Presentation best practices

Presentations are how you win people over at work — they can help you secure new clients, convince colleagues your idea deserves a shot, and keep investors on your side. The stakes are high. But how do you create decks that resonate with your audience, drive engagement, and leave a lasting impression? 

Daniel Kob is a seasoned marketing leader and passionate educator with years of experience in both fast-growing startups and large, respected corporations. After diving into his step-by-step guide, you’ll have everything you need to build and deliver effective, engaging, and impactful presentations so that your decks become your work superpower.

How to structure a winning presentation

Crafting a compelling presentation involves more than just assembling good content. The way you organize and break down your ideas and messages will determine whether your audience understands — and is convinced by — you and your materials.

Kick off your deck preparation with these tips and tricks for building an engaging outline and doing research that matters. With these skills, you’ll be more than capable of delivering a presentation that informs, entertains, and persuades your listeners to take action.

Start by doing your homework

When it comes to your presentation, what does success look like — both for you and your audience?

Before creating your slides, take a step back and analyze the main objective of your presentation. It’s also essential to research your audience, understand what they care about, and consider the venue and setting in which they’ll experience your presentation.

Here are the key questions you need to answer.

What does a winning presentation achieve? 

A clear grasp of your presentation's purpose and objectives will guide the structure and content of your deck. 

Consider the desired outcome of your presentation. What do you want your audience to take away from it? Are you hoping they'll learn something new, consider trying your product, or be inspired to take action? Or are you hoping to walk out with a firm decision, actionable next steps, or a commitment to buy or invest? And how will you know you’ve achieved your goal?

Having a defined objective will help you craft a powerful closing to your presentation that reiterates your key messages and moves your audience to take that desired next step. Whether it's to spread the word, make a purchase, or put your advice into practice, make sure the call to action is clear and memorable.

What’s your key message?

Your message is the heart of your presentation, and it shapes the way you tell your story. When crafting your key message, think about what you want your audience to learn, understand, or feel after you present. This will serve as the foundation for your deck. 

Once you’ve defined your key message, you can start supporting it with data, anecdotes, and other compelling content. For example, including statistics from a credible source to back up your points will lend your presentation credibility and authority. Stories and testimonials will always make your message more relatable and memorable. 

Multiple studies have shown that human stories are more persuasive than data alone. Mixing the two will help convince both hearts and heads.

Who are you presenting to?

When preparing your presentation, it's important to know who your audience is, how well they understand the topic, and what their attitude is toward your desired outcome. Are they new to the subject, or do they already have extensive knowledge of it? What are their needs and challenges?

Think about how you can reference relatable experiences so that your audience feels understood. For instance, if you're presenting to a group of beginners, you'll want to start with the basics and provide clear visual aids and examples. If you’re presenting to experts, first demonstrate your own expertise on the subject matter to win them over and show them that you have something new to offer.

Where will you present?

The last thing to consider is the venue and setting in which you’ll present. This is more than just the location; the environment and atmosphere in which people will experience your presentation are also key. 

Will you be in a small conference room, a large auditorium, or an outdoor venue? How many people will you be speaking to? Will you present in-person or on a video call? Or maybe you’re not presenting live at all, and instead sending out your presentation for the audience to read in their own time.

You should also consider the technical setup and amount of time you’ll have to present. Will you have a Q&A session afterward? How can you drive audience participation? Will your audience get access to your slides or handouts before or after the meeting or talk?

Paying attention to these details will help you tailor your presentation to the audience and their mindset.

3 steps to building your presentation storyline

If you want your audience to stay engaged, you need to structure your ideas as a well-crafted story. Follow these three steps to clearly define your narrative before you start creating your slides. 

1. Create an outline

Use a storytelling framework that translates your key message into a compelling narrative. This framework doesn't have to be complex — it just needs to be cohesive and well organized. 

Here are two popular storytelling frameworks to consider.

Framework 1: SCQA

The SCQA framework helps you guide your audience through four logical steps: 

  • First, introduce the situation and provide the necessary context. 
  • Next, dive into the complication. Highlight the problem or opportunity at hand, and explain why it's important to address it immediately.
  • Then, ask your audience a core question.
  • Finally, wrap up by answering the question. Support your solution with relevant data, research, or testimonials.

