Constructing the Argument

Whenever you take on the task of conceptualizing and creating a presentation, you probably have more information at your fingertips than you really need. Sometimes, the sheer quantity of data forces you to try to use every piece of the puzzle at any opportune moment. The problem with that process is the entire presentation becomes a "data dump" on the audience. The visuals become cluttered and the presenter stands there reading the information on each visual to a gradually dozing crowd . Sound familiar? Who has the time to be bored with more stuff than can be remembered ?

My favorite test for anyone creating a presentation is to ask, "Would you go to this thing if you didn't have to?"

The good news is that this clutter problem can easily be avoided. You just need to understand that developing quality content is a process, and the more you are involved in this process, the more you will recognize similar patterns and familiar sequences of ideas, intentions, and information. Don't be concerned with details when you begin, just concentrate and focus on the larger issues. In order to collect all the details you need to understand the whole concept.

Zero Out Your Brain

A painter starts with a fresh canvas. You need to clear your mind, relax your brain, and let your inner creative state begin to work. To do this, say the following out loud, "What do I want to talk about?" In fact, sit back in a chair and look up at the ceiling when you say it. You will be amazed at how quickly you'll "zero out" most of the rubble in your head and focus on the development of the message. Of course, there's more to this than a one- sentence exercise, but I want you to understand that the initial creative process is based on very simple actions that take place in a very relaxed atmosphere.

If you just take a step back, look at the bigger picture, relax your mind, and think clearly, you can easily find the simple pattern to a successful presentation. The logical and practical steps to developing a clear message include the following:

  • Establishing a purpose

  • Capturing ideas

  • Creating an outline and storyboard

  • Structuring ideas into a flowing script

  • Using an opening "hook"

  • Allowing for timely grabs

  • Understanding non-linear issues

Establishing a Purpose

From an organizational perspective, you really need to start with a reason for creating the presentation in the first place. If you know why you are creating a presentation, you can learn how to convey it most effectively. The key to all communication is action and this is most important to visual creatures who demand constant action to understand information.

Although the word purpose answers the question "why," the word objective adds "to what extent." If you think about your purpose in the form of an objective, you'll get the impression of some action or some intention associated with the word objective.

This action in your message stems from your purpose or objective, and the resulting reaction is what you expect from the audience.

Your expectation is also known as your call to action. If you know what you want the audience to do at the end of the presentation (call to action), you can set an objective (course of action) that will get you to the result.

So, let's say you want your friends to go with you to a comedy club rather than to the museum, as originally planned. Okay, so your call to action (what you want your friends to do) is to get them to choose the comedy club. Your course of action (objective) is to convince them that the comedy club is the only choice. If your argument is convincing, they will see only one choice comedy club!

Action Drives Content

In keeping with the approach of developing content for a visual presenter, action-driven concepts are the way to go.

Therefore, your objective must always be stated in terms of action, and you must express your objective actively in the form of "to do something." Whether it is to sell, to motivate, to persuade, or any other action, the entire script must adhere to the chosen objective.

After you state the "To Do" objective using an active verb, it becomes easier to shape the story to fit the objective. For example, if the purpose or objective is "to persuade," then every item in the presentation must, in some way, directly persuade the audience.

If there are components in the presentation that do not directly match the objective, you should remove them. If not, these extraneous bits of information, although indirectly supporting your topic, will become a waste of time for your live audience. This will transform them into a dead audience. It is better to place such additional information and any extensive details in the handout materials.


Avoid redundancy and don't be redundant! If you have several ways of displaying similar information, such as a pie chart and a bar chart, don't use both. The test for such wordiness is to examine the sequence of support items and see if you can interchange their order.

If, for example, you can switch the order of a pie chart and bar chart, then one of them is probably "extra" and can be dropped from the story line.

Think theatre! Can you simply switch scene one with scene two without messing up the chronology of the play?

When your purpose or objective is clear, it's easier to capture ideas and gather only the relevant supporting information needed to advance the objective.

A well thought-out objective reduces information overload because it takes less data to support a single objective than it takes to support a number of different objectives.

Fine-Tuning the Objective

Sometimes the definition of the objective needs to be stronger. To make the objective stronger, you need to let action act on something or someone. An action verb (to do) needs to act on a noun (to do what) for a more specific result to occur. (You didn't realize how important those fourth grade language classes were, did you?)

For example, the objective "to sell," may not be as emphatic as "to excite and stir emotions." Notice how your approach to the script feels different by adding the noun "emotions." The noun gives you a target. The type of information you'd gather to support the stronger objective would be more extreme or more crucial than otherwise might have been used. Nouns help fine-tune the expression of the objective so you can narrow down the choices of support material.

Consider the expression "to paint detailed pictures." The type of information needed for this objective would contain precise elements that accurately depict the story so that there would be no question in the minds of the audience as to how to interpret the data. Now you know to look for data elements that show detail, such as segmented vertical bar charts showing individual comparisons at specific points in time, rather than line charts which show general comparisons to a trend over time. But that is not all to consider. You might begin to gather stories and examples from real life to continue to support your objective. These may or not be depicted visually but they could be described vividly to help "paint a picture" for the audience.

