7.3 Structuring Your Presentation

Lucinda Atwood; Christian Westin; [Author removed at request of original publisher]; and Linda Macdonald

Presentations can be organized in many different ways. The choice of an organizing principle, or a core assumption around which everything else is arranged, depends on the subject matter, the speaking situation, and many other factors, including your preference as a speaker.

Presentation Structure

The simple structure outlined below is adaptable to most topics. The presentation begins with an attention-getter, a claim, and an overview of key points that will be addressed. The main part of the speech follows with two to five main points; and concludes with a summary and, in a persuasive speech, a call to action.


In the Introduction of your presentation, you will capture the audience’s attention, tell them who you are, state the main point of your presentation, and provide a preview.

  • Attention-getter/grabber  A very brief and interesting statement or question that grabs the audience’s attention. See Grabber Types below for more details.
  • Self-introduction  (Place before or after the grabber) Tell the audience your name and credentials. For example: I’m Minh and I’ve been a professional career coach for 10 years.
  • Thesis  The main point or argument of your presentation. Be brief and precise, not general or vague. For example: I’m going to show you how practicing your presentation 10 times will improve your level of comfort by 50%.
  • Overview of main points  Briefly outline the main points that you will cover in your presentation. To help your audience, list these in the same order that you will deliver them later on. For example: First, we’ll talk about what makes presentations great, then I’ll share some data on how practice affects your confidence and performance, and finally, we’ll look at how to practice.

Attention-getter/grabber types

Remember that the job is grabbing the audience’s attention, so it must be surprising, fascinating or intriguing. It must also be related to your presentation’s topic. Some descriptions and examples are presented here:

You can also mix and match grabbers. For example, you could show an image and ask the audience to guess what it is.

The length of your grabber is relative to your total presentation time. For a 2-minute presentation, it should be quite brief – maybe one sentence. For a 16-minute team presentation, a 45-60 second grabber would be appropriate.


In this part of your presentation, you will deliver detailed information. Depending on the length of the presentation and your purpose, you might have two to five points in the body.

  • Key point 1  A major point that supports your thesis and may have supporting sub-points
  • Key point 2  Another major point that supports your thesis and may have supporting sub-points
  • Key point 3  The final major point that supports your thesis and may have supporting sub-points

Your points can be arranged in a variety of ways. In her TED Talk The Secret Structure of Great Talks and her Harvard Business Review article titled “Structure your presentation like a story” (click here for direct link to her article), Nancy Duarte advocates organizing a presentation according to what is and what could be. Before reading on, take a moment to read the Duarte article, then check your knowledge.

Other ways to organize the body of your presentation are presented in Table 7.1 The center column explains how the principle works, and the right column provides an applied example based on a sample presentation about the United States’ First Transcontinental Railroad. For example, using a biographical organizing principle, you might describe the journey of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804, Lincoln’s signing of the Pacific Railroad Act in 1862, and the completion of the first Transcontinental Express train trip in 1876. As another example, using a spatial organizing principle, you might describe the mechanics of how a steam locomotive engine works to turn the train wheels, which move on a track to travel across distances.

As you read each organizational structure, consider how the main points and subheadings change or adapt to meet each pattern.

