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How to Create a Presentation: The 2021 Definitive Guide

Categories: Business Presentations

Creating a presentation can be overwhelming.

Where do you even begin?

If you want your presentation to be memorable and provide a lasting impact on your audience, you need to plan it carefully and well in advance.

Let’s get started!

The Core Elements of a Presentation

Many presenters think that a compelling message comes from the logical presentation of all the information that supports their position.

When people see the data, it should be obvious that your proposal is important, right? Of course, they will see the need to take the action you are recommending. In reality, data is not enough to engage or influence your audience. And too much data can lead to your audience tuning out. As Voltaire said, “The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out.”

To improve your presentation, you will need to curate the information. What is most relevant to your audience? What will be important to them? (Hint: It may not be the same things that are important to you.)

You’ll also need to organize your information in a way that’s easy for your audience to follow.

Think about your PAL™ (Purpose, Audience, and Logistics)

If you have a professional presentation coming up, here’s the first thing you should not do: start creating slides. Instead, go analog — unplug!

Start by getting to know your PAL™.

Purpose: What would you like your audience to know or do as a result of your presentation?

Audience: Who are they and how is this information specifically relevant to them?

Logistics: What are the length, time, and location? What equipment or materials will be used?

For more help analyzing your PAL, take a look at our blog, “How to Start a Presentation.”

Write a Central Theme

Once you have analyzed your PAL, it’s time to move on to your Central Theme.

Imagine that after your presentation, someone who did not attend asks one of your audience members, “What was that all about?”

How would you want them to answer in one sentence? One phrase? One word? This is your Central Theme.

Brainstorm First

Using your Central Theme as your guide, let your creativity flow, and start brainstorming. What information do you want to include that will support your Central Theme?

One way to capture your ideas is to write each idea on a sticky note and then post them up on a whiteboard. It’s easy to move them around and organize them, allowing an effective presentation to take shape right in front of your eyes.

Sticky notes on a whiteboard not your style? Check out this app for brainstorming and organizing your ideas: The Brain.

Whether you use sticky notes, a notebook, or a computer, in this stage you're looking for an abundant supply of possibilities – but, you will not wind up using all of them.

After brainstorming what you do know about the topic, you may also need to do some research. Is all of your information current and correct? Check your facts and look for data that supports your message.

Organize Your Material

“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” (A.A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh)

A well-organized presentation acts as a road map for your audience members, leading them from one point to the next until you’ve reached the exact destination you intended.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Cluster your ideas into three to five main points for the body of your talk.
  2. Create an outline with phrases or bullet points that are just long enough to remind you of what you want to say. Below are some options for how to organize your information.
  3. Consider your material in terms of “must know,” “should know," "could know." This will help make sure you present the most critical information in the time you have.

Organization of the Informative Presentation

In some cases, the purpose of your presentation will be to share information rather than influence a particular outcome or action. You may be reporting on a project, providing a client update, or informing people about a new system or process.

The informative speech can be organized in several different ways, depending on the topic:

  1. Chronological order. Show changes over time. You can also include future vision.
  2. Geographical order. Present information about different regions. (Ideal for reporting on sales, marketing, or roll-out updates.)
  3. Topical order. Take a broad topic and divide it into sub-topics.
  4. What? So What? Now What? Give a quick synopsis of the information, then provide insights (why it's important), and finally, suggest what you can do with these insights.

Download the Informative Presentation Planning tool below to help you organize your presentation.

Download Worksheet

The Persuasive Presentation

If you need to persuade an audience, the difference between success and failure may rest on your ability to judge your audience’s attitude and respond appropriately.

