Six Ways to Organize the Body of Your Presentation

By Heather Baldwin
Almost every sales rep would agree that a sales presentation should be structured with an introduction, a main body and a conclusion. When it comes to organizing that all-important main body, however, structure rules are less clear. So, where should you start? Lilyan Wilder, a nationally recognized communications consultant and author of Talk Your Way to Success (Eastside Publishing, 1991) suggests presenters begin organizing the body of their presentation by first determining their central message and then writing out two or three subsidiary points to support it. From there, she recommends using one of these six formats to link those subsidiary points together.
 
The Topical Format presents two or more aspects of a program, phenomenon or theory. The points are listed and discussed in order.
 
The Chronological Format links your points sequentially in time. If you sell sales training, for example, you might explain how you (1) conduct a thorough evaluation of a prospect’s sales team, (2) deliver a program that targets identified weaknesses and (3) evaluate the results of your training.
 
The Comparison or Analogy Format describes one program or phenomenon in terms of another. For example, an executive might describe this year’s marketing plan in terms of last year’s plan. Wilder says the comparison format would sound something like this: The goal we set for ourselves last year was to expand our sales and distribution apparatus and we were successful. This year, our target is to achieve greater sophistication in our sales approach. We plan to do this by setting up a series of regional sales conferences. These will replace the one national meeting and one campaign approach we used last year.
 
The Mixed-Timeframe Format takes stock of the present, flashes back to the past to explain how we got here and then sweeps forward to a vision of what lies in store for the future. A software sales rep using this format to sell clients a software upgrade might summarize where the clients are today in terms of their use of the software, flash back to where they were a year ago before the software was installed, then show them a future with similarly excellent results achieved with the upgrade.
 
The Problem-Solving Format makes three points: (1) what you want to do, (2) what your competition wants to do and (3) how your plan is better.
 

The Gestalt Format throws out the idea of using just two or three subsidiary points to support your main message. Instead, this format barrages listeners with facts, statistics and quotes with the aim of leaving audience members with a strong, visceral reaction to your central point. A pharmaceutical sales rep wanting to impress on an audience the capabilities of a new drug might begin the main body of the presentation with: Every day, 2,000 people die of cancer and 70% of them die in pain…and on and on. At the end of the presentation, says Wilder, the audience might not remember a single specific image, but there will be an aggregate effect.