Planner with AELast week I delivered a webinar “How to plan an Audience-friendly Presentation” as part of Ellen Finkelstein’s Outstanding Presentations Workshop. The message of my presentation was “To create an audience-friendly presentation, use a planner” (pictured right).

Heaps of questions were asked and despite three breaks for questions, I didn’t get to answer all of them. So here are the answers.

If you haven’t seen the webinar yet, click on over to view if first. It will be available for viewing for free for the next few days. The handout for the webinar is my Presentation Guide: How to Make an Effective PowerPoint Presentation. If you have a question that’s not answered here or in the Presentation Guide, do ask me by writing a comment and I’ll answer it.

Set the Scene

In response to a question during the webinar I briefly outlined a three-step formula for Setting the Scene. There’s more detail in the Presentation Guide and in this post: Three Levels of Presentation Openings: Which Should You Use?

Key Message

Will I not lose the surprise factor when revealing the key message in the beginning?

I briefly answered this during the webinar. I explore this issue fully here: Presentation Structure: Why it’s Smarter to put your Conclusion in your Opening.

Is it important to only have one key message?

Your presentation will be more effective if it has one clear key message. That’s why it’s called a key message. “Key messages” is a contradiction in terms. If you have two messages that you give equal importance to, the impact of each message will be diluted. You can, of course, have other messages (assertions) in your presentation, but they should be subordinate to the key message.

If you’re doing an all day training covering many areas, should you still have just one key message?

Design an “umbrella” key message for the whole day, and then a key message for each module of your training.

What’s the best place to start the plan

Start planning your presentation by crafting the key message. This is often the most difficult step and may require some thought. However, once you have it in place it will make the rest of your planning fall into place.

Can we use a hook phrase with our key message?

I’m assuming a hook phrase means a phrase that is easily remembered. In which case the answer is yes. The key message should be easy to grasp and easy to remember.

Here’s more information on crafting your key message: How to Craft your Key Message in 10 Minutes

The three boxes

Are “why “what” and “how” always the right questions to ask?

Planner questions

Why? What? and How? are just there as examples of the questions you think the audience might have. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and think of their top three questions. They might start with Why? What? and How? But you might also find you have three What questions.

Would you change the order of the three questions depending on the circumstances?

Answer the questions in the order that will make most sense to the audience.

What are some examples of other presentation structures?

The three boxes could use the following structures:

  • Problem, Solution, Benefits
  • Past, Present, Future
  • Situation, Analysis, Recommendation
  • Problem, Options, Recommendation
  • Vision, Goals, Action
  • Proposal, Cons, Pros.

The Why, What, How structure is the most flexible and works for most presentations. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to find the “perfect” structure for your presentation. This can waste a lot of time. The structure is simple a series of containers, and it just needs to be logical and easy to follow.


Can you talk more about signposting?

Signposting is the way that you make transitions from point to point. It gives your presentation “edges” and makes it easy to follow for your audience. In a written report, there are headings, paragraphs and punctuation which provide signposting. In a presentation, you provide the same cues orally. For more information on signposting see the Presentation Guide.


How many metaphors (based on a percentage) are commonly applied to a presentation?

I haven’t done research specifically on this point. Your use of metaphors will depend on your audience’s familiarity with the topic. Using metaphors on familiar material can become laboured.

Isn’t their a possibility that we may not be able to find evidence for an assertion?

If you can’t find any evidence for an assertion, I would question the validity of the assertion. Do think in broad terms when you are trying to come up with evidence. For example, you can paint hypothetical situations or you can walk your audience through a process.

Audience analysis

Where does audience analysis fit into your planning process?

At every stage of the planning process, take the audience’s point of view:

  • The key message should be designed so that it is relevant and adds value to the particular audience you’re speaking to. A presentation on the same topic to a different audience is likely to need a different key message.
  • The structure of the presentation is based on the questions you think your audience will have.
  • The evidence that you provide should be relevant to the audience.

You mentioned that we should give our audience the content they need. How would I know what content they need?

If you find don’t have enough information about the audience to tailor your presentation in the way I’ve suggested above, then find out more about your audience. Get in contact with a sample of people in your audience, or if you’re unable to do that talk to people who might be representative of the audience you’ll be speaking to. You can also do your audience analysis online – through survey software, email, Twitter or your blog if you have one.

Longer presentations

A number of people asked about using the planner for longer presentations and in particular training sessions. There are several methods for doing this:

1. Have a number of assertions in each box. You can have different numbers of assertions in each box:


This is how I planned the webinar presentation.

2. As one attendee suggested, use several cycles of why, what and how.

3. For training sessions, break up the session into several modules. Design each module using a separate planner.

Miscellaneous questions

Does the planner work for every type of presentation?

We designed the planner specifically for business presentations. A logical, structured approach works best in the business situation. Keynote presentations, motivational speeches and after-dinner speeches may not require such a structured approach.

What’s the maximum length you feel a presentation should be before it becomes “unfriendly”?

A lecture style presentation with no audience interaction should be no longer than 60 minutes. A more interactive session could go to 90 minutes. In our training courses (one day to two days long), we plan the course so that each “lecture” (ie: just one trainer talking) is no more than 15 minutes.

How do we plan for variations or options?

The planner is very well-suited to making variations because of its modular structure. Say you’re running over time, you can simply drop one box. Or you could cover the three boxes but in less depth.

It looks like you use pictures to represent everything. Some people are more visual than auditory. What is your thought on that?

My approach is to provide visual information via the slides and auditory information via my voice. More thoughts on this are here: Learning Styles: What Every Presenter Ought to Know. As this was a webinar as opposed to a face to face presentation, I used more slides than I normally do, so that there was always something visually interesting to keep you engaged. For more on the differences between face to face presentation and webinars see: 18 Tips on How to Conduct an Engaging Webinar.

How do you convince engineers that knowledge that does not equal content?

The most effective way to convince someone is to put them on the receiving end of the problem. For example, deliver a presentation to them on a topic which they’re not familiar with, and overload them with information. Facilitate a discussion on their experiences. Then they’ll be able to put themselves into their audience’s shoes.

Any recommendations for dealing with technical topics – for example training about a software program?

Have your trainees do things with the software program. It’s like learning to swim – you can’t do that by being lectured at the edge of the pool. You have to get in.

Where does audience response or active engagement fit into the planner?

Audience participation can fit anywhere, with the exception of Set the Scene.  The audience needs to get to know you and trust you just a little, before they’ll enthusiastically participate. Here are two posts on audience participation:

Six Secrets from a Professional Speaker on Audience Participation

Why most attempts at audience participation fail and what to do about it

What is wrong with mind mapping?

Mind mapping is a useful technique for many creative projects. And if it works for you – and your audiences –for planning presentations then go for it. However, I’ve found the following issues:

  • Presentations that I’ve experienced which have been  planned with mind maps tend to cover too much information, too lightly and lack internal cohesiveness.
  • Mind mapping has you think from your point of view, it doesn’t force you to think from your audience’s point of view.
  • If you use a mind map, you’re likely to have to edit what you produce. That introduces an extra step and more time into the planning process.

How about planning the timing?

Here’s a useful post on timing: How to keep to time during your presentation.

How do we link the plan to handouts?

The handout doesn’t need every element of the planner (eg: Set the Scene). However, the structure you used for your presentation should be mirrored in the handout so that your audience can easily relate the two together.

Got another question? Go ahead, ask me in the comments section below.

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