The Secret Structure of a Compelling Presentation

Every compelling story has movement within its structure. You probably can recognize these common structures from films and mythology:

  • Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy retrieves girl.


  • Mythic hero has a call to adventure, is convinced to step up to the plate by a mentor, begins a quest, overcomes enemies, endures an ordeal, narrowly escapes death, and returns to ordinarily life a victor and a wiser person.

And every compelling presentation has a structure, too. Here are a couple examples:

  • Introduce your main argument, state your case, outline your main points, prove your case, counter conflicting arguments, and conclude by showing how you have made your case.


  • Start with a story illustrating a problem, leave the audience in suspense as to the resolution of the problem, describe possible solutions, refute objections, funnel your audience toward agreeing with your proposed solution, and close with the opening story – how the person you are using for illustration overcame the problem.

None of these structures is complicated or new.   The first bullet point above (Introduce your main argument, state your case, outline your main points, etc.) was devised more than 2,000 years ago by the Roman orator Cicero, and became the basis for Western classical rhetoric — the art of verbal persuasion and motivation.

Everything has a structure: pop music, TV sitcoms, symphonies, and speeches. You may not be able to perceive the structure because it seems so natural, but that’s the nature of a useful structure – it seems natural and doesn’t call attention to itself.

Your favorite song on the radio doesn’t sound to you like intro/first verse/chorus/second verse/second chorus/eight bars of variation on the melody/third chorus/closing chorus, does it? But that is a very common underlying structure — so common that people in the music industry will abbreviate it and say, “Here’s a song that’s a plain old ABABCBB.” (If you don’t believe me, listen to a few songs on the car radio on the way home; you’ll see how many songs fall into this pattern.)

Again, one presentation structure is not inherently better than another, although it might be better-suited to a particular application. The important factor is to have some sort of structure designed to carry you through from beginning to middle to end with some sort of perceptible motion and closure.

Note that this advice applies to any sort of communication that you can conceivably classify as a presentation: speech, training session, on-camera response to a media inquiry, podcast, and so forth.

Author: admin

Carl Hausman is Professor of Journalism at Rowan University, the author of several books about media, and a commentator about the role of media and ethics in civic life.

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