Here's a good one. The strong or powerful expression "to force a single choice" makes it easier for the audience to agree to your point of view. You could have used this objective for the comedy club mentioned earlier, for instance. This fine- tuned objective tends to make you gather information that is mostly one-sided and not subject to much interpretation or argument. Data elements might include comparative tables or listings, pie charts showing percentages of the whole, and horizontal bar charts which are always used to show items at a single point in time. Stories and analogies will be clearly biased to your point of view to enhance this objective. It is not important right now to know the exact information and statistics buried in your support data. You just have to have an idea of the effort you will need to gather the level of support information you think you might use in your visuals.

The whole point of fine-tuning the objective is to stimulate your brain and get your juices flowing. Compare "to convince" with "to burn an indelible mark on the soul." Which one pushes your creative buttons more?

Objective Characteristics

The characteristics of the objective may further define the kinds of information required for support of the message. You use an active verb (to do) to express the objective and you may add a noun (to do what) to fine-tune the objective. If you also apply an adjective (by when or for what reason) to the objective itself, you give it character and depth.

Think of being stuck in an airport. Your objective is to get to your destination, right? What if you apply a characteristic of time to that objective? Let's say it's the beginning of your business trip rather than the end. Your objective will not only be more urgent, but the means to your destination might suddenly include a car, train, or boat in order to get there.

The following are examples of characteristics:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Time-based

  • Achievable (but not already achieved)

  • Relevant

For example, if the objective is to force a single choice, a measurable characteristic such as comparing features and benefits of products will match the objective because forced-choice is a result of measuring comparisons. Later, when you select support information for the presentation, you will know to look for more comparative items that measure differences.

Or, if the objective is to motivate the creative team, a time-based characteristic such as establishing a deadline for a given project will match well with the objective because the motivation for the team is to meet the deadline in order to avoid a consequence. When you select support information, you can narrow your choices to those items that relate to motivating the creative team by a certain date.

When the purpose or objective of the presentation is clearly defined and carefully fine-tuned, the number of required supporting elements will be fewer. This is because a well thought-out objective lets you get to the point quickly without displaying data that doesn't directly support the theme. You are able to focus on gathering the right information to put into the presentation. Less information means less distraction!


Although you must have an objective, you don't have to fine-tune the objective or even find a characteristic to help shape that objective. But you should consider it as an exercise in reducing data clutter. I've spent the last 15 years showing organizations how the weaknesses in their messages ultimately limit the effectiveness of their presenters. Fine-tuning and identifying characteristics of an objective help to avoid this data overload trap!

When you think about the whole purpose behind the message, you need to come up with a compelling reason to get that message into the minds and hearts of the audience. That's why working with your objective makes sense and why you have to understand the importance of this early phase of the process. After you get your brain thinking in these terms, every script you create will follow a similar pattern, even though the content itself will keep changing.

How Do You Select an Objective?

We covered that an objective must be action-driven and contain an active verb. You've also seen how it helps to fine-tune the objective into a more descriptive expression and even more beneficial to understand certain characteristics of the objective. But how do you make the choice from the start?

Is the objective chosen at random? Is it based on any secret formula? Is it an educated guess? In reality, you can be very accurate in your choice of objective by simply knowing what you plan to say at the very END of the presentation. Your conclusion is critical to your strategy and contains key points that you want to cover.

Think about it. If you tell a joke, you must know the punch line. If you get in a car, you need to know the destination. You prove to yourself all the time that you need to know the END before you know where to START.

Do Your Conclusion First

The key to selecting your objective is to create your last impression first. This doesn't mean you should present the last visual at the beginning of your presentation; rather, do your conclusion first in order to set the pattern or direction for all of the supporting elements to be presented.

Your last impression, or conclusion, is the verbal description of your overall objective. Think of your conclusion as a dartboard and each of the concepts as a dart. Each concept and support item must be directed at the dartboard in order to be effective. All components of the script MUST point to the "bull's-eye" or the overall objective. You may not always hit the bull's-eye, but if you don't even hit the dartboardBlllllaaaannnnppp! Thanks for playing!

Remember that call to action we talked about earlier? Well here it is again.

The call to action that you expect from your audience is directly related to the expression of your objective. For example, if you plan on concluding your presentation with the phrase, "Thank you very much and I hope you will each buy one of our products,"then you must have been trying to sell. Each component of your script would then support the objective of SELLING something to the audience, whether it is a product, a concept, or an idea.

If the last thing you plan to say is, "Thank you very much and I hope you learned everything about PowerPoint," then you must have been trying to educate. Every part of your script would have to support the objective of educating the audience, in some direct way, on the features, benefits, processes, or procedures of PowerPoint. Your closing remark summarized your expectation of the group ("I hope you learned") and it was originally expressed as the objective to educate.

Naturally, you can always fine-tune the objective and match a characteristic to the objective to help narrow down your choices of support material. But the original selection process comes from knowing what you want to have happen when the presentation is over.

As Stephen R. Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People , says, "Start with the end in mind."