Table 7.1

Sample Organizing Principles for a Presentation

Organizing Principle Explanation Applied Example
1. Time (Chronological) Structuring your speech by time shows a series of events or steps in a process, which typically has a beginning, middle, and end. “Once upon a time stories” follow a chronological pattern. Before the First Transcontinental Railroad, the events that led to its construction, and its impact on early America…
2. Comparison Structuring your speech by comparison focuses on the similarities and/or differences between points or concepts. A comparison of pre– and post–First Transcontinental Railroad North America, showing how health and life expectancy remained the same.
3. Contrast Structure your speech by using contrasting points highlights the differences between items and concepts. A contrast of pre– and post–First Transcontinental Railroad North America, by shipping times, time it took to communicate via letter, or how long it took to move out West.
4. Cause and Effect Structuring your speech by cause and effect establishes a relationship between two events or situations, making the connection clear. The movement of people and goods out West grew considerably from 1750 to 1850. With the availability of a new and faster way to go West, people generally supported its construction.
Organizing Principle Explanation Applied Example
5. Problem and Solution Structuring your speech by problem and solution means you state the problem and detail how it was solved. This approach is effective for persuasive speeches. Manufacturers were producing better goods for less money at the start of the Industrial Revolution, but they lack a fast, effective method of getting their goods to growing markets. The First Transcontinental Railroad gave them speed, economy, and access to new markets.
6. Classification (Categorical) Structuring your speech by classification establishes categories. At the time the nation considered the First Transcontinental Railroad, there were three main types of transportation: by water, by horse, and by foot.
7. Biographical Structuring your speech by biography means examining specific people as they relate to the central topic.
  • 1804: Lewis and Clark travel 4,000 miles in over two years across America
  • 1862: President Lincoln signs the Pacific Railroad Act
  • 1876: The Transcontinental Express from New York arrives in San Francisco with a record-breaking time of 83 hours and 39 minutes
  • 2009: President Obama can cross America by plane in less than 5 hours
8. Space (Spatial) Structuring your speech by space involves the parts of something and how they fit to form the whole. A train uses a heat source to heat water, create stream, and turn a turbine, which moves a lever that causes a wheel to move on a track.
9. Psychological It is also called “Monroe’s Motivated Sequence” (Ayres, J. and Miller, J., 1994). Structuring your speech on the psychological aspects of the audience involves focusing on their inherent needs and wants. See Maslow and Shutz. The speaker calls attention to a need, then focuses on the satisfaction of the need, visualization of the solution, and ends with a proposed or historical action. This is useful for a persuasive speech. When families in the year 1800 went out West, they rarely returned to see family and friends. The country as a whole was an extension of this distended family, separated by time and distance. The railroad brought families and the country together.
10. Elimination Structuring your speech using the process of elimination involves outlining all the possibilities. The First Transcontinental Railroad helped pave the way for the destruction of the Native American way of life in 1870. After examining treaties, relocation and reservations, loss of the buffalo, disease and war, the railroad can be accurately considered the catalyst for the end of an era.


The structure of your presentation should be clear to your listeners at the start of the presentation and reinforced throughout with transitions. Transitions both connect to your thesis and indicate a shift to your next point.

As part of your introduction, you should make clear the structure of your points. For example,

“Slack Desktop offers three time-saving benefits for our team collaborations.”
“First, I will discuss the current inefficiencies in our collaborations and then explain how Slack Desktop can resolve these problems.”
“Slack Desktop’s built-in notification system, keyboard shortcuts, and convenience in switching between workspaces are advantages for team collaborations.”

Provide a transition as you move from the introduction to the first point. For example,

“The first advantage for our teams in using Slack Desktop…”
“First, I will provide an overview of Slack’s capabilities before addressing the two features that are most compelling for our teams…”
“Let’s begin with the built-in notification system…”

As you move to the second and third points, you can reinforce the structure of the presentation for your listener by stating where you have been and where you are going. For example,

“We have covered the benefits of the notification system and the range of keyboard shortcuts and will now discuss the greatest benefit for our work– the simplicity in moving between teams.”
“A final benefit of Slack Desktop for collaborations is the ease in switching between teams.”
“Now that I have demonstrated the problems with the current system, I will demonstrate the solutions to these problems with Slack.”
“It is clear that the notifications systems and keyboard shortcuts are time-saving features, but the greatest time-saving feature is the ease and convenience in switching between teams.”
“Although Slack has several beneficial features, team collaborations in our company may be better facilitated through Chanty.”
“Just as keyboard shortcuts provide added convenience, so too does the notification system.”

Finally, transition to the conclusion:

“In summary, Slack has indisputable advantages.”
“In conclusion,..”
“What I would most like you to take from this presentation is…”

Transitions connect your points and ensure the audience follows you. The audience will clearly see where you have been and where you are going next. Practice your transitions so that the content flows naturally. As we will discuss in Chapter 3.12, moving as you transition between points can help you remember the order of points as well as engage your audience.


At the end of your presentations, you’ll remind the audience of what you told them, and tell them what to do next.

  • Summary of main points  (can be merged with your conclusion) Clearly restate your three main points in the same order you delivered them. It is the same as your overview but in past tense. First, I described what makes presentations great, then I shared data on how practice affects confidence and performance, and finally, we looked at how to practice.
  • Conclusion  Restate your thesis in past tense. For example: I’m showed you that practicing your presentation 10 times will improve your grade by 20%.
  • Call to action  Give your audience clear, active and compelling direction, based on what you told them. For example: Practice your presentations ten times and start collecting those A-plusses!

Now that you have some ideas of how you might structure your presentation, move on to creating an outline, the subject of the next chapter section.


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7.3 Structuring Your Presentation Copyright © 2022 by Lucinda Atwood; Christian Westin; [Author removed at request of original publisher]; and Linda Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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