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Structural Principles


Techniques Public speaking > Preparing the Presentation > Structural Principles

Chronological | Narrative | Causal | Problem-solution | Topical | Spatial | See also


There are a number of ways of structuring presentations or speeches, some of which are described below. Your presentation may use just one of these as a structuring principle, may use several in an appropriate combination or you may create some other organizing principle.

Chronological structure

Chronological structuring organizes the presentation in a historical sequence, with older events first and the most recent events last. The structure may reach into any combination of past, present and future, for example telling what has already happened and your hopes for the future.

A chronological structure tells the story in a natural sequence. We are accustomed to the structure of stories and audiences take easily to this format, which may make significant use of storytelling.

The chronological approach may also be used for presenting plans, showing what happens when, moving forward in time. Where there are parallel, concurrent activities, then those that happen at the same time are talked about either together or in short sub-story branches.

Narrative structure

A narrative structure takes the chronological principle and casts it into a fuller story structure, complete with characters who interact in a clear plot. This approach can make a dry subject more entertaining, although as with any storytelling, there is significant skill in building a credible and engaging story, for example in the use of suitable devices.

Causal structure

When the presentation is about a particular problem or issue, or even about a desirable future, it may be structured in a sequence of cause and effect, showing how each item leads to the next.

Many causal structures are tree-shaped, with multiple causes contributing to a single cause. Others have network structures, with complex inter-causality. Causes can also be circular, leading to virtuous circles and vicious spirals.

Whatever the structure of the causality, this is used to shape the presentation. When this is non-linear, as in the types just described, then appropriate staged methods may be used. A visual key of the structure can be very helpful, which can be revisited regularly to show progress.

Problem-solution structure

Presentations are often about how you have solved a problem or can solve the problem of the audience. This lends itself naturally to a problem-solution structure.

First, the problem is presented, highlighting all the pain and issues that occur. Then the solution is offered, showing how it solves the problem. In between these two there may be a third section which analysis the problem, using a cause-effect pattern as described above.

Topical structure

Sometimes the subject lends itself naturally to division into sub-topics, much as in an outlining pattern. The presentation may in this case be broken down into these natural segments.

Each of the topic sections may follow a similar sub-structure, for example describing a problem and showing how it is being addressed.

The topics may be linked together by a super-topic, which may either be presented at the beginning (forming a hierarchical breakdown) or inductively concluded at the end.

Spatial structure

A spatial structure creates a literal or virtual physical layout. The physical structure is typical of when the subject is office layout or architectural design.

A virtual spatial structure is to use the principle of 3D space to house concepts, for example using 'windows', or 'rooms' in an imaginary setting. A benefit of this approach is that difficult concepts can be made concrete and connected using metaphors that the audience already understands.

See also

Types of reasoning


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