Capturing Ideas

Despite what you may have heard , great ideas are not found on supermarket shelves , they are not a dime a dozen , and they certainly aren't driven by genius. Coming up with truly great ideas usually involves brainstorming, a process that allows the mind to spontaneously bring forth ideas. At times, the development of the message is left strictly to one person; other times that brainstorming process is shared.

The good news is that in both cases the methods by which we capture ideas vary and there is no exact science as to what will produce the perfect script for a presentation. However, several techniques will help you selectively choose related concepts from the available "pool" of ideas. These tools help narrow your choices so that the next part of the process, the outline and storyboard, can be easier.

The following are four different tools that are used to capture ideas for a presentation:

  • Fish-Bone Diagram

  • Flow Chart

  • Affinity Diagram

  • Mind Map

Fish-Bone Diagram

The fish-bone diagram links supporting visuals to a consistent theme (objective). Supporting visuals are linked by like causes while supporting the root cause. Confused yet? A good analogy might be to imagine a highway and the exit ramps off the highway . Then, think of the roads that connect to the exit ramps. That's the picture I'm painting here. Be careful how far you stray from the main highway with supporting information or else the audience may not be able to follow the map to your final destination.

Take a look at Figure 24.1. The end result (call to action) is supported by three categories for grouping your ideas. The most important category is placed closest to the end result because it represents ideas nearest the purpose (objective) of the message. Categories father from the end result represent more supportive ideas for the argument.

Figure 24.1. This is the layout you can use for a fish-bone diagram. Notice how supporting ideas (sub-category, elements) branch from main (category) ideas.



A good rule is to structure about three groups that support the main message and then have no more than three supporting messages beneath each group. If you branch out too far, the audience might not be able to get back on track.

When capturing ideas to a fish-bone diagram, fill in the blank lines where needed with ideas that support the closest or most immediate concept and look for data elements (support information) that match those ideas.

Flow Chart

A flow chart forces you to think in "stages" of action and tends to show that one step leads to another. Similar to the fish-bone diagram, flow charts, however, are mostly used when showing decision-based branching or interactivity. For example, non-linear electronic presentations may allow a particular subject or issue to be explored further only if the presenter prefers it that way, usually based on some cues or questions from the audience.

If you take a look at Figure 24.2, you'll see how the flow chart helps you place your ideas in sequence, noting any areas where choices might be made to further the message to its conclusion. Maybe after making your first point you check for agreement in the crowd. If they agree, you move on; if not, you bring in more evidence to support your argument. In an electronic presentation, this might mean selecting an object on the visual which contains an action to display another visual, not necessarily in sequence, which hold more information.

Figure 24.2. Here's how you "flow chart" your ideas. This shows how back-up or supplemental data can be used by the presenter only if needed to force a decision at that point.


For more information on how to create interactive elements within an electronic presentation, see "Using Action Buttons," in Chapter 15, "Working with Animation," p. 334 .

The key to a flow chart is in the logical flow of continuous action. Remove an element and the flow is broken. You can create a flow chart out of a simple day in your life.

If you think about your commute to work, your morning activity, your lunch hour , your afternoon, and your commute home, you have a flow chart. Now, imagine that as a giant flow chart across the wall of your bedroom. But don't lose any sleep over it. The process is a simple one.

The point is to keep it simple, logical and flowing. If you have a process-driven presentation, consider using the flow chart as a tool to capture ideas into the process. You will easily see how some ideas, although seemingly important on their own, actually do not fit the flow chart's process-oriented structure. This will reduce the number of ideas you can squeeze into one continuous flow of information.

Affinity Diagram

An affinity diagram helps you sort out your ideas into categories. Think about dropping your ideas into a bunch of different buckets all of which relate to the main theme. If you look at Figure 24.3, you'll see how the categories are decided in advance, before brainstorming the ideas needed to support each of the categories.

Figure 24.3. The affinity diagram limits your ideas to predefined categories, or "buckets." This helps you focus on the exact message and prevents you from including non-essential information.


By grouping closely related activities, you outline ideas based on agreed-upon categoriesor "buckets"of information. By tossing ideas into these specific buckets, you fill each category with the main points that you know you have to make in order to satisfy the category. The key to this method of capturing ideas is to agree on the categories in the first place.

For example, Figure 24.4 shows the agreed-upon information buckets to drop ideas into for this presentation. Perhaps this is how the meeting went that day. Someone said, "We have to talk about pricing," and the idea about pricing was placed in the financial category. Someone else mentioned "memory" and the idea of memory was placed under features. But another person said, "We should discuss the service policies of the company." Even though service is an important part of the company, the idea didn't fit any of the categories originally defined. Unless we stretch the meaning of what can be included in a specific category, there won't be any service-talk in this presentation.

Figure 24.4. A filled-in affinity diagram showing how the "tossed-in" ideas or discussion points are grouped according to four different predefined categories.


Although the service policies are important, it is not the right information to be brought up during this particular presentation. Think of it this way: Ford makes cars and trucks , but they are not shown in the same commercial.


Limit your categories to three or four, and limit your ideas per category to about the same number. You'll need at least one item of visual support for each idea. If you have too many categories or ideas within categories, the presentation may drag on too long.

