Focus you have

List you gather

Order you bring

Words you use

FLOW is a simple roadmap I developed over the years to structure any presentation. Last post I looked at the creative part of FLOW – Focus and List. See the blog post here: FLOW – part 1: Creative Flow

Now it’s time for the structural FLOW, the Order you bring and the Words you use. Fasten your seatbelts!

Order you bring

Imagine a presentation as a city roadmap with a highway running through it, and roads and side lanes:

  • Your highway is your key message,
  • The roads are the main points of your message, and
  • The side lanes are descriptions of each of your main points.

Don’t take your audience to far off the highway on the side lanes or they might get lost!

This is the stage to get your red marker out and be brutal. It’s where you sometimes have to ‘kill your babies’. We all have them; a favourite anecdote you can’t wait to share, a fact you just want to explain in a little more detail, clever points you want to make. Ask yourself: Will this lead back to my highway/key message? Will people get lost if I don’t tell them this? This stage of preparation is by far my favourite. Here you show some real character, what matters most to you? It’s content over performing. Do I want to look smart, or be meaningful?

All roads need crossroads and junctions, as does your presentation. How does it all link together? Does it all link together?
Rule of thumb here is that if you can’t follow it, your audience certainly won’t be able to follow it either. Take the driver’s seat and drive through your city, your presentation. Make sure you can easily drive from one point to another. You might want to say it out loud at this stage.

Words you use

For the Words you use you apply the Power of Three: make sure the words you use are simple, short and striking. Not only for your audience to understand, but also for you to pronounce. Fancy words have an habit of making us trip over them. Sure you might sound clever, but ask yourself what is more important; that your message comes across or that you sound clever? Use an online Thesaurus (like for useful synonyms of words that may be hard to understand and/or pronounce.

Less is more is the motto of this stage. Here you are sharpening the saw. Get ready for practicing the delivery (did you think you could get away without it? ;-))

This doesn’t mean that it needs to be perfect and finished once you start practicing your delivery. In fact as you practice it out loud a couple of times you will notice some inconsistencies. It shouldn’t take you long to fix these, as you have your framework in place. A framework you’ve built using FLOW.

For a quick overview – check this infographic of FLOW and let me know how you’re getting along.



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! 🙂