Preparing Presentations: a Paper Framework

Or why opening the “slides” application in your computer should be the last thing you do.

This week I had to prepare an important presentation for a company (which holds a consulting contract with my university).

The goal is to develop a toolkit to rapidly create presentations that convey a point and answers to known worries of the audience. We will try to stay away from computers as much as possible. The actual production of slides and documents should be the last thing you do.

The difficulty of these presentations is the variety of communicative intent:

  • The company wants to hear results and methods used: this can get deeply technical.
  • The university wants to know how well our team performed and is more worried about organisation and interpersonal communication.
  • The presenting team wants to appeal to both audiences

Of course, your presentation might be different, but I hope this framework holds useful for any given situation.

The framework

Get some paper (A4) and a Sharpie.

Goals & Outline

This is the first thing you should do. You don’t want much detail here, if you need to pause and think, this is the moment to do so.

Describe your outline, goals, and what your audience wants to hear. Divide a landscaped paper into two columns.

  • Place the outline of the presentation on the left column.
    Please: Follow the classical introduction-body-conclusion structure. If you do, your presentation will already be in the top 50%.

If there are boring sections and exciting parts, I recommend splitting those in two lists, now in the right column of the page. These parts can, and should, be mixed in the outline: the list is for you to understand where you should be extremely plain & concise and where you can get a little more creative.

Sectioning & Ordering

Build (cut) as many “paper” slides as there are outline sections. I've found that half of a A4 sheet is a convenient size.

You will need 2 extra bits for the first and last slides. If you want to add background empty transitions, you can do so.


Now, draw a slide in one face, write the section name on top of it. Before designing each slide, take a while to decide the best order for your presentation.

Take advantage of paper: reorder each slide, try different combinations and section lengths, create subsections, do it on a desk, floor or any surface that allows you to think and move freely.


Key concepts & Time

Key Concepts: Now, turn each paper around and write the key concepts that should be covered in that slide, either by the speaker or by the design.

Time: If you have a limited amount of time to present, managing those minutes properly can make or break your presentation. After considering the key concepts, write down the time you’ll need to cover them.



Finally, using the front face of the paper slide, quickly sketch the “look” that you think will be the most effective to convey each section’s key concepts. Don’t add a lot of detail. Some examples:


The toolkit