Focus on structure.

Share this

Apresentation aims at providing a visual point of reference during your talk. This is meant, among other things, to help your audience focus on a particular point you are making, build on ideas they are familiar with, follow the structure of your talk, relate to new information offered and understand the points you are making.

In short, you are using visual representations “to transfer written or spoken information into an imagery message”, using both what is explicitly shown in the slide as well as what is not, going beyond the fancy colours and captivating looks [i].

In particular, the role of a visual representation is to “capture and represent a multiplicity of relationships and patterns within an information space or domain, to make them perceptually accessible and understandable, using minimal cognitive effort on the part of learners [ii] ”.

In other words, you need to ensure that the elements you incorporate in your design, namely images, text, information load, structure and guidance, facilitate participants to comprehend and retain as much of the content of your contribution as effortlessly as possible.

Select Appropriate Images.

Images are useful in that they are powerful and they can readily convey ideas – when they are carefully selected.  To help with successful selection you will need to consider:

  • The type of picture you would like to use, and
  • The reaction you would like to generate in the audience.

There are two main categories of images: real images, i.e., pictures taken of actual situations, possibly by you; and stock images, i.e., staged images taken by professional photographers, usually available through image banks, in most cases with copyright restrictions.

Both could be categorized as follows:

  • Iconic images, i.e., a picture of the Acropolis.
  • Historical images, i.e., a picture of a specific historical event.
  • Provocative or Shocking images, i.e., a picture of a slaughtered animal.
  • Snapshots, i.e., a picture of you on holiday.
  • Images recording an event, i.e., a picture of a recent arrival of a head of state in your country.
  • Funny images, i.e., a picture of a humorous situation.
  • Clipart and Symbols, i.e., drawings created to convey a specific message.

They all could find their place in your presentation provided you have anticipated how you would like your audience to respond. As viewers, we are very quick to judge images and the message they convey, so caution should be exercised when making a selection.

Possible reactions to images could include:

  • Emotion, i.e., create a positive or negative feeling.
  • Credibility, i.e., add validity to a point of view.
  • Logic, i.e., appeal to reason or common sense.
  • Recognition, i.e., identify a familiar context.
  • Acceptance, i.e., appeal to familiarity or social norms.
  • Usefulness, i.e., add importance to an idea.
  • Empathy, i.e., generate understanding of a situation.

These are only examples of possible responses to an image. If in doubt, test your images with a sample audience beforehand.



Select Appropriate Information.

The information included in your presentation should be subject to the following principles[iii]:

  • It should use logic to optimize selection and ordering of key messages / problems.
  • It should use logic to answer the key problems with supporting evidence in the form of a pyramid.

In particular, “any main statement can be either supported by an independent group of arguments – Inductive Logic, or by a chain of linked statements that together form a logical argument – Deductive Logic[iv”].

For instance, Inductive Logic could be analysed as follows: There is a main, overriding statement that states the key message which is, in turn, supported by a series of subordinate arguments. These arguments are not linked to each other. They are directly linked to the main statement.



Deductive logic could be analysed as follows: There is a main, overriding argument that states the key message/conclusion, which is supported by a chain of subordinate arguments. These arguments are closely linked to each other. They lead directly to the main statement/ conclusion. (Figure 3)



In both examples there is an overriding statement forming the top of the pyramid and a number of arguments forming the body of the pyramid. In presentation terms, the former is the transition slide (or the tag line of your slide) while the latter appear as content slides (or points below the tag line.

(To see the pyramid, turn these figures clockwise 900 )

The advantages of using a pyramid structure to order your points are[v]:

To communicate the general idea clearly and avoid blank assertions: The overriding statement functions as the summary and provides the core of what is to follow. Blank assertions, i.e., empty statements that lack focus and value are avoided since they need to reflect the relationship of the arguments that follow.

To focus on communication (rather than analysis): Your presentation follows a top-down logical pattern, which is easy to identify and follow.

To group ideas logically, inductively or deductively: The ideas which are grouped logically are of the same type; they connect or relate to the ones around them and flow naturally.

Save the Words for Speaking.

It is always important to remember that a presentation is delivered through sound and image: the voice of the presenter and the slides used. Each of these has a distinct role. They should work in unison and assist the participants to understand the main point(s).

In order to achieve that result, you need to consider how much attention the audience needs to dedicate to spoken language and how much attention they can allocate to following the projected information. Both should be economical while neither needs to undermine the other.

  • Principle 1: Tell them everything and they will remember nothing.
  • Principle 2: Clutter your slides with information and they will stop listening to you.
  • Principle 3: Read the information on your slides and they will be confused.
  • Principle 4: Coordinate what you are saying with what you are showing.
  • Principle 5: Streamline what you are showing to its bare minimum and elaborate orally.

For instance, let us assume that you are presenting the results of a survey you conducted with your students. There are two possible ways to do that.

