The first step in preparing a successful presentation for decision makers is to draw a picture of it - that is, develop your ideas as a "logic tree."

In constructing a logic tree, a presenter starts with the main idea, the one thing that he or she wants the decision makers to remember or do. See Fig. 1.

Logic Tree Graphic

Fig. 1: The logic tree

If you think you have more than one main point or you want to 'talk about' a topic, you need to step back and decide what your message is. Or you may need to make several presentations to convey each idea separately.

After choosing the main idea, the presenter writes the major points that support that idea on the "branches" of the logic tree. The supporting points should answer the question that decision makers ask when they hear the main idea.

Assume, for example, that the main idea is "We should buy the Kumquat spreadsheet program." The branches of the logic tree should contain the reasons for that recommendation. See Fig. 2. In a persuasive presentation, these reasons are based on the decision makers' criteria (the standards used in making a decision).

A Useful Tree

Fig. 2: Example of a useful logic tree

If, on the other hand, the main idea is a procedure, then the branches should contain the series of steps in that procedure.

Each branch or supporting point, in turn,may have further supporting statements that appear as "twigs."

The Category Trap

When first constructing a logic tree, a presenter is likely to fall into the old habit of developing a topical outline, which many of us learned in eighth-grade English.

In a topical outline, a presenter lists ideas by category or sequence, typically with an introduction and conclusion. This approach often results in "talking about" a topic rather than telling decision makers what they need to know.

The logic tree forces a presenter to focus on the decision makers' concerns and carefully determine what supporting data the audience needs. (Each branch of the tree should address one of the decision makers' concerns; in the example above, the first branch addresses concerns regarding cost.)

Ultimately, the logic tree can save the presenter time because it focuses one's thinking, reduces the tendency to procrastinate, and allows one to move ideas around easily to accommodate last-minute changes.

From Tree to Presentation

After organizing a presentation in a logic tree, the presenter creates a riveting beginning, a punchy ending, and relevant visuals.

For the actual delivery, the logic tree gives the presenter a clear picture of how ideas relate to each other. If at any time,decision makers indicate either verbally or with body language that they agree with a point, the presenter can cut the supporting details and move on.

Marya Holcombe and Judith Stein, New Haven communications consultants, explain the logic tree idea in their book, Presentations for Decision Makers (Van Nostrand Reinhold, Third Edition, l996). Besides explaining the logic tree, the book describes how to analyze an audience, design a presentation with storyboards, create visual aids, handle staging arrangements, rehearse and deliver a presentation, and manage audience participation.

Checklist for a Logic Tree

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