Mind Map

If Felix Unger is the affinity diagram, then Oscar Madison is the mind map ! But don't assume chaos is a bad thing. In fact, when it comes to brainstorming, it's quite the opposite .

Mind mapping is a technique that starts with a major theme or concept and then looks for immediate supporting issues. After the main issues are defined, additional support can be considered . Each idea you write down may spawn another related idea and so on. The underlying support for each of the main issues ultimately supports the overall theme.

However, as you place ideas farther from the center of the map, you attach a lower importance to the idea, and, as a result, you need less support information for that idea. A mind map template, shown in Figure 24.5, illustrates the placement of ideas in relation to a central theme or core concept.

Figure 24.5. A sample mind map, showing how ideas are placed in relation to the core concept. A "second idea" is one that supports an original idea, which supports the core concept.


Although this appears similar to the affinity diagram, the mind map adds a different dimension to gathering ideas. It allows many ideas to make it to the table, and then tries to categorize each idea into a particular mainstream concept. The added dimension is distance. Once an idea is placed on the mind map, you are able to see how close to the center of the map it is and therefore determine its importance in the presentation.


Think of the center of the mind map as the core of an apple. To reach the core, you have to bite deeper into the apple. Ideas (items) closer to the core need stronger support or deeper explanation. Knowing the proximity of an idea to the central theme helps you decide how in-depth a concept should be covered when presented.

Because mind maps are usually associated with concepts and concepts are abstract, one supporting idea may be usable in more than one area of the mind map. Where you decide to place the idea will determine the amount of support you'll need for that idea. If, however, you use an idea more than once on the map, then you may need to use different levels of support for the same idea at different points in the script. Is your brain hurting yet?

For example, in Figure 24.6, the idea Recognize appears in two areas of the map. It is part of the Fun Workplace concept under Recruiting , which is one of the issues of Management Control. Recognize also appears as part of Motivate , a subset of Ownership , which stems from Authority , which relates to Accounting (yet another issue of Management Control ). The two ideas are at different distances from the center of the map. So when you look at each idea called "Recognize," you can count the levels each sits from the core. In one area there are two levels to pass through to reach the core; in another area there are four levels to pass through.

Figure 24.6. A mind map shows levels of the thought process.


In the first instance, the idea of recognition is closer to the core or central theme of management control (count the levels). Knowing this, you should use more support and explanation during the discussion of "recognition" at this point in the presentation than during the other reference. So after seeing where in the map the idea appears and how close to ground zero it really is, then you can gather your support information accordingly .

The other advantage of the mind map is that at a glance you can decide if the ideas are straying too far from the core, causing the presentation to become more drawn out. I suggest you keep the levels to no more than three: main theme (core), supporting issues, and supporting data for those issues. This makes for a shorter, more concise presentation. Remember, a mind map is a terrible thing to waste!

Creating an Outline and Storyboard

After you have gathered the main ideas and concepts that support your overall objective, you can create an outline and storyboard. The outline is simply a list of headings with some degree of detail attached to a few items. The storyboard is a visual example of the items in the outline.

You don't really have to create both an outline and a storyboard, but it helps to see a list of items categorized in sections as well as a visual sketch of those items.

Electronically Creating an Outline and Storyboard

PowerPoint simultaneously updates your outline and your storyboard (visuals) as you add content. The good news is that you can move items around quickly in PowerPoint, which is especially useful after all of your ideas have been entered into the outline.

For more information about outline and storyboards, see "Understanding PowerPoint Views," in Chapter 1, "Introducing PowerPoint 2003," p. 29 .


As you enter each idea or concept into the outline, PowerPoint uses a default "slide layout," typically a bullet chart. If you have support information that you know will be displayed in a different format, such as a data-driven chart, simply change the layout and enter a text description of the visual, plus the type of chart you prefer (pie, bar, line, and so forth). Later, when you create your visuals, you'll know what type of chart you were considering when you entered the idea or concept. Of course, any notes you typed into the layout will have to be removed when you actually begin designing the chart. Otherwise, it will look pretty bad if your final presentation has headings that say things like "A pie chart goes in this space" and "Try a bar chart here."

When you create an outline or storyboard in PowerPoint, some serious visual design is already happening. The very nature of the software is designed to "multitask" and to do two things at once for you. Let the software do the work and don't worry. Rather than be concerned about the design issues at this point, just try to get your ideas into the outline and then organize those ideas similarly to the way you captured them. Remember, you're not designing the visuals yet, only sketching ideas into a rough visible format.

Manually Creating an Outline and Storyboard

If you are creating a storyboard on paper for later input into PowerPoint, then simply make a rough sketch of how you see each idea visualized. For example, at my company (MediaNet, Inc.), we have created over 1,000 PowerPoint presentations from handwritten notes and sketches sent to us by clients . This is probably a familiar process in your company as well. Lots of people scribble out some rough-looking visuals just to help them visualize the information. Although it is much easier to use PowerPoint for the task of organizing content, you can also tackle the process manually on paper.