Example 1 suffers from information overload. It requires a significant amount of effort and time on the part of the participants, both in terms of understanding what is presented as well as deciphering the content. The slide takes over the presentation and the presenter has very little room to maneuver. On a different level, consider the problems with font size and colours as well as the viewer’s distance from the screen.


Example 2 focuses the participants’ attention to the fact that there are discrepancies and prepares them for what you would like to concentrate on: either the distribution of individual answers or the differences in preferences displayed, or both. The slide is a point of reference and the presenter has the advantage to guide the audience to the points that are important or relevant. On a different level, consider the assistance offered by colours and how they are contrasted as well as the possibility to enlarge the size of the chart.


If this is a problem with numbers, consider how much more difficult this can be with words.

Keep Your Audience On Track.

Imagine that your audience has to navigate through unchartered waters – your presentation. Try to provide them with the necessary navigation directions by creating landmarks. Landmarks can be defined as follows[vi]:

  1. a prominent or conspicuous object on land that serves as a guide, especially to ships at sea or to travelers on a road; a distinguishing landscape feature marking a site or location: The post office served as a landmark for locating the street to turn down.
  2. something used to mark the boundary of land.
  3. a building or other place that is of outstanding historical, aesthetic, or cultural importance, often declared as such and given a special status (landmark designation)  ordaining its preservation, by some authorizing organization.
  4. a significant or historic event, juncture, achievement, etc.: The court decision stands as a landmark in constitutional law.

In a presentation, landmarks should perform the following functions:

  • Guide the listener, i.e., summarise what is coming or what has already been mentioned.
  • Mark boundaries, i.e., show where a “section” has finished and where a new one begins.
  • Indicate outstanding importance, i.e., highlight important data, arguments, conclusions.
  • Signpost significant events. i.e., ask a question, present a quote, offer advice.

It is important to remember that landmarks need to be easily identifiable, uniform and consistent. Ideally, they should have the same layout, colour and font scheme, include the same images and/or symbols.

List your main points.

A well-structured presentation adopts the shape of a pyramid.

There is no restriction as to how many main points should be included and/or how many examples or arguments each one should be followed by. Realistically, there is no other restriction than the time you have available and the amount of information that your audience needs or can process. This is a decision the presenter must make very early on, even at the storyboard drawing phase.

As a rule of thumb, list your main points at the beginning of your presentation in an introductory slide. This will give you a good idea of how much you are planning to include. Perhaps you need to cut down or even add a couple more.

Repeat this introductory slide at the beginning of a new section/ main point as a way of reminding your audience of where you are and how much more there is to talk about. Use the same layout for this slide throughout.

Use the same format to present each main point. List only one per slide, number them sequentially (1,2,3,..) and be consistent with background colours, and fonts. However, you can highlight different main points with different colours.

Repeat the same process with each example and/or argument. List only one per slide, number them sequentially (1a,1b,1c,..) and be consistent with background colours and fonts. Use the same colour shade as background to stress the link to the particular main point. For instance, if a particular main point is highlighted in yellow, use yellow as the background colour of the slide listing relevant arguments and/or examples.

Show the introductory slide at the end of your presentation before you show your conclusion.

Hear, Understand, Remember.

The goal of a good presenter is to grasp the audience’s attention, to make his points and goals clear and to help them to remember those for as long as possible after the presentation has finished.

It is time for some self-evaluation. The criteria that are relevant here are[vii]:

  • Subject Knowledge (as displayed by the selection of information): Full subject knowledge is demonstrated.
  • Presentation quality (as demonstrated by the design of the slides used): Presentation is creative, artistic and accomplished.
  • Visual Clarity (as indicated by the presentation structure): Visual organization creates a cohesive presentation.

Use these three criteria to evaluate your presentation at this point. How does your presentation fare according to these? You should be aiming at a balanced score-card. Any area that you feel is way above or way below average deserves your immediate attention. Do not aim for a perfect score in all areas, especially if this is one of your first presentations. Most importantly, try to see it through the eyes of your audience. In the end, they are the ones you would like to benefit most from it.

[i] Visual design …, Tools and principles for educational interface designers, retrieved from on December10th, 2012.

[ii] Sedig, K, Liang, H, & Morey, J (2009). Enhancing the usability of complex visualizations by making them interactive: A study. World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications, 1021-1029.

[iii] Gatterbauer, Wolfgang: The Minto Pyramid Principle, Vienna, November 4, 2005.

[iv] Ibid, pp. 4-5.

[v] Chevallier, Arnaud, Communicate Better! (Using Logic), July 2010, retrieved from on December 13, 2012.

[vi] landmark. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. (accessed: December 13, 2012).

[vii]  Adapted from: 4-H presentation Manual, Version 3, The Regents of the University of California, 2005, p. 24.