Got a Nice Frame? Using Hierarchy in Your Presentations

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I was working with an upper level designer for a fashion manufacturer who regularly had to present several lines of women’s fashion to the merchandising executives, her boss in design, and the president of the company. This included showing “boards” (boards with pictures of styles, swatches and other materials pinned to them) and samples of the clothing.

She was getting feedback that her presentations weren’t high level enough in content, and that she needed to better inhabit her upper management role when presenting. As I saw it, a lot of that had to do with framing. No, not the designs, but  framing her words and ideas.

I saw her present one time to those mentioned above plus many other people from all areas of her category. So her audience was a mixed batch of cross-functional partners. Everyone’s goal was to make that season’s delivery a success, but most of the people were focused primarily on their personal area and role. They were not as attuned to the bigger picture. It was her job to make them understand the big idea for the line and to see how their part of the line fit into that big idea. And she simultaneously had to convince the company’s leadership to buy into her ideas for the season.

I saw her get into the boards very quickly, show a lot of hangers of clothing, and talk about details such as trim and patterns. All important actions, but they seemed to have lost their place in the hierarchy. And she had lost her higher level attitude.

We had the opportunity to re-work her approach when we worked on her showing the same materials for a subsequent presentation. We focused on giving her presentations a structure. She needed to use the device of “framing” her ideas: starting with the biggest picture idea and moving to the smaller ideas and the details.

As we examined the broadest issue, the first frame became: why are we here today? “We are here today to look at the Spring season for women’s…and we have four deliveries to show you.”

The next frame in the hierarchy was the biggest picture message for the season in general. There were two. “We have proven that we can be fashion forward; now we are also focusing on our more moderate styles.” And, ” this season is all about color and pattern.”

Then she had to go into the four deliveries, one at a time. Each one had numerous boards and articles of clothing to show. But focusing on framing, the next level was a general message for the delivery: “This line is about juxtaposing feminine and masculine.” She needed that bigger picture message upon which to scaffold showing the product.

And finally, the last level of the hierarchy: showing the actual product. It was very important that in doing so she stay at the level appropriate for her position. It was not her role to delve into every small detail, to show too much product, to become immersed in the “small stuff.” She had to use the “supporting evidence” (the fashions) sparingly and keep focused on the bigger picture, showing the fashions only in the context of her message. So she could point out the lace on a boy’s style shirt for girls, for example, but in the context of that boy/girl juxtaposition with which she had framed the delivery.

Thinking of her presentation in terms of framing and hierarchy helped her to stay higher level in her messaging and her presence.

You may not be presenting boards, but are you paying attention to biggest picture message (what I call the “Point of View”), secondary messages and supporting information? Are you structuring it all in a way that makes sense and tells the story you need to tell? Or are you getting bogged down in details and data and forgetting that they only have meaning in the context of the messages they support? And are you explaining clearly how the data support those messages?

Using framing and hierarchy can help you devise a simple, easy-to-follow structure for your presentation.

Until the next time,



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