On paper, you can create the outline in a hierarchical (first to last) structure. Just remember a few of the outlining rules from school, such as "every A needs a B,"meaning that you can't have only one supporting point for a major ideayou need at least two. Still wishing you showed up for the fourth grade, huh?

The outline is easy, but the storyboard is a bit more difficult when created manually. The design of the visuals is usually taken from the original sketches in the storyboard. All the information chosen to support the story needs to be presented in a clearly readable format.

Most people belong to the "8 1/2x11 crowd." That is, those who use an entire sheet of paper, squeeze as much information as possible onto it, and then expect to later convert the clutter into a presentation visual. It's true. You take a standard sheet of paper, a magic marker (no one thinks of using a pencil with an eraser!) and you write on both sides of the sheetand you call ita visual. The days of the full-page of typewritten text with the little letter "o" for the bullet are gone.


If you do create a cluttered storyboard with each concept represented by a massive amount of needless information, do notI repeatdo not invite me to your next presentation! Or, invite me, but allow me to bring a pillow.

A storyboard sketch of each visual should not take up a full, 66-line typewritten sheet of paper. When projected , the final image from that original sketch needs to be clearly seen from a distance. This means the text and any other elements should be large and the only way to insure that is to limit the amount of data placed on the visual in the first place.

The best way to limit what can be placed on a single visual is to take a piece of standard paper and fold it in half before you design anything. Of course this doesn't mean you should write twice as small! But it does force you into a smaller workspace and help you avoid cluttering the image with extensive information that may not be readable for the audience when projected.

Another option is to use 5"x7" index cards to storyboard your ideas. The advantage of index cards is that they can be spread on a flat surface, like a table, and can be moved around as needed to organize your storyboard images into a proper flow. This is the manual version of the slide sorter in PowerPoint. You can probably now see how valuable the software is to the planning process when you consider the alternative of doing this manually.

The goal is to limit the information so the audience can spend more time listening and watching. Studies have shown that people retain only 10% of what they read but 70% of what they see and hear. Use this as hint to stop the data, spare us the details, and save the presentation! Can I make this any clearer! Less words on the screen means more words in your mouth. Remember the KISS principleKeep It Simple, Stupid!

Structuring Ideas into a Flowing Script

An outline and a storyboard help organize captured ideas into a format ready for design. But another issue must be addressed and that is making the presentation presentable. To support the notion of a visual presenter in terms of the script, the strategy is to link ideas so that a person can convey them. The script itself, the story line, must be structured so that the ideas flow easily from paper to people.

Earlier I asked you to think about the big picture when examining the purpose; now you should start thinking about the finer details. When you structure your ideas into some cohesive format, you may think it's easiest to give the audience the big picture and then back that up with the smaller details. That may work in some instances, but you should really consider the opposite strategy, as well.

Our world is complex and we seek simplicity. You will be more effective if you first get right to the immediate issue of the presentation and then offer the larger-than-life view.

One way to look at it is to think of a presentation as a big dinner. The menu is the view of the meal, but the selection is the anticipation of the taste. Then consider how the chosen meal is served : one course at a time. Each course needs to be segmented or cut into bite-size pieces in order to be consumed.

If the courses are the big picture items and the bite-size pieces are the details, from the server's (presenter's) point of view, the order of information should be from bigger to smaller. But, if you look at it from a taster's (audience's) point of view, the food on the fork is more important than the rest of the stuff on the table.

Maybe I've only succeeded in making you hungry, but I want you to begin to see how the details of the argument actually stimulate the anticipation of the audience more than the big picture.

Micro-to-Macro Strategy

Regardless of the method used to construct an argument, each script usually has a mixture of the "small details" and the "big picture." The terms micro and macro can be used to describe these views of the world. Typically, in a presentation, you separate the macro items (market data, trends, company information, and competition) from the micro items (stories, analogies, specific examples, features, and benefits).

Although the big picture is usually chosen as the starting point for a script, the small details are the qualifiers of the argument. Because time is an issue to a listener, getting to the details is more critical than hearing about the general trends. For example, you would obviously prefer to know whether the route you take to work is clear before you care to know that your city is the eighth most traffic- congested in the country.

When a script is constructed in a micro-to-macro fashion, the unique issues you bring to the table are discussed first and the broad-based marketing data is secondary. The good news is that if you accidentally run out of time in the presentation, the audience only misses the general information. Chances are, they can find that data if and when they choose.

No matter which way you choose to present the information, you still have to develop a pattern or a structure to the script so the information can be absorbed properly.

Think of the structure as the type of script that is used to convey the message. Most presentations follow a linear pattern, which moves from an opening through the body and, finally, into the closing. This open -body-close process is very common and usually expected as the metaphor for receiving information. The good news is that you have a choice of about five types of scripts you can use to convey a message in a linear presentation:

  • Matching Ideals

  • Main Points

  • Question and Answer

  • Meeting Needs

  • Problem-Solution

Seven "F" Words

From the great works of literature to the trashiest novels , in theatre, movies, or television, you'll find basically seven scripts. No matter what the plot, it fits into one of the seven scripts. Those scripts all begin with the letter F: Fact, Failure, Fantasy, Fear, Fidelity, Freedom, and Fortune. From these scripts all plots are hatched.

