability to succeed?'"

Jerry continued , "Cyrix has already begun shipments of the first commercially available 486 microprocessors not produced by Intel. But those same three questions about compatibility, competition, and finances remain important to potential investors like you. In my presentation today, I'll provide you the answers to those questions to demonstrate that Cyrix is indeed a sound investment."

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.

Numerical

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 occupationally short attention spans . The team quickly folded their 10 reasons into five and continued their road show to more attentive audiences.

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 attend a different presentation.

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:

Robertson got enough positive feedback on that presentation that they are considering implementing the "Top 10" as a format. It really works because every investor wants to know what every other investor is asking. It also works for me, the presenter, because I don't have to worry about flow. There is a natural break between each "Top 10" question, which means I don't have to tee up the next slide in advance. Once I've introduced the question, it's easy to keep flow through the answer. Overall continuity is there because everyone knows you're simply counting down from 10 to one. It's a wonderful format because it works for the audience, and truth be told, I can look really polished with little practice.