Synthetic vs Analytical Presentation Structures

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 1 comments

thumb-synthetic-vs-analyticSynthetic v. analytic? It’s elementary.

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, is the truth. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1890) The Sign of the Four

In 1887, Conan Doyle’s first Holmes novel, ‘A Study In Scarlet’ introduced us to the ingenious mind of Sherlock Holmes and the idea that criminals can be caught through the application of science and logic.

Immediately, Holmes explains to Watson the difference between synthetic and analytical thinking: a distinction that we find useful when describing our approaches to presenting information.


In solving a problem of this sort, the grand thing is to be able to reason backwards. That is a very useful accomplishment, and a very easy one, but people do not practice it much. In the everyday affairs of life it is more useful to reason forwards, and so the other comes to be neglected. There are fifty who can reason synthetically for one who can reason analytically.


I confess that I do not quite follow you.


I hardly expected that you would. Let me see if I can make it clearer. Most people, if you describe a train of events to them, will tell you what the result will be. They can put those events together in their minds and argue from them that something will come to pass. There are few people, however, who, if you told them a result, would be able to evolve from their own inner consciousness what the steps were which led to that result. This power is what I mean when I talk of reasoning backwards or analytically.

Synthetic thinkingAnalytical thinking
A synthesis of ideas from premise to conclusionBreak a problem down, analyse it
A=B, B=C therefore C=AC=A therefore there must be a B, for which A=B and C=B
Adding together ideas to form a complex whole
‘Synthetic’ presentations present two ideas or two pieces of data and then draw a conclusion.‘Analytical’ presentations state a conclusion and then show how it was arrived at.

On the whole, most people think synthetically and therefore it feels logical to present this way. Our experience suggests that this actually works against the presenter. Showing facts and figures to support an eventual conclusion often lowers the concentration levels of the audience prompting a ‘What’s the point of this?’ mind set.

That’s not to say synthetic presenting is all bad, particularly where titles are concerned: a title should contextualise the slide NOT summarise it, which is called a synthetic information flow.

By presenting the main arguments analytically you create intrigue in the audience, increasing your audience’s attention. In sales presentations, we state early on that ‘the benefit to you is X, here’s how we deliver it to you’. This is an analytical information flow.

So the idea is to get the balance right: present analytical information flows for the main arguments to keep your audience’s attention, while using synthetic information flows for your smaller supporting arguments.

To this, Holmes would inevitably say, ‘Elementary my dear Watson’.

This article originally appeared in article62, the killer presentations e-magazine from m62.

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1 Comment to Synthetic vs Analytical Presentation Structures

  1. #1

    Presentation structure: Where to put your conclusion

    2:17 am, June 21st, 2010

    [...] counterintuitive. After all why should they listen if they already know the conclusion? However, as presentation design agency m62 argue: By presenting the main arguments analytically [conclusion first] you create [...]