I offer this superb business presentation tip – bookend your presentation or presentation segment to give the audience a satisfying experience.
What is bookending?
This means to start your presentation with an anecdote, cue, or visual image that hooks your listeners into the narrative. This is your “grabber.”
You follow with your clear situation statement of only one or two sentences.
Then you offer your major points of your presentation, usually three major points. As you wind to a conclusion, you hearken back to the original introductory anecdote, cue, or visual image that launched your segment.
A Powerful Business Presentation Tip
When you have finished your presentation message and are ready to set your second bookend that concludes your presentation, call on these magic words.
You say these words: “In conclusion, we can see that . . . .” Then – repeat your situation statement.
Then say: “We believe that our presentation substantiates this.”
You come full-circle. The audience gains a sense of completeness.
This recapitulation of your theme knits together your segment into a whole, and your audience appreciates the closure.
This technique offers much more than a linear march, where nothing said seems to relate to anything that came before. The satisfying circularity of bookending brings your audience back to the familiar starting point.
It drives home the major point of your talk in two especially powerful ways. First, the outright repetition of your theme cements it in the minds of your listeners. Second, the story convention of providing a satisfying ending ties up loose ends and gives psychological closure.
It’s an elegant business presentation tip that can pay big dividends in terms of audience response.
The typical start to thinking about and then preparing our presentation structure is . . .
. . . procrastination.
You put it off as a daunting task. Or you put it off because you believe you can “wing it.”
Or you lament that you don’t have an “interesting topic.”
Or a “good group.” Or you “don’t have time for this.”
These are just excuses for refusing to grapple with a task that seems amorphous.
Instead, let’s make it real and vow to tackle the initial stages of presentation structure immediately.
Tackle Presentation Structure Head-on
Let’s say that your task is to provide a SWOT within the body of a group presentation, and your time is 4-5 minutes. What is your actual task here?
Think about it. How do you usually approach the task? How do you characterize it?
Here is my guess at how you approach it. You define your task as:
“How can I fit X amount of information into this limited time?”
In your own mind, the objective is not to communicate clearly to your audience. Your implicit objective is to “fit it all in.”
And if you “achieve” this dubious objective, then in your mind you will have succeeded.
Unfortunately, your professor might agree with you, since many b-school professors look only for “content.” They don’t usually evaluate whether the content has been communicated clearly and effectively.*
So this is the missing component – you typically don’t analyze how or why or in what way you can present the information in a public forum, shaping it to the visual/vocal medium. Instead, you attempt to twist the medium itself to match the written analysis.
If a written paper has already been produced, this complicates your task, and the result is predictable. You end up trying to shovel 10 pounds of sand into a five-pound pail. The result is less than stellar.
Your slides are crammed with unreadable information.
You talk fast to force all the points in, so no one can possibly digest it.
You run over-time.
Let’s fix all of this right now.
This Time, Procrustes has Presentation Structure Right
To fix this problem, I recommend a radical solution. I advise that you take the Procrustean approach in crafting your business presentation structure.
This approach is named after Procrustes, a figure from Greek mythology. The Columbia Encyclopedia describes the myth thus:
He forced passersby to lie on a very long bed and then stretched them to fit it. Some said that he also had a very short bed; to make passersby fit this he sawed off their legs. Using Procrustes’ own villainous methods, Theseus killed him.
Surely Procrustes was a villain, what with sawing off people’s legs or stretching them to fit an arbitrary standard. In modern-day parlance, it has retained its negative connotation with the term “Procrustean solution.”
The “Procrustean solution” is the undesirable practice of tailoring data to fit its container or some other preconceived stricture. A common example from the business world is embodied in the notion that no résumé should exceed one page in length.
But in this case, let’s give Procrustes a break.
Let’s take a Procrustean approach and make a better presentation. Consider this: We have no choice in the length of our presentation. It’s four minutes. Or five minutes. That’s our Procrustean Bed.
So let’s make the most of it and manipulate the situation to our benefit and to the benefit of our audience.
We’re not stretching someone or something. And we’re not hacking off legs.
The Rule of Three for Presentation Structure
We are using our mind and judgment to select what should be in our show and what should not be in our show. If you find the decision of what to include too difficult, then let’s do even more Procrustean manipulation.
Pick only three major points that you want to make.
Now, here is your modified task:
Pick three points to deliver in 4-5 minutes. If you must deliver an entire SWOT, then select one strength, one weakness, one opportunity, and one threat.
Why do we do this? Just this: If you try to crowbar an entire SWOT analysis into a four-minute presentation, with multiple points for each category, you overwhelm your audience. They turn off and tune you out.
You lose them, and you fail.
Presenting too many points is worse than presenting only one point. If you present, say, a total of 5 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 4 opportunities, and 3 threats, no one remembers it. None of it. You irritate your audience mercilessly.
