Three Things About Your Slide Deck

Developing a solid slide deck is a challenge that I have blogged about previously.  It is a challenge I like:  for all that Powerpoint is criticized (by the likes of Edward Tufte), it is can be a powerful tool and distilling your message into a compact, visual and compelling form will help you think through how you communicate your offering immeasurably.

There is lots of advice out there about how to develop a compelling deck, from Guy Kawasaki’s 10, 20, 30 rule, to Pecha Kucha, which was started by Klein Dytham Architects in Tokyo in 2003 and has an almost cult-like following, to how work with technical presentations in Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen blog.   Additionally, Slide Rocket, recently purchased by Clearslide, has some great tutorials on how to think about slides.

Whether developing a pitch to investors, prospects or potential employees, I have found the following three items helpful to keep in mind when developing a slide deck.

Keep it Simple

You just cannot communicate that much information in a single slide show: your audience will only remember 3 – 5 ideas that you present.  How many times I have worked with eager CEOs who want to back 30 – 40 even 50 slides into a single deck?  Keep it below 20.   Simple means avoiding builds and animations, complex diagrams or charts and especially a lot of text.  Keep backgrounds simple – avoid all of Microsoft’s templates (see below) and Google’s if you are using Google Docs to create a presentation.  If you use Prezi watch that you don’t give your audience vertigo by swooping all over the place like a Cirque du Soleil performer.

Simple also means short; you should be able to make your pitch in 20 -30 minutes.  If you go over 45 minutes you are in serious trouble.  Challenge yourself by figuring out how to make your presentation in 15 minutes, boiling all but the essential out of your pitch.

Sometimes I will prepare two decks – one with a lot of detail (Text, charts, numbers) and another much simpler, more visual one.  I will pdf the former and circulate it after my presentation and use the latter for the presentation itself.

Tell a Story

There is a reason humans traditionally used the recitation of stories to pass on knowledge and not a list of cold hard facts: this is the way humans transmit and receive information most effectively.  So, framing your presentation as a story using a narrative framework will help you communicate effectively.

Developing a story is actually pretty easy.  Give your story a beginning, a middle and an end.  Ask yourself some simple questions:

  1. What is the problem I am addressing?
  2. How can I frame this in a way that my audience with understand, that will resonate with them?
  3. How does my offering address this?
  4. What benefits accrue to the user?
  5. How can I personalize this/connect it to my audience?
  6. How is my offering positioned in the market?

Your story can be quite workaday – you do not have to give a TED talk  every time you present.  Rather, calibrate your story and delivery to your audience.

Make it Visual

Slides are fundamentally a visual medium and should be treated as such.  So, to the extent you can, tell your story with pictures, with visual metaphors.  This can be a tricky; one man’s metaphor is another man’s cliche.  Most stock photos and clip art are are … well.. cliched.  I found the photo on the left when I googled “Businessperson.” (It was mostly a bunch of white guys).  Enough said.

Some of us are visual, some are not.  If you are not, get some help – you wouldn’t ask someone like me to write code, so don’t slap together a slide deck and expect it to impress if you don’t have an eye for how things look.

If you are using a Windows machine you have a handicap – Powerpoint’s standard templates are just plain ugly (When Microsoft designed templates for its Office productivity suite it must have purposely chosen templates that are cliched, difficult, dated and painful to look at.)  Apple’s Keynote is better here, although it can be a bit “precious” at times.

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