The lesson here is that variety stems from simplicity. Consider that only 26 letters make up our alphabet; look at how many words we have, not to mention books! There are only 12 notes on a musical scale (including sharps and the start of the next octave), and yet look at how many songs and musical scores we have!

The writer must master the alphabet first. The singer must master the notes first. Having mastered the subtleties of action within the seven scripts, an actor is able to play many different roles.

Whether it's messages, media, or mechanics, the entire process of creativity is predicated on the notion that simplicity yields variety. When applied to the message, the simplicity in script structure yields a variety of presentations.

Matching Ideals

This structure is really a " set-up " for the audience. The plan is that you describe the ideal product or service, which, of course, you know will closely resemble your product or service. Since the audience accepts your description as the "premise" of the argument, it is quite easy to match your argument to the premise you set up in the first place. This structure is usually used more for products than for services since attributes of a product are more tangible (visible) than qualities of a service.

For example, you selectively mention the ideal attributes of a good car. You say, "The ideal car has front-wheel drive, dual air bags, a rear defrost, and a trunk release." You naturally get the audience's agreement that these are the ideal attributes of a good car. Then you describe your car in terms of the ideal, making sure you only compare to about 90% of the ideal. You say, "Our car has front-wheel drive, dual air bags, a rear defrost, and we're still working on the trunk release." You see, you never want to compare to 100% because that would mean you have the "perfect" product (which no one does), and it would leave you no room for improvement (how do you improve on perfection ?).

Nothing is perfect. Ever buy a pair of jeans? Wait, let me rephrase that. Ever buy a pair of jeans that fit? I rest my case. The matching ideals script is designed to lead the audience to an understanding that the product (or service) is the best one for the job, but it may not do the whole job. Sounds like a politician to me!

Main Points

Typically, this structure is used with information-based presentations such as those dealing with financial results and other historical data. The process follows the familiar pattern of:

Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em

Tell 'em

Tell 'em what you told 'em

One way to identify this structure is the appearance of an agenda early in the presentation and a corresponding summary at the end. This lets the audience know what to expect and then anticipate what to remember.

The summary at the end is critical because main points can be hard to remember especially when a large number of supporting points are discussed. The audience may get lost unless they are constantly made aware of how the supporting information relates to the main points.

Question and Answer

Question and answer scripting is similar to educational activities of " pre-test " and "post-test." This is useful in training sessions with a lot of unrelated, yet comprehensive, information.

First you pre-test the audience's knowledge of a subject using easy-to-answer questions (true/false, multiple choice). The questions cover all the major points you expect to convey during the session. Then, during the session, you reveal the correct answers using supporting visual elements to explain each answer as you elaborate. Finally, you ask the audience as a group to answer the original questions (post-test).

A question and answer scripting structure can be used in a variety of situations including surveys, polls , and research studies. The important point to remember is that the objective should address how the information is used by the audience toward some result. One way to ensure that the information is more than just a data dump is to repeat key points and summarize conclusions at several stages of the presentation. Repetition will aid in retention of concepts and ideas. Repetition will aid in retention of concepts and ideas. Repetition will aid in retention of concepts and ideas. Any questions?

Meeting Needs

Sometimes called the "helping hand" script, this structure starts with the needs of the audience in mind. This is often used in sales presentations where you put the needs of the customer up front and then show how you can address those needs.

But, for business, a first glance at this meeting needs script may seem an easy task. But more often than not, presentations using this format tend to treat all needs on an equal basis. This becomes a problem because if all needs are truly equal, then priorities cannot be set and decisions take longer to reach. If, however, you attach importance to specific needs, you create a sense of gratification by meeting those needs in the order of their importance. This builds value for you in the eyes of the audience.

For example, suppose you are a computer consulting firm specializing in solving computer virus problems. You are giving a "new business" pitch to a potential client who has the following "needs":

  • 24-hour on-site support

  • High-level data security

  • Detailed reporting

  • Expert advice

  • Budget constraints

Initially, you might flag "budget constraints" as critical (to you) since it represents your paycheck, so to speak. After all, you do want to get paid for your work. But the meeting needs script structure is meant to place the client's needs up front. In that case, data security and expert advice are more important to the client. But, if you address each of the needs equally, you create equal impact on the last item (the one critical to you). This makes meeting your needs equal to meeting the client needs and makes the client consider budget contraints as strongly as the other issues.

But, if you prioritize the needs and give more weight to the data security and the expert advice issues, you may create an opportunity to build value for your services as the client realizes how well you can meet his primary needs. Less importance will be shifted to the limitations of the budget. This ultimately serves your purpose.

Once you know the priority of the customer needs, you can address those important issues first. Then, you can summarize how you can help with other issues that may not have been verbalized as a "top priority," but may be important to the scope of the project or activity. The point is that many issues are brought into a presentation, some of which can have a negative impact on your objective. By concentrating on primary needs you limit the attention placed on less important and perhaps frivolous needs that could have otherwise stalled the process.


