You’ve got 10 seconds, make your point with a deductive presentation

Remember the power point glory days?  You know, the time when you could give a super boring bullet-point filled presentation and not lose 99% of your audience.

The web’s not like that.  I mean, it’s really really not like that.  Even some awesome 5 minute slide driven presentations don’t work well on the web.

We live in a time when a success is stretching 10 seconds of attention into 3 minutes.   And the best way to do that is to change your style and go deductive.

In this post…

  • I’ll give you an example of making your big point first;
  • talk about the first ten seconds and the “is it worth it?” test;
  • define deductive and inductive presentations;
  • explain why headlines and headers are important;
  • and give you a deductive presentation format you can use.

*Hey Email Followers: I decided to follow my own advice, and assuming I configured everything properly, you should be getting this in all its full-text glory.  If you’re not following me via email, just click here to sign up.

Make your big point first

Have you seen Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED talk?  Probably, it’s been viewed over 20 million times on the TED site alone.  Here’s a quote from just a few minutes in…

My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status. (Applause) Thank you. That was it, by the way. Thank you very much. (Laughter) So, 15 minutes left.Well, I was born … no. (Laughter)

It’s a brilliant web presentation (and ironically it was given before TED published all the talks online).  Just lay everything out there, then follow with evidence.   Now, here’s the crazy thing.

When you’re not on a stage, you don’t have 3 minutes to make your big point and lock in your audience.  In all likelihood, you have ten seconds.

Pass the “is this worth it?” test.

Molly Engle left a nice comment on the book trailer post I published a few weeks ago.

I liked the way you split up the blog into many parts. I found I read all of it. I didn’t look at all the videos.

Most of the time, we’re all unmotivated audience members on the web.  There is just too much else out there for any one thing to get our full attention.  That’s why seeing a comment like Molly’s is so nice.

According to the Nielsen Norman Group, web page visitors usually leave a page in 10-20 seconds.   But, if you can get them to stay 30 seconds, they’re likely to stay much longer (and by much longer I mean minutes).

You want to write a post that will pass the “is this worth it?” test in the first 10 seconds.  This will buy you 20 more seconds.  You’ll need to sell them again in the next 20 seconds, but if you do, they’ll stay much longer.

Present deductively, not inductively

I’m talking presentation here, not reasoning.  I don’t care how you reasoned through to get to your main point.  Your someone doesn’t have to follow your path to understand your something.

  • For an inductive presentation you lay out all the evidence, then eventually sum it up and deliver the conclusion.
  • For a deductive presentation you deliver the conclusion, then lay out all the evidence.

The problem with inductive on the web is that your audience leaves well before getting to your main point.  Often they leave before even getting to a subpoint.  So you flip it, give them the big point first.  If they’re interested, they’ll work their way through the supporting subpoints and evidence.

Headline like a newspaper, above the fold

When you present on the web, headline like a newspaper, not like a journal.  Newspapers have centuries of experience writing to unmotivated audiences.  Catch them with the headline, sum up everything quickly, then work backwards with the evidence.

Before the web, it was really hard to reach your ideal unmotivated audience (yeah, that’s right, you have an ideal unmotivated audience).   So most of the academic stuff was created for a motivated audience (journals, conference presentations, and books).

But now you have the potential to reach an unmotivated audience that would be interested in what you have to say, if you can capture their attention and prove your worth.

Formatting your deductive presentation

Here’s a basic structure that’s worked really well for me in the past.  Most of the time, this is a blog post.  But you can use a similar kind of structure in an infographic, interactive data visualization, or other presentation formats.

  1. Your main point is the post title.  Start the post with a little story or example and briefly sum up all your subpoints.  I usually write this last.
  2. One by one you’ll write about the subpoints, giving each its own header.  How many subpoints is up to you, I like using five but it’s somewhat arbitrary.  I think you should have at least three.
  3. Write out the evidence for each of the subpoints under each header.  I always include at least one piece of relevant multimedia content for each.
  4. Always make sure to link to relevant sources within each section.

Don’t take shortcuts.  Sure, you can capture attention with a nice headline, some clever headers, and nice pictures.  But without the evidence and sources, you’ve got nothing but a hollow presentation.


 How many seconds did you last?

Did you make it through the whole post?  Leave a comment and let me know!


  1. Kathleen Lynch on December 17, 2013 at 9:25 am

    This was excellent! I read the whole post, and I totally agree with the style suggested. When I mentor folks in writing newsletter articles, I encourage a similar approach, based on Olivia Mitchell’s excellent website:

    She has a handout called How to Make an Effective Powerpoint Presentation that is outstanding!

    • Chris Lysy on December 17, 2013 at 9:29 am

      Thanks Kathleen, I’ll check it out 🙂

  2. Dayna Albert on December 17, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Hi Chris,

    This is very useful advice! I sensed my blog posts were not optimally organized to engage web readership and now I know what to do about it.
    I’ll be spending the next few days re-writing most of them.

