FLOW – part 1: Creative Flow

In a month’s time the eyes of the world would have been upon Tokyo. After years of preparations the flame would be lit above the Japan National Stadium. Unfortunately we need to wait for another year.

Once we do and we marvel at the athletes achieving Olympic glory (and those who do not!) it always strikes me that those moments of glory are just that, moments. While the time it has taken them to get to that stage… The hours, days and months of training.

I’m not suggesting presentations require that much preparation in absolute terms. Relatively though the time we need to prepare for a presentation far outweighs the time it takes to actually deliver it. And after all that how frustrating is it when we still don’t get our message across?

If you look at the reasons why we don’t get our message across it’s often because our presentations lacks structure. This means how you say what you want to say concisely, powerfully and effectively. In the next few weeks I share with you a simple step by step process I developed over the years, FLOW, to structure presentations. Whether it’s an 1 minute intro, 5 minutes overview or an 20 minutes keynote speech, you can use FLOW.

It’s like a roadmap on how to structure your presentation for highest possible impact. In short, when preparing for a presentation the most important elements are the Focus you have, the List you gather, the Order you bring and the Words you use, in that sequence.

One of the benefits of using this roadmap is that it makes your message clearer. And once the message is more clear, the audience will feel more invested into it. And you as speaker will feel more confident as a result too. Using this roadmap I’ve been able to tackle a variety of topics, using many presentation formats.

The first two (F and L) I call the creative FLOW (yes that includes lists!), the other two (O and W) are the structural FLOW. This post focuses on the creative FLOW, the Focus you have and the List you gather.

Focus you have

Before you even start to think about the fabulous things you want to say, you need to ask yourself: who is my audience? Why are they listening to you? What do they hope to get out of this presentation?

This doesn’t mean you have to please everyone, you can’t. Your presentation would be too generic and bland. It does mean that you need to tailor your speech to the audience needs.

Only once you’ve got that crystal clear you can look at the second aspect of F: the content, your message. Can you say what you have to say in one sentence?

Remember the saying: 

“if you can’t say it in a sentence, you can’t say it in an hour” 

If you have to narrow it down to one key sentence – what is it that your message? Make sure you repeat that sentence throughout your presentation. This is the key take away for your audience.

List you gather

Now it’s time for the legwork of your preparation: your research. At this stage you are just gathering information, statistics, stories, trivia, quotes. You are NOT determining yet what’s in and out. Try to be as free and open as possible. That’s why Lists are part of FLOW. You’re not yet structuring it, you’re gathering the evidence with an open mind.

With a presentation of a 1000 words I usually end up with 1500 words after this stage. That’s absolutely fine, in fact it’s perfect. It allows you to shift through these and really cherry pick what is best. Only when you start ordering them you see new connections, and better ways you can bring it all together, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

What can you do with all the leftovers I hear you wonder? Well that’s why I have a Moleskine, several now after a decade! This stage usually takes longest, and if done properly will leave you with more material for later use.

“Give me six hours to crop down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.” A. Lincoln

Next week we look at the second half of FLOW, when we ‘hit the road’ with O and W.

To be continued!


Check out this video I did for the English Speaking Union for their #esufestivalofspeaking: Train your Brain – Next time you’re presenting not only focus on your audience and message, but also on your strengths as speaker! 🙂

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