Your presentation should offer the results of analysis, not a laundry list of facts on which you base your analysis. The SWOT is, in fact, almost raw data.
You don’t want the audience to remember how you massaged the data, analyzed it, and arranged it. You want the audience to remember your conclusions and recommendations.
Your job is to sift through the mountains of information available, synthesize it, compress it, make it intelligible, then present it in a way that is understandable and, if possible, entertaining.
* Of course, there will be vociferous disagreement from my colleagues who do care a great deal about style and communication and who do evaluate presentations apart from the criteria they use to grade written work. These hardy souls are in the minority, and of course I do not refer to them. But the unfortunate truth is that too many business school professors do not take seriously enough the presentation process with regard to presenting as a skill. Is there hard data to back up that claim? Of course not, and I welcome suggestions as to how one might go about collecting data on professors, data that might indicate that their skills are substandard in a particular area. That won’t happen, of course. And so we must rely upon what is derided as “anecdotal evidence.” Because my contention relies entirely upon anecdotal evidence, you have my full cooperation in dismissing my comments here as unwarranted. Meanwhile, let’s learn something new.
Don’t assume that you know what I mean by preparation and practice, because we likely have different conceptions of both, and I’m betting you’ll like the results you get from my approach.
So, settle in . . . and for the next couple of days, we will explore the Three Ps and how their assiduous application can transform you into the Especially Powerful Presenter that you always knew you could be.
At times, even the finest presenters get themselves in trouble, and having this rescue device near to hand can salvage a speech that is careening off-course, that is flirting with disaster.
Your Life Preserver to Conclude a Presentation
Occasionally we must be reminded of this quite simple device that can serve us well near the end of our talk.
When your talk is winding down and you feel yourself suddenly spent . . .
When you begin to spiral out of control and cannot remember your train of thought . . .
When your pulse quickens and your mind goes blank . . .
Grasp for two words.
“In conclusion . . .”
That’s it. Just two words.
Conclude a Presentation with Pith and Power
These two words have rescued thousands of presenters before you, and they’ll rescue you as well.
These two words work a magic on your psyche that is almost inexplicable in terms that a logical, reasonable person would believe. As soon as you speak them, the path to the end of your talk becomes clear.
Speak them, and suddenly you know what to say and do.
Here is what you do. Confidently tack on another phrase . . .
“In conclusion, we can see that . . .”
“In conclusion, our recommendation makes sense for reasons just given . . .”
“In conclusion, this means that . . .”
See how it works? You see how incredibly easy it is to get out of the sticky wicket of a talk spiraling down out of control?
“In conclusion” leads you out of the wilderness and back onto your prepared path. It leads you to restate your thesis in concise manner and then . . .
Every presentation – every story – has this framework.
Let me rephrase.
Your presentation ought to have this framework, or you’re already in deep trouble.
You should build a business presentation, whether individual or group, according to this structure.
Beginning . . . Middle . . . End
If you’re engaged in a group presentation, each segment of the show has this structure as well. Your segment has this structure.
In fact, every member of a team has this same task – to deliver a portion of the presentation with a beginning, middle, and an end.
In other words, when you are the member of a 5-person team and you are presenting for, say, four minutes, during that four-minute span, you tell your story that has a beginning, middle, and an end.
In the diagram below, each of the boxes represents a speaker on a five-person team delivering a group presentation. The first speaker delivers the beginning. The second, third, and fourth speakers deliver the middle. The final speaker delivers the conclusion or the “end.”
Note that each speaker uses the same beginning-middle-end format in delivering his portion of the show.
This framework is not the only way you can build your presentation.
You can be innovative. You can be daring, fresh, and new.
You can also fail miserably if you plunge into uncharted “innovative” territory just for a false sense of “variety” or “fresh ideas” or self-indulgence.
Sparkle and pop spring from the specifics of your message and from your keen, talented, and well-practiced delivery.
Sparkle and pop do not spring from experimental structures and strange methods that swim against the tide of 2,500 years of experience that validate what works . . . and what fails.
Build a Business Presentation to Stand the Fire
Beginning-middle-end is the most reliable and proven form, tested in the fires of history and victorious against all comers.
I suggest you use it to build your presentation in the initial stages.
You may find that as you progress in your group discussions, you want to build a business presentation structure to better suit your material.
Please do so. But do so with careful thought and good reason.
And always with the audience in mind and the task of communicating your main points concisely, cogently . . . and with über focus.
One way to think of your part of the presentation is material sandwiched between two bookends. You should Bookend your show. This means to make your major point at the beginning and then to repeat that major point at the end.
Hence, the term “Bookends.” And in-between, you explain what your bookends are about.
Build a business presentation within this structure and you’re on your way to a winning presentation.