Follow These Six Steps to Organize Your Presentation

If you struggle with knowing where to put what in your presentations, this post is for you!  Today we'll be focusing on the "body" of your speech - the main part between your introduction and your conclusion.    I’m going to show you how to go from one big list of ideas to a presentation that's organized clearly and logically .  Let’s get started!

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For you visual people, the goal  is to take you and your presentation ideas from the hopeless piles on the left to the beautiful ducks in a row on the right.

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Step #1 -  Brainstorm.

The initial brainstorm.

The initial brainstorm.

Aka, the brain dump. Make a list of every idea that you have about your topic.

It doesn’t need to be numbered, and it doesn’t need to be written in complete sentences.   If you’re not sure about an idea, put it down anyway. Now is not the time for editing; now is the time for dumping.  I suggest using a word processing program (as opposed to a handwritten list) because you’ll be moving your ideas around later on.

I’ve included an example of this whole process in the dark blue boxes that follow using a hypothetical presentation about forgiveness (including fictitious names and examples to protect the guilty, lol).  Here you can see my initial brainstorm.



Step #2 - Group Similar Items

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Grouping items and naming each group.

Grouping items and naming each group.

Go through your list and group items that seem to go together and/or address more or less the same aspect of your topic.  

If you’re not sure if an item is in the right place, put a question mark next to it. I added a few notes as I went along to help me clarify the ideas.  Now name each group, identifying what it’s generally about.  See the example to the right for how this looks with my list.

Step #3 - Clarify Your Core Message

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Now that you’ve listed all of your ideas and grouped them, it’s easier to think about what you want your main message to be.  Of course, you may have known that from the start, but let’s say that you didn’t. Imagine that as I look at my groupings, I keep thinking about how important forgiveness is for your health, both mental and emotional.  Perhaps to me, that’s the most important part of the whole list. So I decide that my core message (not to be confused with the title of my speech) is going to be “Forgiveness is essential for good mental and emotional health.”

I know, that sounds kind of dry.  Don’t worry - we can always work on eloquence later.  Right now we are just trying to get organized.

But what if, as you look at these groups, you see it differently, and you think that the most important idea is about forgiveness being an ongoing process? That works too!  Your core message could be something like “How to Move Through the Process of Forgiveness.”

I’m sure you could come up with other core messages for this same material - it all depends on what’s important to you.  Go ahead and write your core message at the top of your list now.

Stating your core message at the top.

Stating your core message at the top.

Step #4 - Edit Your Supporting Points

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Think of your core message as bread, and your supporting points as the ingredients.  Flour is going to move you closer toward bread. So is a liquid, like water or milk, as is a little salt.  Now, you might really like mango jam. In fact, it might be your favorite food in the whole world. But you don’t want to put mango jam in, because jam is not going to get you to bread.  In fact, jam will be weird.

With that in mind, read your core message again.  Now look through all of your supporting points. Does every single one somehow support, or “go with” your core message?  Looking at my list,  in my first group, although “feeling better” doesn’t speak to the process, my experience of forgiving Jude was indeed a process, so I decide to keep this point.  But the point about my sisters doesn’t fit here, even though I’ve worked on/around this issue for a long time, because it’s not about the process of me forgiving them. So I’m going to cut that.

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In group #2,  my story of forgiving Linda is a great example of the process when it’s hard, so I'll keep that.    And, I love my wagon story - it’s thrilling and gross and I could have died! (Remember folks, fictitious :) .  But alas, it’s jam - it’s not really about the process of forgiving my brother Craig at all - it's really much more about the accident. So I’m gonna cut that, too.

In group #3, everything fits, so I’m going to leave it as is.

Editing your points.

Editing your points.

#4.  . . hmmm. This doesn’t seem to be about a process at all. It’s a great point.  But it really doesn’t get me closer to my core message,  which is: “How to Move Through the Process of Forgiveness.”  Sadly, it is jam, too, so I have to cut that whole section.  (It happens.)

Now what about those last two lines with the question marks?  I think that  “it's hard to love people that you haven't forgiven them” is part of good emotional health, which I just cut, so it’s gotta go.  And the last one about the bad teaching - it could go in #2, but when I think about it now, it feels negative and unhelpful, so I’m going to cut it as well.  So what you see to the right  is what I have after my edits.

Step #5 - Put everything in order.

I’m down to three main points.  Now I need to think about the order.  It makes more sense to me to talk about the different approaches first, and then talk about what moving through looks like after that.  So I decide to rearrange my points. Here again, you might prefer a different order. The last list below is my final order.

Keep in mind that in a straightforward “how to” presentation like this one, whatever order increases clarity and understanding is fine. However, in speeches where you need to persuade your audience, you’ll want to be much more strategic about your order, aka structure. Go here for an example of a speech structure that works well in this case. Or go here for an article that describes many different structures.

Ordering your points.

Ordering your points.

Step #6 - Check for Balance

It's time to make sure that you are explaining each point sufficiently.  To me, #2 feels a little thin, so I might add another concrete example that looks different from the Jude story but that still shows the process.  I’d also probably add some kind of graphic that demonstrates having to revisit particular issues with the same person.

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Finishing up...

If you've gotten this far, you've completed the lion's share of the organizational work!  Now all you have to do is add an introduction (guided by the same principal of “does it get me to bread?”), transitions and a conclusion, and you’ll have the basic content of your speech. 

From there you’ll want to work on the details of all of your supporting points. You may also want to change the order of some of those points within each main point, which is fine.

With practice, this process will become easier and easier.  If you’re struggling right now with the organization of a particular presentation, go here to get some help.  It’s what I do. :)