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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Understanding the Structure of Presentations


By: Caleb Abshire
Student
Columbus Signature Academy New Tech
Columbus, IN

Mark Twain once said, “It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” The reason a good speech takes so long to prepare is that all good speeches tend to be like trees, at least in their structure. Where a tree has a trunk, branches, leaves, and roots, a speech has a thesis, segues (anecdotes or jokes), visual aids, and facts and statistics.  While a tree pollinates the ground, a speech should be planting a seed in the mind of one’s audience. The elements that make a presentation different are also what make public speaking a powerful form of communication: tone of voice and a direct relationship to one’s audience. However, both of these rely on a well-built and sturdy foundation.

The Roots
The roots of a presentation are its facts and statistics. They are what allow a presentation to stand upright and feed the presentation the nutrients it needs to really blossom. Without solid, credible facts and/or statistics, a presentation can easily be toppled and proclaimed to be a lie.

The Trunk
Carrying the facts and statistics throughout the presentation is the trunk of our metaphorical tree, the thesis statement or motif. A presentation must always be focused, well scoped and purposeful. A presentation without a point is afternoon-tea talk. A thesis could be anything from “I like bananas” to “Bananas are going to cure cancer,” so long as you stick to it and make it strong.

The Branches
The main reason trees are so loved is that they provide lots of resources. They provide shelter, shade, food, oxygen, paper, pencils; practically everything in use today has probably used some part of a tree in its manufacturing. Trees can provide so much of this because of their branches. Likewise, a presentation should give food for thought, a place to put our thoughts into words and act on them, a reprieve from having to fight our own fights, and a record of what humanity is thinking through each sentence.

The Leaves
The leaves of the presentation are the visual aids and jokes or anecdotes used throughout to make the
thesis easy to remember. They make a presentation pretty and are what start the fire in people’s hearts first. Leaves are a tree’s respiratory system; visual aids and anecdotes are a presentation’s. A good visual aid grabs the audience’s attention and reminds them what’s going on. If trees were just wide blocks of wood, they wouldn’t be very fun. Visual aids, jokes, and anecdotes provide the volume to cover a wider breadth of material without suffocating the audience. 

Voice and Audience
A tree doesn’t have a voice to provoke emotion in people; it can do so without one. The speaker must be the voice of the presentation. It is important to know one’s audience in order to prune the “tree” directly to them. Some may say that a tree is much prettier when it was planted for them, and in the same way a presentation is much more likely to be listened to if it was pruned for the audience. Trim the bits that the audience won’t particularly enjoy and substitute with something more relevant, and then present in such a way that the audience will listen by using all of the capabilities of expression given to us as humans.

My Trees
Over the years here at CSA I’ve written and given many presentations. At the end of each project (which we have one of in each class every month) we have to present our findings in a concise and followable manner to score points on our “Oral Communication” Rubric. One of my favorites was presenting my idea for clean renewable energy in a project we call “Shark Tank”, stylized like the eponymous T.V. show. That project was fun for me because I was so proud, not only of my shake-to-charge battery, but because I knew I had a solid presentation to back me up. I had a trunk that focused on the need for a clean, renewable energy source. My mathematics became my roots, and my technical drawings my branches. My stories about working with my dad on electronics provided the shade and beauty that my presentation would have otherwise lacked. My presentation didn’t win, but I was still proud to see that my tree’s seeds had been sown. 

About the Author: Caleb Abshire is a junior at Columbus Signature Academy New Tech. He loves his whole family, including his three younger siblings. He enjoys reading and writing and physics, as well as video games and music.

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