How To Structure A Presentation For Busy People


Tuesday, 9.16pm

Sheffield, U.K.

A good teacher, like a good entertainer first must hold his audience’s attention, then he can teach his lesson. – John Henrik Clarke

People in general, and busy people in particular, are only interested in one thing – what does this mean for me?

When you structure a presentation for such folk you need to focus on what they want and need to know – and expand from there.

This is quite different from the way most people plan their presentations.

We’re taught to think through stuff sequentially – first we did this and then we tried that and this is the result.

That’s ok if you’re explaining your reasoning to someone who is trying to see if you’re doing things right – but that’s not usually the kind of person in your audience.

This other, busy person wants to know what the result is that you reached in the end – not the details of the wrong turns you took on the way.

There are a few ways to construct a story that works – and one of them is shown in the picture above.

The What? So What? Now What? model is a useful way to think through your message.

For example, let’s say you’re looking at a client’s portfolio and have found a number of ways in which you can help them.

Are you going to start by talking about all the work you’ve done or by showing them the size of the opportunity you’ve uncovered?

The second point will get you more attention.

“I can save you a hundred thousand pounds” will get you more time than “we started by asking for all your paperwork”.

The first gets attention – the other causes people to start fiddling with their phones.

In examples like these the first two points almost run into each other.

We analysed your portfolio (what?) and found a big bunch of opportunities (so what?).

The third follows closely behind.

Now we’d like to implement them for you (now what?)

In other situations the three points stand out more distinctly.

  • The economy is slowing down (what?)
  • As a freight provider, you’re going to lose money (so what?)
  • We can help you cut costs and reduce the impact (now what?)

The smallest presentation you can have to communicate a complex message is probably four slides.

In the first one you tell them what matters to them – what result you’re going to provide.

We’ve found a way to save you a hundred thousand pounds.

That gets their attention.

And then you explain what’s going on, what it means for them and what happens next using the what, so what and now what model.

The point is that people are really not interested in all the background work you did.

They want to know what it means for them.

So, just tell them that.


Karthik Suresh

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