Before you decide how to organize your talk, know which of the following types of audiences you’ll be addressing:

  • Favorable: You are preaching to the choir, people who already share your opinions, and probably want the same things you want. It's rare to get an entirely favorable audience; if you do, your task will be much easier.
  • Uninformed: They are neither for nor opposed to what you have to say — in fact, they know nothing about it. Your job is to educate them, using facts and arguments that will sway them to your opinion.
  • Apathetic: This audience couldn't care less about what you have to say, usually employees who are required to attend your talk, training, or presentation. Get through to them by showing exactly how they’ll benefit from whatever you are proposing. (What’s in it for them?) Create the need!
  • Hostile: Although no one wants a hostile audience, it’s better to know going in so you can prepare. What is the source of their hostility? What are their issues: time, expense, philosophy, you and what you represent, etc.?
  • Mixed: There are two types of mixed audiences: the favorable mix and the hostile mix. The favorable mix includes favorable, uninformed, and apathetic members. You’ll have to inform the uninformed and convince the apathetic there’s a genuine need or real benefit to them.

Warning: If even one audience member expresses hostility, the entire audience can shift quickly to his point of view. At this point, you are dealing with a hostile mix. Your challenge? Disarm the hostile members and win them over as soon as possible.

If you are prepared for a hostile audience, you will be ready for any mixed group.

Now that you know the type of audience you will be addressing, it’s time to organize your persuasive presentation.

When selecting a method for organizing your persuasive presentation, it's critical to keep the audience's attitudes in mind (hence the prior exercise!)

Methods of Organization for Persuasive Presentations

A. Proposition to Proof. In this method, you state your proposition right upfront, at the beginning of your presentation. Then, prove your proposition using three to five points of evidence (Logos), emotional appeal (Pathos), and transitions to reinforce and connect your ideas. Finally, review the evidence and end with a strong closing statement.

Note: This method works well with favorable audiences, and can sometimes work for uninformed or apathetic. It is not a good choice for a hostile or hostile mixed audience. They are likely to be immediately offended by whatever you present, and it will be challenging to overcome that.

This method is also useful when speaking to senior leaders. They want to know what you are proposing from the beginning, and rarely have the patience to sit through explanations before getting to the point.

B. Motivated Sequence (Problem to Solution). This method was developed by Alan Monroe at Purdue University in the 1930s and is the method most used in sales. The motivated sequence either identifies a need or makes the audience aware of a need. You are building a case that a need exists. You then supply the means to satisfy that need or solve the problem.

This method can work well for uninformed and apathetic audiences. You can also use it with a hostile or mixed audience, keeping in mind that you’ll need to address their concerns early or else the rest of your presentation may fall on deaf ears.

Here are the five steps:

  • Attention: Grab the audience’s attention with a thought-provoking fact or statement about your topic.
  • Need: Describe a need the audience members have or problem that needs to be solved. With logic and emotional appeals build their belief that something must be done.
  • Satisfaction: Tell them how the need can be met or how their problem can be solved.
  • Visualization: Describe the positive picture of what the future will look like with your proposed solution in place (and what it will be like without it).
  • Call to Action: Tell the audience members what they need to do. Make your appeal for action.

C. Reflective. Using this method, the problem is stated and proven right at the beginning of the presentation. This works most effectively if the speaker and audience then agree on a criterion to evaluate each of the possible solutions and to ultimately make a decision.

This approach is ideal for a hostile audience that is also analytical. After the problem and the criteria are agreed upon, solutions are offered and evaluated against the requirements. Effective speakers often present the positive points of the solutions they don’t want and then undermine them with evidence to the contrary (using the agreed-upon criteria as a basis of evaluation). Then they present the best solution last – supporting it with plenty of evidence.


These are the statements used between your main points. Transitions seamlessly direct your audience’s attention to the next point.

Here are some examples of transitions that you can tailor to your specific topics:

  • Another way to look at this…
  • Along with…
  • We have just covered…
  • The second point is…

A transition should create a bridge or connection from the current point to the next point. If you have a hard time creating seamless transitions in your presentation, you may want to reconsider how you’ve organized your content.

The Final Touches

Now that you’ve organized your presentation, add an effective opening and powerful closing for a polished, professional message. You can reference our blog “How to Start a Presentation” in the “Grab Their Attention” section for more details on the opening. You can also read, “After the Q&A: Planning a Strong Conclusion” for tips on how to close your presentation.

The Presentation Planner tool will also walk you through these steps. Click below to download the worksheet PDF.

Download Worksheet

If you’d like more information about how to make a presentation, or improve your delivery skills, feel free to contact us today!

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