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More Outline Formats

Cause-Effect, Problem-Solution & Issue-Action

Cause-effect outline formats
A nice presentation structure, which you’ll see in various forms, is what I like to call the cause-effect outline. From this outline, you can build up your presentation where you first describe an event, then talk about the outcome or outcomes. So for instance you could say the man’s shoelaces were tied together (cause), therefore he fell over (effect). Not nice for the man, but perfect for our illustration.

This type of structure is excellent for presentations where you want to make a forecast of an event.

Here is an example of a presentation to forecast the consequence of a mortgage rate increase on the profits of a garage that specializes in selling car tires.

1. Mortgage rate increases by 2%                         <<< CAUSE
 1.1. People have less ‘free’ money to spend
2. Effect on our business                                     <<< EFFECT
   2.1. People keep their existing cars longer
   2.3. They buy car tires
   2.4. Car tire sales go up (so do our profits!)

Effect-cause outline
The cause-effect structure can also be used to good effect by inverting it; in other words making it an effect-cause structure. The man fell over (effect) because his shoelaces were tied together (cause). The effect-cause structure works well in reporting, evaluating and analysis types of presentation.

For example, these could be your presentation's main topics (see Create a Mind Map to determine your main topics):

1. Sales of the new software product were poorer        
    than expected.                                                          <<< EFFECT
2. Market analysis shows customers unhappy with        
    user documentation.                                                  <<< CAUSE

Problem-solution outline format
In the previous example, the effect-cause structure can be further expanded into a problem-solution structure. This, as the name suggests, is where you state the problem and then give a solution – nice!

So, for example:

1. Sales of the new software product were poorer       
    than expected.                                               <<< PROBLEM
2. Market analysis shows customers unhappy with
    user documentation.                                        <<< ANALYSIS
3. User documentation is being re-written.                   <<< SOLUTION

For a practical example of the problem-solution outline format, see Make a Presentation on Motivation.

Issue-action outline
Oh, by the way, if you’re giving a problem-solution type presentation to management, it’s better not talking about problems. Most managers in my experience don’t want to hear about problems: problems are fuzzy, vague, weak. Managers would rather talk about issues. Issues are more specific - something they can get their teeth into. Issues are a call to action.

So as a tip, if your presentation is to management, talk about issues (not problems), and action points (not solutions). In other words, to get you into the right frame of mind when structuring a presentation, call it an issue-action outline.


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