3. Problem / Solution

Identify a problem your audience has that your presentation will contribute to solving

If you want to capture and keep the attention of your audience every time, then make sure that each presentation you make focuses on helping your audience to solve an important problem. This is critically important: if you’re not helping to solve a problem for your audience, then why are they listening to you?

The problem that you choose to focus on must be a real one, one that is likely going to cause pain for your audience, professionally and perhaps personally, if it is not solved. Ideally, there should be clear risks and real dollars at stake; for example, their business profits are going to suffer, so their bonuses will be reduced or eliminated, and their career prospects will be hurt.

You can use the problem-solving hierarchies to help you identify the relevant problem.

Write down this problem (“The problem my audience has is…” etc.) and also what contribution to solving the problem your presentation is going to make.

Then go on to step 4: evidence.


How to use the audience problem to make boring data interesting.

Why you should never give an FYI presentation.

Problem-solving presentations and career visibility.

What if you just can’t get your thoughts straight on what solution to recommend? Sometimes you will feel completely stuck. You know you have something to say or a recommendation to make, but you cannot seem to get clear in your mind what you are trying to recommend. Solution? Try writing it in prose: write a brief letter or memo describing what you have in mind. I find Procter & Gamble’s one-page memo format very useful for this.

For answers to any of the following questions, see Advanced Presentations by Design.

  • What has problem solving got to do with presentation design? (p. 40)
  • How do I find the right problem? (p. 41)
  • How do I find the right level of analysis? (p. 41)
  • What if the problem is so big that I cannot help my audience solve it? (p. 44)
  • What if all I can come up with are a bunch of small problems rather than one big one? (p. 45)
  • What if I’m just presenting information or providing an update? (p. 46)
  • What if I’m creating a training or educational presentation? (p. 47)
  • What if there is clearly a problem, but the audience I am trying to engage just does not seem to be interested? (p. 48)
  • Isn’t focusing on “problems” rather negative? (p. 48)
  • What if I only have a solution to part of the problem? (p. 49)
  • How do I know if I have chosen the right solution? (p. 50)
  • Should I include alternative solutions to the one I’m offering? (p. 51)
  • How do I handle really controversial solutions? (p. 52)
  • What to do if there really isn’t a clear solution to the problem? (p. 54)