A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Compelling Presentation Narrative

August 18, 2014

Drafting a compelling and thoughtful presentation narrative can quickly become a daunting task. Most presenters seem to have a decent grasp on what is needed to succeed at presentation design and delivery, but content always seems to be the biggest challenge. If you can relate to this obstacle, I have provided a starting guide inspired by my team to help propel you in the right direction.

Step 1: Gather The Facts

Before you begin, have a heart-to-heart with yourself and gather essential information about the presentation you’re writing. Who is the audience? What is the purpose of this talk? What are the takeaways you’d like the audience to leave knowing? How much does the audience know beforehand? How creative do you want this deck to be? Fill a page or more with your notes before launching into any writing. This will help you hone in on your message and save time later.

Goal: Gather a page or more of information about the presentation, audience and goals.

Step 2: Conceptualize With “Pitches”

At Ethos3, we use pitches to find the right theme, tone and structure before a first draft is written. Our lucky number is three: that’s three different ways to conceptualize the completed presentation. We specifically focus on the tone (jargon, theme, overall “main idea) and the structure (the organization of the presentation). Planning this beforehand and giving yourself multiple ways to approach one topic can help you also decide which idea has the “path of least resistance.” What kind of structure will be easy to follow? Which of your initial ideas are too creative, or not creative enough? Try pitching ideas to yourself and letting someone else take a look, if possible. Then pick the one you feel is strongest.

Goal: Write three separate pitches to choose from before you write a draft.

Step 3: Draft Each Slide

So begins the hard work! We lay out the content of each and every slide, and also think up relevant, theme-appropriate image suggestions before design begins. Give yourself a great title, a polite final slide with some additional information or a call-to-action, and work according to the structure you’ve chosen in the pitch step. The goal for all of our presentations is to provide minimal content on each slide and avoid bullet points whenever possible. Drafting up all of the content before you begin to design your slides is a great way to get a picture of the entire presentation as a whole, which will also make Step 4 considerably easier.

Goal: The end result after this effort should be a completed storyboard.

Step 4: Edit A Lot

Finalize your content before creating any slides. Make sure you go through at least three rounds of revisions and edits, preferably getting another set of eyes to make sure there are no typos. Editing is where the “magic” happens: Look for consistent messaging, sentence clarity, a strong takeaway, a moving call-to-action and overall “correctness” throughout.

Goal: Make sure you haven’t missed any typos.

If you’ve made it through each step, you’re much further along than your competition. Practice. Repeat. Practice again. This will all eventually become a comfortable presentation habit.

Author Bio

Scott Schwertly is the author of How to Be a Presentation God and CEO of Ethos3, a Nashville, TN-based presentation boutique providing professional presentation design and training for national and international clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to branded individuals like Guy Kawasaki. If Scott is not working with his team building presentations, you will find him in the pool, on the bike, or on a long run. Scott lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and three dogs. He has a B.A. and M.B.A. from Harding University.

Follow the conversation and connect with Scott on LinkedIn or Twitter.