Master Your Message for Maximum Impact

Ten Flow Structures

Once you’ve identified the key points you’re going to use to persuade your audience, it’s time to think about the most effective way to communicate them. What “form” are you going to use?

When we talk about “form,” we mean the order in which you present your points and how you “package” them. For example, you might decide to make your points within a story, or perhaps they should be introduced chronologically – based on the date or day they relate to – or maybe by geographic location. In any case, there are ten major forms you can choose from. In this article, we’ll try to describe each one of them and how to use them.

1.  Linear (Problem/solution).

This is the basic presentation structure. The body contains a series of key points, each built into its own “block.” They are interchangeable, but be careful to think about what order you’re going to present them in. Does the understanding or adoption of any point depend on the knowledge or acceptance of another? This will help determine how you order them. You should always start with a problem/solution scenario (your opening) and then present your points to support you main solution. Finally, of course, you give a summary, or close.

2.  Chronological.

Organizes clusters of ideas along a timeline, reflecting events in the order in which they occurred or might occur. So, if the points you want to make were a result of (or relate to) a series of events, or if they are a set of procedures that must take place in a particular order by time or date, you may want to present them in that order. A good idea in this case, is to think of a way to visually represent the events (if they are spread out or the time between them is critical).

Picture of bridge for bridge analogy3. Physical.

Organizes key points according to their physical or geographic location. You might be presenting a design plan for a house, for example, and decide to treat each room as a separate “truth block,” or major point. You might be introducing radical new marketing ideas on a city-by-city basis. Always think about the most logical means, based upon how the audience is used to working with the information. Think about how it can be reinforced and made more memorable. The form you choose can do a lot to help the effectiveness of the communication process.

An example of a spatial form in this case, uses the analogy of a bridge.

4.  Spatial.

Organizes ideas conceptually, according to a physical metaphor or analogy, providing a spatial arrangement of your topics. This one may need a visual method of presenting the information when you perform your talk.

Let’s say you were trying to explain how to organize a linear presentation to a friend. You decide to use the analogy of a “bridge.” With a bridge, you have an “on ramp” (the opening) and an “off ramp” (the close). The middle of the bridge has a series of sections – each one represents a major point. You might want to relate the underlying structure to the evidence that supports each key point. And the arches on top might relate to your main theme. You can use the analogy of the bridge (and perhaps a picture) to help reinforce the flow and logic of your presentation.

Picture of spoke and wheel for spoke and wheel analogy.5. Spoke and Wheel.

Organizes the presentation around a single central business concept, method, or technology, with multiple applications or functions emanating from that central core.

The diagram of the wagon wheel helps visualize the form this presentation might take. Your unique solution would occupy the centre of the wheel. Then you could cover off each point one by one. If you use a diagram (which I highly recommend), you should cover each point (in order) in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction, so the information is as clear as possible. However, don’t force it if isn’t logical to follow that order.

6. Case Study/Story.

A narrative recounting of how you or your company solved a particular problem or met the needs of a particular client, and in the telling, covers all the aspects of your business and its environment.

You might think a “case study” is different that a “story” and you’d be right! But the underlying structure is somewhat the same. In a case study, you describe the challenge or problem and then you typically relate the methods you used to solve it and then the results. A story has a beginning (set-up), a middle and an ending (climax). Where you make your persuasive point will most likely be in the last part of both (the results or the climax).

7. Argument/Fallacy.

Raises arguments against your own case, and then rebuts them by pointing out the fallacies (or false beliefs) that underlie them. In the Presenter-Pro video, Mary decides to use this form for her presentation. There were some myths within her organization regarding the presentation skills course and she wanted to raise each one of them prove it wrong. It doesn’t necessarily change the order of your key points (or truths), but it could. Be careful about the order you present the fallacies in and MAKE SURE when you present them that you don’t embarrass anyone or center them out.

8. Compare/Contrast.

Organizes the presentation around a series of comparisons that illustrate the differences between your company and other companies, for example.

You could compare anything. You might want to compare a previously followed process with a new one you’re suggesting. In this case, you’d outline the previous process and then introduce the new one, with the evidence consisting of the differences and the intended results. This form is very similar to the argument/fallacy form.

9. Matrix.

Uses a two-by-two or larger diagram to organize a complex set of concepts into an easy-to-digest, easy-to-follow, and easy-to-remember form.

The matrix form is typically a square segmented into four quadrants of the same size. The left axis and the bottom axis are labeled. For this form, it’s critical that you provide a diagram. Trying to communicate the information within a matrix is virtually impossible without a visual representation. You can choose any order in which to communicate the quadrants.

10. Parallel Tracks.

This form also needs a diagram. The best way to describe this is two columns, each with a set of points linked to a related point in the adjacent column. Each point may have sub-points. In any case, there should be the same number of points in each column. You can either run through each point and its counterpart from top to bottom, or you can start with the left column and introduce each of the points and then go back and relate each to the corresponding one in the right column. The best method of presenting these is with a visual that builds each point as you discuss it. Having several lines of text up at the same time, in this case, can lose the audience, as most will read them all first and you won’t necessarily have their undivided attention when you’re relating to a specific point.

Paying attention to the form you use can have a powerful effect on how your audience perceives your message and how receptive they are. An interesting and creative structure that serves to reinforce your main message is key to being remembered long after the event.

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