Better presentations – the simple three part model to make them

Let’s be clear, there’s no silver bullet. If fantastic presentations were as easy as we hope, I’d be out of a job… but while the how you do things is more complicated, the what you should should do to get better presentations is more straight-forward. And even just knowing what you’re trying to do will make your presentations better, as you keep things in mind.

So here’s our three part, simple model for better presentations. I’ve worked on the assumption that you’re not making a presentation for the sake of it, but you’re doing it to try and change the behaviour (or something!) in your audience (or at least enough of them to make a difference in the real world).

I’m risking making this model sound more complicated than it is, but here goes…

The three parts to your presentation model

The ideal outcome of your presentation is that your world changes, right? For that to happen your audience needs to:

  • trust your presentation’s content
  • remember your presentation’s content
  • act on your presentation’s content.

Pretty straight forward, right?

three part model of a presentation structure

Here’s now they interact with each other – and a really, really crappy diagram of it that I sketched on the office whiteboard near my desk. 馃槈 I’ve drawn trust and memory (the first two parts of the model) as the green/white ying/yang with the black ‘act’ resting on top of those.


Firstly, because action (the black on top) requires both recollection and trust as foundations, obviously.

the presenter's authority arrow
Presenter’s Authority vs Likability score

And trust and recollection have a lot of points/actions/behaviours in common. (For example, both recollection and trust are helped by audience members enjoying the presentations etc.) On the other hand there are things about the two of them that work against each other. An example of this my the last post, where I skimmed over liking-vs-authority in presenters. Authoritative presenters may well find that their content is trusted more, but at the expense of being remembered – something which is probably more associated with likeable presenters.

Either way, they’re very much related.

Using the model for better presentations

It’s all well and good knowing that you need to have these three things in your presentation (and come to think of it, in your letters, reports, emails, whatever…) but how can you use that to make action more likely in practice?

An elephant
Don’t forget to think about it – and your presentations get better automatically

Well, a good starting point is the obvious one – just by knowing your presentation has to include all three components you can be better placed to make smart choices, instead of “just doing something”. For example, you might ask yourself “What would make action more likely?” – possible answers might be either of:

  • follow up email a day after your presentation
  • hand outs at the end of the presentation
  • an offer of a coffee-chat to get them started.

Alternatively you might want to finish your presentation ten minutes early so that people can action their and then. It all depends on what it is you’re trying to get people to do and what your audience is like. There’s no silver bullet but at least you’re now asking yourself better questions! 馃檪

The important thing is to actively ask yourself this question: if I was in my audience what would I like the presenter to have done to reduce friction? It’s not enough to think you should do what the presenter is saying – they’ve got to make it easy for you.

You know that’s true if you’re honest with yourself. How many times have you had good intentions but not followed through because… well, because life got in the way? 馃槈

What about more trust?

Trust is based largely on authority, so you might want to consider all the things that make you more authoritative as you present… technical competence; slower speaking; classy slides; less movement around the stage; handing questions assuredly; standing in second position (away from the screen); dressing a little more formally; being in the room before your audience arrive. (There are individual blogs about all of this scattered all over this site!)

There’s also the whole issue of giving proper references so that your audience knows where your data have come from and so on. (Post to come!)

What about being more memorable?

Obviously, being entertaining helps. That’s not the same as funny though, so don’t be a comic. Being brief helps. Not having too many points helps. You know all this though, it’s the obvious stuff.

So what else? Let’s take a moment to think about your favourite film… and the favourite scene in that film. It’s absolutely etched onto your mind, right?  In fact if you’re anything like me you’ll be excited when you start to tell people about it and start to re-live it in your head. I can’t count the number of in-the-pub or round-the-table moments that revolve around “Do you remember when…?”. On sentence is all it needs to bring the whole thing flooding back?

That’s what I’m talking about. If you get a single ultra-memorable hook it brings with it everything else: you don’t need to make the whole thing memorable. This gives me an excuse to link to a Queen video! 馃檪 If you say to any Queen fan (the group, not the monarch) and – frankly – almost anyone, anywhere, the simple combination Stamp-stamp-clap, they know what you mean. They know the song, they feel the song. They remember the whole darn thing.

That’s it – three words and you have a whole song – in fact a whole gig or a whole album…

I’ve gone for the official video version – by far not my favourite video of this 馃槈

One note of caution

People have limits. We call that limit the ‘stress tolerance threshold’ or the ‘offence threshold’. The closer you get to that threshold the more likely it is that people will remember something – but whoa betide you if your presentation clips over that limit… essentially we suggest doing a risk assessment. That’s not of your content. The presentation’s content is the presentation’s content, but the way it’s delivered.

How important is it that you get a point remembered vs how badly things can go wrong if you over-cook it? 馃槈


  1. Laura

    Excellent simple plan to approach presenting. Thanks Simon!

  2. Simon

    Cheers Laura – I like simple… it’s harder to forget! 馃檪

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