    Thank you (I think)

    • Chris Lysy on December 17, 2013 at 10:23 am

      That’s great Dayna. I always try to make more work for my readers 😉

  3. Sheila B. Robinson on December 17, 2013 at 10:38 am

    I made it through the whole post, of course. I appreciate your points about deductive presentations, and being an educator, I was immediately drawn in by your using Sir Ken Robinson as an example. 🙂

    I’ve been thinking a lot about titles lately and wonder about the current fascination with alluding to numbers and lists: Ex. “10 things you must know about…”, “The three truths about… you can’t ignore” “The top 5 exercises to fight belly flab” and so on. I’m guilty of using one of these myself (“Seven Simple Strategies to Engage Any Audicnce”). The other style I’ve been seeing for quite some time is titles that feature the phrase “the surprising truth about” or some variation of that. So, numbers, lists, truths, and surprises. This makes me wonder what the next “big thing” will be with attention-grabbing titles, and when these will fall out of fashion.

    I like the title you selected for this post because it does draw in the reader, and doesn’t rely on current faddish trends.
    Your thoughts?

    • Chris Lysy on December 17, 2013 at 11:02 am

      Copyblogger has a whole series on what they call magnetic headlines.

      Numbers and lists make for easy headlines that tell the potential reader exactly what they will see if they click on the link. “If I click this link I will get 5 exercises to fight belly flab.” There’s no trickery there (I guess unless the author only provides 3). I don’t know if these will totally fall out of fashion anytime soon.

      A lot of headlines play on our emotions more than introduce the content of a post. This works to get clicks, especially on the big sites (i.e. yahoo, etc.) My perspective is that I want my potential reader to know what they would get if they read the post, not add fear to trick them into reading something that is not up their alley.

  4. Pablo Rodriguez-Bilella on December 17, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Oh, Captain, My Captain,
    how you dare to doubt that your faithful followers
    will not read each of your wise words and suggestions??!!
    With your posts… to skim through is a nonsense verb… 😉

    • Chris Lysy on December 17, 2013 at 11:08 am

      Thanks Pablo 🙂
      I never doubt my faithful followers. The support really means a lot.

      Of course, comments help show the effectiveness of the approach. So If someone is reading this right now, has read the post, and has yet to comment. I’d love to hear from you!

  5. Kate McKEgg on December 17, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Nice post… read to the end, and followed a link or two from the comments… Thanks for the tips!

    • Chris Lysy on December 17, 2013 at 2:33 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Kate, it’s much appreciated!

  6. Alana on December 17, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Yes Chris, I did read to the end! For me the salient point of your argument is about the challenge in keeping an audience’s interest. My ‘regular’ audience is university students. The competition to attract their time and brain capacity is fierce! I am going to think about how I can revamp my teaching materials so that I can make it past that first 10 seconds. Thank you!

    • Chris Lysy on December 17, 2013 at 4:05 pm

      Thanks Alana,
      I’m curious, are your lectures live, online, or mixed? Is the competition mobile phones or just lack of attention/disengagement?
      Would love to hear what you come up with 🙂

  7. Laura Beals on December 18, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Hi Chris–

    Another great post in this series. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think that this strategy could also work really well for teaching purposes (as implied by Alana)–I just shared the link with the coordinator of staff training at my agency for some inspiration!


    • Chris Lysy on December 18, 2013 at 11:29 am

      Thanks Laura, let me know if anything becomes of that 🙂

  8. Erica Heath on December 24, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Hi Chris

    Here I am joining all the others who happily read to the end.

    Isn’t this much like the old Army instructions: Say what you are going to say, explain it, summarize what you said. In saying what you are going to say you are “giving away” the premise in the first line. Also in PP, when you give objectives, you say, I am going to tell you about x, then you proceed to do it and then your last (or somewhere around there) slide says, see, I told you about x. I guess in the deductive model there is more of a statement or headline.

    LOVED the cartoon on the newspaper as academic journal!

    • Chris Lysy on December 24, 2013 at 12:56 pm

      I like it, thanks Erica 🙂

  9. Lyn Paleo on December 27, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Chris, Yes, I did read all the way through. I also clicked on the TED talk to know which one you were referencing (yes I had seen it), read all your comics, printed your blueprint so that I can remember it, read the comments, and clicked on one of your sources in one of your responses. How’s that? Do I usually do this? No. It’s boxing day and I have some fun time on-line scheduled. On a different day, I would have read the first part, then skipped down to see the blueprint. In doing so, I would have missed the middle supporting evidence, taking on trust that your ending was supported by evidence that I didn’t bother reading. Anyway, love the comics. And the informative posts.

    • Chris Lysy on December 29, 2013 at 10:22 am

      Thank you Lyn for using your fun time to visit my site and write this nice comment 🙂

  10. Sharon Wasco on January 7, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Read the whole thing, but of course it’s not *just* the deductive style (though that, too) — it’s the sketches and the handwritten lists. Happy new year, Chris!

    • Chris Lysy on January 8, 2014 at 7:06 am

      Thanks Sharon!
      Happy New Year to you too!

  11. Ivan on January 25, 2014 at 7:12 am

    Great post Chris! You did it again, made me read it, and all the comments as well 🙂

    Like your points, I’ll try them for sure.

    Keep sharing your thoughts and experience.


    P.S. Don’t ask me about my blog, you’ll be the firs one to know 😉

    • Chris Lysy on January 27, 2014 at 9:46 am

      Thanks Ivan, the blogging world will be there whenever you are ready. I’ve decided not to bug people anymore, too much stuff going on for most. That said, I think you would add new perspective and will look forward to reading when you do launch.