Also known as the "divide and conquer" script, the problem-solution structure is one of the most effective scripts you can use, especially for high-level, decision-based presentations. Whereas the meeting needs structure focuses on the goals ahead, the problem-solution structure concentrates on the mistakes of the past. That's why I love this script. It concentrates on failure, it thrives on fear, it accentuates the negativeand it leaves the door open for a hero to save the day! It's like Superman!

The process follows a simple pattern. First, the overall problem is described and presented in a manner that makes it look bleak or negative. Then, you dissect the problem into smaller sections that can be addressed individually. Finally, the solutions to the smaller areas will solve the big problem, as well, and the result will always look positive.

Politicians use the problem-solution scenario frequently. The political candidate announces, "The country is going downhill, crime and inflation are out of control, your children have no future." Immediately you feel depressed hearing the problems at hand. Seconds later, the candidate continues, "but our party has the solution!" Suddenly you feel better, as if the day has been saved. Okay, it really isn't exactly that way, but you get the idea.

From a business presentation perspective, the problem-solution script can be highly effective because it plays on a very powerful human emotion: Fear. If problems can't be solved , then the consequences may be harmful . This can cause fear and anxiety.

In fact with so many companies touting solutions these days, I keep thinking we're going to run out of problems! Now that is a problem we need to solve. The solution to running out of problems would be to have fewer solutions. Then, we would end up having more problems than solutions. I feel better already, how about you?

The problem-solution script positions the presenter as a solution provider for existing problems. Try saying that five times fast! Since most people are cautious and conservative, this kind of script appeals to a sense of urgency.

Of all the structures available, I most prefer the problem-solution type. Any scripts that involve a sense of urgency will always be the most effective because urgency relates to the limits of time, and time, once lost, can never be retrieved.

Problem-Solution Scenario

Many times I find that presentations are poorly constructed using the problem-solution approach. I usually suggest this pattern. The opening of the presentation should state the case in this order: problem, consequence of inaction, sense of urgency, and solution.

For example, let's say your company markets a software program that keeps track of Internet access. The following italicized text is an example of the conceptual script that might be used.

First, you quickly tell the audience the problem. You state how employees spend a growing percentage of the workday accessing the Internet for non-business related information .

Next, examine the consequence of inaction. In other words, what happens if nobody does anything about the problem? You indicate that without action, the consequence will be a reduction of productivity in the workplace .

Okay, here's the clincher! Attach a timeframe to action in order to establish a sense of urgency. After all, without urgency there is less need to solve the problem today. In other words, if they do see the problem, how long can they wait to do something about it? You mention that less productivity from lost time reduces the ability to adapt quickly to constant changes in the industry .

Finally, you must address the problem with your specific solution. Without a link to your special way of solving the problem, you will only end up educating the audience by increasing general awareness of the problem. Therefore you show that your software limits Internet access to non-business information using a unique process, thereby allowing a company to maximize productivity into a competitive advantage .

This entire scenarioproblem-consequence-urgency-solutionshould be shared up front with the audience in less than one minute to set the stage for the rest of the presentation.

Using an Opening Hook

We spent a lot of time covering objectives, ideas, and structures, and by now, you should have some grasp on how to construct the argument in order to move an audience to some call to action. But now we have to think about jump-starting the presentation with an opening hook.

Every time I consult on a client presentation, I ask, "What's the hook?" and the response is usually, "What's a hook?" That's when I say, "How long have you worked at the company, not counting tomorrow?" The hook is the very reason the audience wishes to remain in the room for the rest of the presentation.

A hook is used for the purpose of changing something about the way an audience thinks. A hook can be any credible or even doubtful piece of information, which, when presented, causes the audience to immediately react . Whether it be a bit of research, a little known but interesting fact, a revelation, a controversial opinion, a current event, or simply a smile in the face of defeat, the opening hook sets the stage for the rest of the presentation.

I find a statistic can make for a great opening hook. For example, an opening hook I use for my "Electrifying Presentations" seminars is a series of statistics which position the physical "presentation skill," the actual art of delivery, as contributing to over 90% of the communication message. It doesn't mean that content is unimportant; rather, that content needs to be clear and concise since we process more of what we see than anything else.

That hook is important because it forces the audience to make a choicedo they agree or disagree? For those who agree, they spend the rest of the presentation nodding their heads as the evidence to support the hook is presented. For those who disagree , they spend the rest of the presentation tilting their heads looking for more evidence as to why they should change sides. Both groups are forced to change the way they think in order to keep sitting through the presentation.

What happens is this: An audience arrives at the presentation in neutral. Their emotions and thoughts have yet to be swayed. Your goal is to get them in gearforward or reverseit doesn't matter, but you must create a sense of action. Just like the objective is positioned to do something, the audience needs to be pushed to do something, too. Think of them as sitting on a fence and trying to push them to one side or the other. If I'm still on the fence at the end of your presentation, I haven't accomplished anything and neither have you. We both lose. You have to influence the group in some way.

Rarely is this done visually onscreen, as in a before/after comparision. The hook is more of a fact or statement that challenges the status quo or belief system. Even if you displayed a visual of something powerful, such as natural disaster or a victory celebration , you would still have to verbally interpret the hook for the audience. A visual which supports your hook needs to be placed in context and described. Usually, you don't need the visual at all since the description is likely to stand on its own.

