The Presentation Canvas

Tired of messy, unfocused presentations?

Within my teams, I often see team members struggle with presentation skills.

Good communication and presentation skills are rarely seen in tech-oriented people, and when they are there, they are often the result of individual attitude and craftsmanship, rather than outcomes of a structured system. And things are getting worse with agile teams. In cross-functional teams, team members need to communicate inside and outside the team, with stakeholders having different backgrounds and knowledge.

So, I developed my own Presentation Canvas, building on three different time-tested models: OKRs, Design Thinking, and the Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto. The Canvas applies to business presentations and internal business communication flows.

The Presentation Canvas

Fig. 1 – The Presentation Canvas

The canvas is a simple visual aid, that can be used to support team brainstorming or individual reflection as well. It focuses on the structure and the overall architecture of the presentation, rather than visuals and copy.

The Canvas is split into Title, Top (the context), and Bottom (the content). The title summarizes your main idea, the top part contains the goal and the audience, while the bottom one gives structure to the content with the intro, the main section, the supporting factors, and conclusions.

The context. Goal and Audience

The Goal

Why are you giving the presentation? What’s your Objective? Are you selling a service? Are you looking for a specific (re)action from your audience? Why are you there, presenting your ideas?

Fig 2 – The Goal section

Mankind evolved by solving problems. When we see a problem, it’s our natural tendency to quickly jump to solutions, sometimes losing focus on the problem to be solved. Avoid that, and stay focused on the problem to solve. You are not presenting because you enjoy the act of presenting; quite the opposite, many of us are uncomfortable speaking in front of external audiences. Having a clear goal helps you stay focused on the problem you want to solve.

Your goal is made of two parts: the objective you want to reach, and at least a key result, in the form of a clear pass/fail criteria (“did I get it?”)

For instance, you are presenting because you’re selling a service, and you want to generate leads. So Your pass/fail criteria could be to generate at least two leads from your talk. Or, you are presenting at a key decisional point, such as you need stakeholders’ approval to invest in a specific initiative and your key result is having the OK to proceed.

Suggestion: If you want to delve into OKRs, go read the book Measure What Matters, by Joh Doerr, and watch his Ted Talk


Fig. 3 – The Audience

The top three quadrants on the right are used to describe your audience. The more you know about your audience, the better. You can adapt the content, the form, and the length of your presentation depending on to whom you are speaking. You can focus your audience in terms of Personas, using them to have a picture of your listener’s needs and problems. Personas are fictional characters built out of real persons such as your client or your boss, groups, or specific roles such as “Test Engineers”. Having groups of people represented by a specific persona, helps you build understanding and empathy.

A simple way to use personas for your presentation is to define them in terms of like/not like. Let’s say you are presenting to a C-level board, you could have a persona similar to this one:

Persona: Jeff Bezos, CEO

Likes: short, saving time, but well-structured briefing documents

Dislikes: presenters that are not well prepared, and are not able to get to the point. He also banned Powerpoint

Personas are commonly used in Marketing and Design Thinking, but it seems their origin can be traced to Alan Cooper and the early years of software design. Here’s a video about user personas from the Interaction Design Foundation

The content. Intro, The Idea, Conclusions

Once we have defined the context of our presentation, we now move on to the bottom section, the content area.

We want to structure our content as a three-section story: Intro, The idea and the supporting details, Conclusions


Fig. 4 – The Intro Section

The intro is also structured as a three-step storytelling pattern: Situation, Complication, and Question (SCQ).

  1. Situation
    That’s a fact, easily recognizable and documentable. Your listener will agree that what you are saying is true, you are reminding him/her of facts he/she already knows or is expected to know. It can be your client’s production line has been halted due to quality issues, or their website is under a DDoS attack, or the results from testing the neural network missed the established targets or a political issue such as Brexit popped up into your environment. Anyway, you should start with a fact, a relevant known fact
  2. Complication
    That’s the “Yes, I know that. So what” moment in your listener’s mind. It’s not strictly a complication to the problem, It should create tension in needs to be resolved. According to Barbara Minto, most complications in the business world, are of four types:
    A) we cannot perform due to some problem
    B) we know we have a solution to our problem, but we don’t know how to implement it
    C) we have proposed a solution, but we don’t know if it is the right one
    D) Something went wrong, and we need to understand why
  3. Question
    Complication should now trigger a question such as “What can we do about that?”, “How do we do it?”, “Is it the right choice?”, “Why it happened?” So, the intro is all about a known fact that generates an impact on our audience’s life, and the impact triggers a question that we are making as explicit as possible.

The Idea

Fig 5 -Intro-to-Idea flow

We left the previous section with an explicit question to be answered. Now, the central idea of our presentation is the answer to that question, with all the details relevant to our audience. It’s worth noticing that we introduced a Question->Answer relationship here.

So your main Idea should be the answer to the question that emerged from the intro. You further develop the main Idea top-down, adding a key line with the main topics supporting the Idea, and adding further supporting factors to any of the key line topics (How you do it? What you do it?). So, you now have a pyramid-shaped tree with three main levels: The main Idea, The Key Line, and The Supporting Factors (Supporting factors can have further sub-levels if needed). In designing the pyramid you should follow three rules:

  1. Each node is a summary of the nodes grouped below it
  2. Nodes in each group are logically the same
  3. Nodes in each group are in a logical order

Fig. 6 – Idea,Key Line and Supporting factors

Any idea can be presented with further supporting factors, but you should always present the idea first, and the supporting factors later.

To dig deeper into the Pyramid Principle, please read The Minto Pyramid Principle. Logic in Writing, Thinking, and Problem-Solving by Barbara Minto .


We are now at the end of your presentation, it’s time to wrap up facts and ideas to summarize the vision you are proposing. If you have followed the three rules of the pyramid, you’ll simply have to restate the content you already presented in the idea and key line.

Depending on your goal and your audience, you can add Q&A, clarification on the next steps, how to contact you, a call for action, etc. That’s the moment you definitively close the gap with the initial goal.

Next Step

So, you have now the basis for using Presentation Canvas and the models it is built upon. You can freely use Presentation Canvas under a CC-By 2.0 license. Use it to focus and brainstorm with your team, or to structure your own presentation. Drop me a line if you find Presentation Canvas useful.