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Structuring a Presentation: Clearly Express Your Ideas


In the article, My Top 5 Presentation Tips, I pointed out how to know your topic and audience, look your best, make eye contact, use gestures, and move around. Let’s now turn to structuring your presentation properly.

Any high school student knows that a presentation, just like an essay, contains an introduction, a body and a conclusion. The common advice for the introduction is to greet your audience, say what your talk is about, and outline the structure of the presentation.

The routine advice goes on to say that in the body you present your main points and develop them logically. Finally, in the conclusion, you sum up, give your recommendations if appropriate and respond to questions.

In this article, I’ll look at writing a presentation outline, organizing the body of your talk, and introducing a presentation in different ways.

But before we go beyond the basics and delve a bit further, let’s watch a sample talk by Craig. He’s been asked to give a short talk about “Effective Online Consulting” at a networking event.

[alert]As you watch the presentation, answer the following questions on a piece of paper:
1. What is the main point of the presentation?
a) _________________, b) ________________, c) __________________

2. What technique does the speaker use to introduce the talk?
a) quotation, b) anecdote, c) question to the audience, d) startling fact

3. Did the speaker use appropriate body language?     Yes or No.

4. How is the talk divided? 1._______________ , 2. ________________, 3. ________________

5. Are the examples that are given effective?          Yes or No.

6. Who is the author of the quotation the speaker uses in the body of the talk? _____________________

7. What expression does the speaker use to emphasize a point?
a) to sum up, b) let’s move on, c) I’d like to stress, d) another way of saying

8. Does the recap at the end do a good job of summarizing the talk?  Yes or No.

Please pardon the quality. This WILL be fixed soon. 🙂

An outline is your road map

You have a good topic. You’ve done your research. You have more than enough information. You’ll do yourself a big favor if you prepare an outline for the presentation.

An architect would not build a house without a blueprint. A pilot would not fly from London to Bangkok without a flight plan. A motorist would not drive from Madrid to Zurich without a road map. You need one too for your talk.

Experts recommend this format. Your presentation should have not more than three main points with one or two minor points and supporting details. Here is the beginning of a good outline.


A. Minor point 1
1. supporting detail (example or story?)
B. Minor point 2
1. supporting detail (explanation?)
A. Minor point 1
1. supporting detail (statistic?)[/alert]

What are the benefits of outlining? First, it helps you put your major and minor points in the best logical order. Second, it shows you any points you are missing or things you are repeating.

Write your outline using either topics or sentences. For example, a major point could be “Reasons for working at IBM” (topic). The minor point could be “There are many advantages to working at IBM including, good salary, opportunity to travel, and possibility for advancement.” (sentence).

The body: know your message before you introduce it

I suggest you first outline your talk and then write the introduction or conclusion. For example, when I wrote my doctoral dissertation I wrote the 13-page introduction last.

As I have shown above, your major points and subpoints or minor points should support your main idea.

Logical ways to sequence your presentation

Present your material or story in different ways according to the topic.

  • Chronological order (treat the topic according to time)
  • Simple to complex (start with elementary concepts)
  • Problem and solution (i.e. unemployment among young people, offering incentives to companies)
  • Cause and effect  (looking for connections between events)

Useful language to “signpost” your talk

Use these language elements or signals to make your talk flow smoothly from beginning to end.

  • Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a pleasure to be here today.
  • I’m going to talk to you today about _______________.
  • I’ve divided my presentation into three sections.
  • First, I’ll talk about  _____________________.
  • Second, I’ll deal with  __________________________.
  • And finally, I address the issue of  _____________________.

[note]Want more useful phrases?

Normally, we’d put this in a PDF, but we think you want more useful language right now. So, enjoy:

Before going on, I’d like to mention _______________________.
Let’s start by looking at __________________________.
That’s all I’d like to say about _____________________.
To recap what I’ve said so far ___________________
Let’s move on to my second point: ___________________________.
Let’s take an example: _________________.
What is important to remember is that ______________________
As you all may well know __________________
Another way of saying the same thing is ____________________
As I said previously _________________________
The point here is _____________________________
Here I’d like to quote _______________________
Finally, I’d like to deal with the question of ______________________
To repeat what I already said _________________
I’d like to stress the importance of _________________
So, to sum up. I’ve talked about ___________________
I’d be happy to answer any of your questions.[/note]

Clever ways to introduce your talk

Now that you have ideas about the body of the presentation, you can introduce it. My favorite ways to start a presentation include: using an anecdote, posing a question, presenting a startling statement, or using a quotation.


A surefire way to catch your audience’s interest is to use an amusing or fascinating story. If you want, for example, to highlight the difference between positive thinking and negative thinking, the “shoe story” is a good bet.

Many years ago two salesmen were sent by a British shoe manufacturer to Africa to investigate and report back on market potential.

The first salesman reported back, “There is no potential here –  nobody wears shoes.”

The second salesman reported back, “There is massive potential here  – nobody wears shoes.”

Question to the audience

Another popular, though somewhat common, technique for introducing a talk is to pose a question to listeners. If I’m talking about remarkable achievements or inspiring individuals I could ask:

Who is the only person to have ever won both a Nobel prize in literature and an Oscar or Academy Award? His initials are GBS. [Check the answer at the end of the article.]

Startling Statement

Here is an amazing statistic from the business world.
Facebook was launched in February, 2004. By mid-2012 it had attained 900 million users.


I love to use quotes from famous and not so famous people in my presentations to make a point. If you’re talking about what makes a successful business, here is a good quotation:

[note]”All lasting business is built on friendship.” Alfred A. Montapert, author of The Supreme Philosophy of Man: The Laws of Life (1970)[/note]

If you are talking about creativity, this quotation may be useful.

[note]”It takes a long time to become young.” Pablo Picasso, the Spanish painter who died at age 91.[/note]

Next article: Structuring a Presentation: How to express your ideas clearly, Part  2

GBS stands for George Bernard Shaw, author of Pygmalion.
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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • James Goodey April 18, 2016, 9:43 pm

    Hi Frank, thanks for these very useful tips and phrases. I’m running a class on Prsentation Skills for my English learners tomorrow and your ideas here have helped me !

    • Frank April 18, 2016, 11:08 pm

      Hi James,

      I”m glad I could help. Please let me know how the class goes. Best regards, Frank

      • James Goodey April 22, 2016, 6:55 am

        Hi Frank,

        The class was great. Presentation skills is a pretty big topic to cover in one hour, so we worked on the 5 top tips and gave the students time to practice at the end! They loved it. I run many business workshops so will keep up to date with your website. Next week is Business Networking!!

        Thanks a lot!

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