Wednesday July 30, 2014
  • How to structure a business presentation

         shutterstock 207105382 Q. I have to give a presentation to the owner of the company for which I work in a few weeks. I’m going to recommend some big changes. I know what I want to say, but I am struggling actually writing the presentation. Do you have any suggestions that could be helpful?


    .     A. As you can imagine, we’ve written thousands of presentations and business documents in our careers. In our experience, the most important first step is what we call “hanging the document.” That is, you have to figure out how to structure of the points you want to make. In other words, you need an outline. However, this isn’t just a list of random points. It has to have a structure. It has to hang together in a way that makes your point as clearly as possible.

    You are making a business presentation. Your hope to persuade the owner to take specific action. In such situations, we recommend the “Situation-Complication-Resolution” approach. We’ll discuss each below.


    Situation – This is a statement of the current state of affairs. It should be fact based (e.g., since its founding 15 years ago, the company has grown from a startup with no revenue and one employee to a robust enterprise with $15 million in revenue and 60 employees). Because it is fact based, it should be something with which no one can reasonably disagree. We often use this section to highlight positives. If possible, give the person to whom you are presenting credit for their accomplishments.


    Complication – This is a statement of the problem—the issue you are addressing (e.g., over the past three years, revenue growth has stalled). It lays out why the company should take action. Without the Complication, the company wouldn’t need to do anything. There would be no reason for change. People who are resisting the change you are suggesting, may well try to take issue with the Complication. After all, if the Complication isn’t valid, there is no need to change. Therefore, if possible, base this section on objective facts that are irrefutable (e.g., sales three years ago were $15.1 million, while sales last year were $14.9 million). People may not like this, but they can’t argue that it isn’t true.


    Resolution – This is your recommendation—it resolves the complication. It should be a single point. For example, we should launch a sales grow program. Each document should have only one main point. If you can’t boil your recommendation down to a single point, you have more than one document.


    Once you have identified you primary recommendation, you should support it with a series of MECE (Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive) sub points. Mutually Exclusive means that the points do not overlap. There is no duplication in the points. Collectively Exhaustive means that there is nothing left out. Taken together the sub points consider all possible ways to achieve the point above it in the structure.


    For example, if the main point is that we should launch a program to grow sales significantly. The supporting points might be: (1) we should cultivate new customers and (2) we should sell more to existing customers. These are clearly Mutually Exclusive; there is no overlap between new customers and existing customers. They are also Collectively Exhaustive; every sale will be to a new customer or an existing customer. There are no other possibilities.


    You will then support each of the sub points with another set of MECE points. For example, you might support cultivating new customers with: (1) Cultivate new customers in existing sales territories and (2) Cultivate new customers in new sales territories. Again, the sub points at this level are MECE.


    If you diagram the structure of your document keeping all points at the same level in the document on the same line of your paper, you will begin to see a triangle or a pyramid emerge. The pyramid continues to grow until your recommendations are at a sufficiently granular level to make it crystal clear how you propose to accomplish your main objective.


    Many people struggle with writing business presentations. What’s needed is a structured way to think about the presentation. Once the structure is developed, hanging meat on the bones is straightforward. The pyramid principle described above provides that structure.

I HIGHLY recommend Polly and Doug. They have wonderful insight to help small business owners prioritize and identify strategies for growth and improvement. Wish I had met them 20 years ago!

Sharon Madere
Premiere Pet Products

Doug and Polly, I want to thank both of you! The past few months have been enlightening and overwhelming all at the same time. Your guidance, direction, wealth of knowledge, and wisdom have exceeded all my expectations. No words could ever completely describe just how amazing of a “dynamic duo” you two really are!

Dawn Beninghove, RN, CCM, CRP, PN
Chief Executive Offer
Companion Extraordinaire Nursing Network, Inc.
My company brought Polly in as a business consultant resource to provide Professional Skills curriculum to our early and mid-career leaders. It was company leadership that brought her in - it was her success with our associates that continued to bring her back! Using her HR and corporate leadership experience and her ability to connect with people at various levels of the organization, Polly was one of the most effective outside leadership development resources I've come across in my Talent Management years. She was extremely reliable and someone that I could trust to provide solid learning experiences that aligned with our corporate value system and talent development goals.

Scot McCarthy
Director of Workforce Development, CENTRA Health
My team and I have had the privilege of working with Polly on our business. Polly's keen business insight and savvy is something special. She was honest, direct, and tactful about her observations and recommendations for our team and how to grow our business. It was a pleasure having her help us and I would tell anyone that’s serious about growing their business to call Polly. She’s great!

John OReilly
Managing Partner
Base Camp Realty of Richmond, Inc.
Doug White took on an unfocused operation (in the financial services sector) and created an efficient, centralized system dedicated to excellence.  He did this not by driving change from the top down, but by helping the entire team see how their part of the process could be improved. Doug then mentored us toward effecting the changes ourselves. He taught us all how to bring our “A game,” and how to take ownership and pride in what we do.

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Vice President of Operations
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Leigh McCullar
HR Business Solutions Manager
Sheltering Arms Physical Rehabilitation Center
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Business Manager
Manorhouse Management, Inc.
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