The value of the hook is in the timing. When the presentation starts, how long does it take before the group is being influenced by your objective (to sell, to motivate, to convince, or whatever)? How long do you let them sit on the fence in neutral?

The longer it takes you to employ your objective, the harder it gets to arrive at the call to action. However, using an opening hook can instantly affect the audience and get them to make choices about your message.

For example, if you started a presentation by saying, "By the end of the day you will lose all excess weight, look 10 years younger , and add one million dollars to your income!" I'd say that's a pretty good hook. Sign me up!


Don't use a fact for no reason. For example, mentioning that over 83% of all Paul Newman movies have the letter H somewhere in the title may be factual, but is really just trivial, especially because the audience can't control the likelihood that future Paul Newman movies won't have an H somewhere in the title!

The hook can even tap into an audience's sense of urgency for the presentation to be over. One of the best opening hooks I heard a presenter give was to a group of time-starved executives at the beginning of a sales presentation. The presenter said, "This can take five minutes or five hours, but you're going to buy something!" Each person in that room glanced at the clock and was instantly swayed from thinking "Do I want to buy?" to wondering "Do I want buy now or five hours from now? "

Allowing for Timely Grabs

Although an opening hook creates action in the minds of the audience, timely grabs are used to hold the attention of the audience across sections of the script. These grabbers pepper the script at specific points with interesting information, personal experiences, or other stimulating items that relate to or help further the message.

Grabbers include:

  • Stories

  • Examples

  • Analogies

  • Statistics

  • Interaction

  • Questions

  • Repetition

  • Shock

  • Suspense

  • Special Effects (animation, sound, video)


When using analogies, try to make them as real-world as possible. The advantage of drawing a likeness between something in your content and an everyday activity is that the audience transfers the benefits of the very real experience to your information.

For example, a simple analogy for a maker of digital video cameras might be to specify that a particular model is the Cadillac of the industry. The public impression of Cadillac is one of quality and a transfer is made by the audience to the digital camera as having a high quality.

Typical real-world analogies include references to transportation, household appliances, food, travel, and entertainment. The more the reference applies to everyday experience, the faster the connection is made by the audience.

Grabbers should directly relate to the topic, but can come from nowhere and be completely unrelated to anything you're discussing. It depends on what you want to do with the audience. Unrelated grabbers are used typically to inject life into the crowd. Let's say it's one hour after lunch. You might notice the audience is losing focus, appearing glassy-eyed, getting a bit drowsy. Although it's possible you are boring them to sleep, the head-bobbing is more from the blood leaving the head to travel to the stomach to digest food.

You might have to do something unrelated. I have a full-day seminar/workshop, which has a topic called "Multimedia vs. Multimania." It's one of the eight topics for the day, but it is strategically placed about one hour after the lunch break. In the middle of the lecture is a 10-minute game show on the order of a " Name That Tune" contest. It has less to do with the guidelines for using multimedia than it does to wake the audience up from a low energy point. Plus, it's fun! And you know something, you can have fun and learn at the same time!

Understanding Non-Linear Issues

Non-linear presentations offer the greatest flexibility for a repetitive presentation with a changing audience. With experience, presenters learn where the questions arise and to what extent "back-up," or supporting information, is needed.

The technique employed in these presentations relates to features within PowerPoint, specifically Action buttons and hyperlinks . See Chapters 15, "Working with Animation," and 16, "Using PowerPoint's Web Features," for more information on the use of these features.

Using a non-linear structure, you can

  • Answer expected or unexpected questions with back-up support information

  • Analyze "what if" scenarios by linking to spreadsheets and other data

  • Show "generic" presentations to different audiences and use back-up data only where necessary

If you decide to display back-up information based on audience responses, make sure the information is "general" enough to warrant display.

If you decide to do "what-if" scenarios in front of an audience where a software application needs to be used, make sure you know the software well and don't get caught up in details or small changes.

The following situations are some in which a non-linear approach may be effective:

  • Show only the "overview" to busy executives and more detailed levels to subordinates

  • Adapt to an audience's knowledge level by giving details only where needed

  • Respond to different audiences' priorities by showing most important information to that particular audience first

The same way you tell a story based on limited time is the way to think about non-linear access to information. If you have the time, show it. But show limited amounts of informationenough to make the point.

You may have to pre-plan a lot of this "branching" information and you may not be asked to show it all. Usually, a presentation done several times to different audiences tells a presenter where the supporting information belongs.

Make sure you incorporate a "go back" button! Don't leave someone in la-la land wondering how to get back to the original story! Non-linear navigation can be confusing if you don't have a way to get back on track after you've branched off to a supporting item. This is why non-linear presentations are usually meant for an audience of one (like at a kiosk); or, they are thought-out so far in advance to cover every interactive possibility that they end up falling into the pattern of a typical linear presentation. The key thing to remember is not to lose control of the event.

Special Edition Using Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003
Special Edition Using Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003
ISBN: 0789729571
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 261 © 2008-2017.
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