I am often asked about the flow of ideas in a presentation, and indeed it can be very hard to follow a presentation where the speaker moves from one idea to another without any transition, like a scatter-brained mother-in-law.
It is vital to ensure your presentation has a natural flow. That doesn’t mean that everything has to be completely linked, as if it were all one chain of ideas. But you should not just jump around without making that clear. Your audience shouldn’t have to play catch-up to work out what you’re talking about.
My advice is to use one of two simple devices between items. (You could interpret this as being ‘between slides’ although I prefer to talk about the parts of your presentation, because you might not be using slides at all, or perhaps not all the time.)
This is simply ‘Link or Break’.
This means that you need to link the new idea to the previous one. You can do this in a number of ways. You could use the list approach, as used by Steve Jobs when launching the iPhone 4. He said he would talk about 8 different features of his new phone, and then proceeded to go through them all from #1 to #8. That provides an obvious link and structure to the eight points.
You could use an acronym, and then go through the different letters – for example, at Ideas on Stage we talk about IMPACT in slide design: Image, Message, Positioning, Animation, Colour and Typography. This is another kind of list approach.
Alternatively, you can have each idea build on the previous one, as you develop your arguments. Sometimes it is useful to make this very clear: “So now we’ve seen that there’s a clear market for a new kind of widget, let’s take a look at our new iWidget.” Never assume that the flow is as obvious for your audience as it is for you. That link sentence can be all-important.
Sometimes, however, you’ll need to move from one point to something completely different, and there isn’t any obvious link even to you. Once again, the late Steve Jobs was a master of this.
One of his undercelebrated skills was turning the page in his presentations. He knew that it isn’t enough just to start talking about a new topic: first you have to close the previous topic properly so the audience is satisfied and ready for something new. His method was simple:
a) A one-line conclusion
b) A pause
For example, in his iPhone 4 launch in 2010, he first talked about the first three months of the iPad, with sales figures etc. Before moving on to the next part (iOS 4), he closed the chapter with a line something like:
“So that is my update for the iPad.”
His subsequent pause gave the audience time to applaud. They won’t always do that for you, but at least it will give them time to close the chapter on that part of your talk, and prepare for what you’re going to say next.
You can see the video here (this part is at around 10:20).
I personally hate watching US TV because most of the time there is no clear break before the commercials kick in, and I find myself thinking “is this part of the show?” whereas in France and the UK, there is always a clear pause with the channel’s logo and a statement that the commercials are about to begin.
Likewise, your audience will appreciate that clean break. Close the box on the last point with a simple concluding statement, pause, and then begin the next topic.
With these two simple techniques of ‘link or break’, you should ensure your presentation flows naturally, and your structure helps your audience to enjoy and appreciate your messages, and hopefully ‘get’ them, instead of leaving them perplexed and wondering what you’re talking about.
One more thing…
If you are always very clear about your links, then it will have a very strong impact when you suddenly show or say something completely unexpected.
You can use this to your advantage by showing something surprising or provocative, making people wonder why, making them listen attentively to find out why, and then explaining why it is linked.
This is a great way to get people’s attention levels up again when they might have been starting to wane. But it is only when your audience fully expects your ideas to be properly linked that you can have a positive impact with this kind of device.
Make your ideas flow properly with good links, making clean breaks when necessary, and your messages will have more impact – and your audience will thank you.