This approach enables you to close your presentation with a strong call to action. 

Framework 2: The hero’s journey

The hero's journey is an influential storytelling framework developed by Joseph Campbell in 1949 and adapted by Christopher Vogler for the modern era in 2007. It’s traditionally used to structure epic stories, but it can be applied to any type of storytelling.

In your presentation, the audience takes on the role of the hero, and you, the presenter, guide them through an adventure, a crisis, and a transformation. This journey is typically divided into twelve stages which can be grouped into three acts:

  • Act 1 — The ordinary world: The audience doesn’t realize there’s a problem, and you introduce an idea to increase their awareness of the situation. At first, they’ll likely be skeptical of change.
  • Act 2 — The special world: The second act is all about the confrontation. As a presenter, you share your experience, insights, and tools to assist the audience on their journey and help them further explore the new idea.
  • Act 3 — Return to the ordinary world: This is the resolution, in which the audience returns from their journey renewed by everything they’ve learned. They’re equipped with new tools and insights, ready to improve and move forward.

The hero's journey is a powerful storytelling method in presentations because it allows the audience to feel like they’re actively participating in the experience. It keeps them engaged and makes it more likely that they’ll remember the key takeaways.

Writing your outline

Once you’ve decided on a storytelling framework, you can write your outline. An effective way of organizing your story is through a simple dot-dash structure. Dots represent the main ideas that drive your storyline, and dashes represent all the supporting content: your arguments, facts, and data. 

It can be easier to jot down your outline in a text format first before you start creating slides. But if you prefer to work on your slides directly, write out your headlines (the dots), then drop text notes on each blank slide listing your supporting materials (the dashes) — which we’ll dive into next.

2. Gather your supporting materials

It’s time to collect all the proof points that’ll lend your story character and confidence — the dashes from your outline. Gather together any research, data, calculations, quotes, case studies, testimonials, or anecdotes you feel will support your message. 

This is where your story really starts coming alive. As you begin to combine your written outline and supporting materials into draft slides, you’ll notice your narrative taking shape. You’ll be able to see which arguments are well supported, and where you might need to dig a little deeper to strengthen an idea.

3. Use structural elements to guide your audience

Structural elements in a presentation can help your audience situate themselves, like a map with a “You are here” arrow. Using these elements keeps your deck clean, cohesive, and easy to follow.

Here are a few key slides and slide elements that’ll help guide your audience: 

  • Include an agenda slide at the very beginning of your deck, with a list of the topics you’ll be sharing. This gives your audience an overview of what to expect.
  • Make use of section dividers to separate the different parts of your deck. These also make for refreshing pauses throughout your audience’s journey. 
  • Well-structured decks typically include trackers — visual elements that show an audience how far through a section they are, or where on the story map they’re currently located. These are usually placed at the side or in the corner of your slides, and can also act as a fun branding element. Check out these presentation templates that have trackers, including the conference talk and remote learning lesson plan templates.

Tools to structure your presentation

Structuring your presentation for success doesn't have to be complicated. In fact, there are just a few key steps to follow: Conduct thorough research, create a well-organized outline, and support your points with strong evidence. With these elements in place, your presentation will be off to a strong start before you’ve drafted your first slide.

But as with most things in life, the right tools can streamline this process even further. With Pitch, you’ll save yourself time, collaborate more easily with teammates, and get access to the standout visuals that’ll help your ideas come alive. 

Take advantage of the many free presentation templates available, which already include important structural elements like agenda slides and section dividers. Simply create an account (it’s free forever), and start building your presentation with a solid foundation and storyline. 

Of course, design is also a critical component in unlocking the power of presentations. In our next chapter, we'll dive into tips and techniques for putting digital pen to digital paper to craft polished, professional slides that make a lasting impression on your audience.

How to format your ideas on a slide
Next Chapter
Read Next

Get started with Pitch

Sign up for free
  • Unlimited members
  • Unlimited presentations
  • Custom templates & fonts