Your Slide Deck

I met with a serial entrepreneur recently to review how he was pitching a SaaS customer service solution.  This fellow has had some great successes, understands what it takes to build a business and sell a product but this was his first foray into the services space and he was having trouble getting traction with his prospects.  His Powerpoint slide deck communicated his passion and depth of knowledge but was dense (14 pt type, complex diagrams) and long (30+ slides) and didn’t seem to be knocking his audiences out.  In fact, he wasn’t sure that his audience was “getting” his message.

Slides have become the medium through which we raise money, pitch an idea, sell a product or service or educate an audience about our company.  A slide presentation is fundamentally theatrical, it is an audio visual event but the fact is that few of us have much grounding in the visual or dramatic arts.  We are amateurs.  But, as amateurs, we need to come off looking accomplished and professional.

The following are a few principals that, if you stick to them, can help you generate a solid slide presentation.

Keep it Simple

Use a simple structure (e.g. a. the problem; b. why this matters; c. what we do; c. how this helps; d. summary; e. call to action).  A really good slide deck is like a rich stock – reduced to its essence, deceptively simple, it actually embodies a lot of very complex flavors and interactions.  This is perhaps the biggest challenge with developing a presentation:  you have a complex product, you have a lot to say, there is so much that you want to impart to your audience

Tell a Story, Personalize

Audiences resonate when you tell a story (beginning, middle, end) that is tied to identifiable people, places or things.  “Over 10 MM people worldwide suffer from Apastasia” has less of a hook than: “I want to tell you about Phillip, who suffers from Apastasia.”

Keep it Visual

Slides are a visual media.  Avoid a lot of text or figures, use visual metaphors that you can address in your narrative.  This a little tricky as there is a fine line between the effective visual metaphor and a cliche.  Al Gore’s polar bears on melting ice cap speak volumes (whether accurately or not) about global warming.

Keep it Short

More than 15 slides and you will lose your audience.  You may have  additional back up slides ready to dispay for Q&A but, if y0u can’t get your story down to 10 -15 slides, you have a problem

Avoid Clip Art, Weird Transitions, Complex Backgrounds

You don’ t have to have access to Steve Job’s creative team to create a deck that is simple, uses classy visuals and avoids annoying slide transitions or backgrounds.

Never, Ever Read Your Slides

First, the slide shouldn’t have text on it that you can read but, in any event, you shouldn’t ever use your slides as cue cards.

Develop a Script, Work it, Then Throw it Away

You need a script, you want to stay on message very strictly but do so in a manner that is natural and relaxed.  Develop a script, rehearse it many, many times, thinking about cadence, rhythm, and then put the script aside.  Make the presentation knowing that you can ad lib (a little) if you need to.

Use Someone Else’s Method

There are innumberable resources available that you can use to help you plan a good slide presentation: Steve Jobs, Guy Kawasaki and Lawrence Lessig, have all developed powerful slide presenation techniques.  One word of caution – some techniques require that a visual creative spend many hours setting them up properly:  I am pretty sure that Al Gore had some help getting his slides ready for the inconvenient truth.  So pick a method that is manageable.

Now with my serial entrepreneur,  I suggested using his deck as a source for a much simpler, more visual, shorter presentation and using it in its entirety as a handout at his meetings.

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Comments

  1. Cannot tell you how many presentations I’ve endured with more than 30 slides that were .. sigh .. read from. Great post!

    Congrats on being freshly pressed to boot; well deserved. MJ

  2. It takes a lot of work to keep it simple!

  3. Great suggestions here — as a former college instructor of speech communication classes, I wholeheartedly concur.

    I would only add: If text is included, make sure it’s PROOFREAD. Thoroughly. For me, nothing is more distracting than a misspelled word. I know it’s shallow, but it inspires me to focus on it rather than the message.

  4. This is advice I will use in the future. Thanks for putting it out there and congrats on getting freshly pressed.

  5. Very good points! Thank you. If I may add one item…Know your audience and what they want to glean from your presentation. I will tuck your points away in my Remember to do file for the future.

  6. Great tips! Love the picture of the bears…so cute. -Great site

  7. In the interests of “keeping it simple,” here’s this little nugget: Slides suck. All of them.

  8. Yes, great information, but how can I fix my sweaty palms and blood red cheeks?!

  9. Hi, Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! I like this post. Especially the part where you explain that slide viewing should be like listening to a story. I think there’s so much emphasis on slide software and graphics — but most often the “personalizing” is completely omitted. And that’s what makes people remember what you said! When they can relate to it. Thanks for sharing.

  10. I have to create slide decks for work – but unfortunately it’s for a government funded agency and we have to follow a very dry, boring format. I love your suggestions, though!

  11. great ideas — will be using them when I need to make my next presentation!

    Blessings,

    Ava
    ]xox

  12. Nice article. Congrats for FP 🙂

  13. FinallyFast says:

    This is extremely helpful! I find that I am always over complicating something. Do you recommend giving hand outs of your slides? Or is it better to give out printed material that works with the slide show, but is not exactly the same?

    • I like to give out copies of the slides, sometimes with additional backup, after I have presented. I find if I give out the copies beforehand, it gives the audience one more thing to be distracted by.

  14. R.A. Stewart says:

    I’m a librarian, sometime author, and lifelong book-lover, and I’ve found it helpful to think of a slide presentation as analogous to an illustrated book or article.

    As for handouts, for a few years my state and national associations have been encouraging us to save paper by not pre-printing them, but posting our slides to the conference website for those who might be interested. For my last presentation, I added in the “Notes” area of each slide a fairly full summary of what I was talking about at that point, figuring that that would be more useful than just the slides if someone were consulting it later. Just as a personal preference, I usually mention when I start that my presentation will be posted, in hopes that the audience won’t feel quite as frantic about taking detailed notes.

    Just as not all books or articles need illustrations, not all presentations need slides. In the latest annual conference of my state professional association, I was gratified to see that several speakers recognized this and gave their talks the old-fashioned way.

    Incidentally, is that a close-up of a steam locomotive in the header? Very cool!

    • Good points all Mr. Stewart. Posting the slides is doubly good, it limits: 1. paper consumption; and 2. audience distraction. Old school presentions (i.e. those without slideware) are amazing when well done. I have a visual design background and so am partial to the power of a visual metaphor, but appreciate that it isn’t for everyone. The steam locomotive is from a free stock photo site – very high res so it shows. well.

  15. Your post follows your own advice; keep it simple, tell a story, keep it visual. Great job! Straight and to the point. Thanks for helping me focus.

  16. Good tips. Most slide presentations I attend are medical lectures, with slide after slide of tiny graphs that no one can possible decipher from across the room, and tables of research results of why drug X is superior to drug Y. I hope the next one I hear listens to your tips, but I doubt that will ever happen.

  17. Nice article!

  18. A well put post, Mr. Morgan. I must confess, reading your post made me pine for my old life (as former marketing & marcom professional) just a bit. You are spot on target. Would love to see a follow-up on presenting when time is not on your side. Often, I would have to present on topics the next day, with nothing prepared (usually due to poor planning on the client’s end). Thank you for sharing with us and congrats on being FP’d!

  19. great help

  20. That’s great advice. The speaker’s the presentation and the slides are a prop. Too often people seem to think it’s the other way around.

  21. เฟอร์นิเจอร์สำนักงาน, เครื่องเขียน says:

    You are right – I think it actually takes a huge amount of work to simplify things.

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