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Presentation skills: A, 2 and thirdly

The presentation is going well.

You’ve reached your three key points. 

But a puzzled expression comes over the faces on the front row.


Because your presentation skills need retuning, with a simple tip.

Read on.

Attempting to ad-lib

Woman speaker, charlottesville, presentation skills

Our computers organise us well.

Type “a”, and the computer will offer “b” and “c” for the next two bullet points.

But attempt to ad-lib the same and it can go to pigs and whistles.

I’ll be watching TV with my wife.

And someone will say he or she has three key points. 

I nudge her and say:

“A, 2, and thirdly.”

Because our brains are less organised than our computers.

I’ve seen it dozens of time in presentations skills courses.

And media training courses.

Run from our Glasgow studios.

Or anywhere else in the 25 countries we’ve done business.

So how do we organise a speech to make key points?

How do we hit key messages in a TV interview?

How do we get the main points across in an office meeting?

Here are five points to make lists flow easily.

1. Make it easy to follow

Phillip Agnew, make it easy to follow, presentation skills

We need to make it easy for the audience to follow.

So do what the computer does. 

Make sure you list your points as:

  • A, B and C.
  • Or firstly, secondly and thirdly.
  • Or points one, two and three.

And those listening will avoid feeling lost.

2. Make it visual

Steve Jobs of Apple

To help the audience in a presentation.

Show three digits.

But start with your thumb.

Because when you make point two.

It can look like a rude gesture.

3. Keep it short

nick clegg, presentation skills, keep it short

Each bullet point should be short.

That way, it’ll be memorable.

Because you want the audience to be able to tell others.

To make the message completely portable.

4. Avoid other figures

woman at lectern, presentation skills, avoid other figures

Keep other figures out your bullet points.

That makes it easier to remember each point.

Because too many figures cause confusion.

And devalue each of the points.

5. Longer lists

Public Speaking, presentation skills, Governor Wolf, longer lists, change your focus

The same applies for longer lists.

Give each section a number or letter.

Only reiterate at the end of each:

“That was point 5.

“This is point 6.”

This helps to keep the note-takers straight.

I watched one speaker say:

“Here’s point 16.”

Someone called out:

“I only have 13?”

While another added:

“I’ve got 17.”

That’s because the speaker forgot to name the points. 

One by one.

Presentation skills 101

barack obama, presentation skills, a 2 and thirdly

We love the power of three.

Three points, made three times.

President Obama used it well.

So do most great speakers.

But when you’re speaking in threes, avoid A, 2 and thirdly.


Bill McFarlan is co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can read his full profile here.


Photos by shio / CC BY-NC-ND / Anthony Crider / CC BY /  The Opportunity Agenda / CC BY-NC-SA / Liberal Democrats / CC BY-ND / Wellington College / CC BY-NC / governortomwolf / CC BY / Barack Obama / CC BY-NC-SA on

10th October 2019 Featured in: Blog, Presentation skills training blogs By:

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