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Presentation Structure: What, So What, Now What

By Paul Barton
Phoenix Public Speaking Founder and Owner

IMAGINE you are going to build a house with the finest building materials available, but without a foundation or a frame. What you’d have is a mess. That’s what a speech or business presentation with great content but no structure is like. Structure helps your business presentation to be digestible. It keeps you on point and helps keep you on time.

In a previous blog, public speaking coach Michele Trent wrote about the need to have an introduction, a body and a conclusion to every speech or presentation, and she explained the format in the easy-to-understand terms “tell ‘em what you’re going to tell them, tell ‘em, and tell ‘em what you just told ‘em.”

Intro, body, and conclusion are the fundamental parts of a presentation.

Presentation Structure

Here’s a different way of thinking about the structure of a presentation that may help you organize your thoughts and frame your points – what, so what, now what.

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • What (Introduction) – What is your presentation about.
  • So What (Body) – Why does it matter to the audience.
  • Now What (Conclusion) – What are you asking the audience to do (the call to action).

Sequence is Key

One key to this organizational format is that it must go in the proper sequence. Have you ever been asked to sign a petition in a parking lot of a grocery store? I never sign them. Why? In part because the petitioner is skipping the “What” and “So What” stages and going directly to the “Now What” stage. I don’t know what they are talking about or why it matters to me, so I can’t commit to taking action.

Don’t assume your audience knows what you’re talking about. Establish a good foundation. Build facts and examples upon that foundation to clearly outline why the issue is important. Then clearly explain what action you want your audience to take.

With a solid structure, you can build a strong case for the change or action you are seeking. Next time you’re preparing a presentation, think about your structure. When you apply a solid structure, you’ll have a great presentation.

RELATED POST: Your Teacher Was Right — Structure Your Speech

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