Presentations (the decks, at least) are something that most people do badly. It’s become a cliché of business life: “death by PowerPoint”; boring slides, too much text, too long. But what people generally mean is that the message wasn’t relevant to them, or that there was no clear argument.
Often a good presenter will be able to work around even the worst set of slides. But wouldn’t it be better if the slides supported the presenter?
Here are three simple ideas you can use to improve every deck you create.
Think content first, not minutes or slides
Clients come to us saying “can you create me a 30-slide deck?”, or “this presentation is too long — it’s 50 slides”. They’re hung up on the number, and they at least subconsciously associate reducing the slide count with making the presentation shorter. But the number of slides is actually irrelevant. There’s only one measure that matters: how much content you’ve got to cover in the time available.
If you’re explaining complex diagrams, 10 slides might fill an hour perfectly well. If you’re talking themes and ideas, you might flash up several slides in quick succession to illustrate your thoughts — and 75 slides in an hour wouldn’t be excessive. You might even make the presentation better by using more slides to cover the same ground in a more bite-size way. The problem comes when you’ve got 75 complex diagrams that are essential to your topic, but only an hour to cover them! Even if you cram two diagrams onto each slide, it’ll still take the same amount of time to explain.
So, when you’re writing a presentation, forget about the number of slides. Think about what you want to say, your core message. Then sketch out a structure. Only then decide what background is relevant and you have time to include. Then the slides will follow.
Remember, nobody ever complained about a presentation being too short.
Create presentations, not documents
If readers can follow your argument from start to finish just by reading the words on the slides, what do they need you for? Yet most people write their presentations as if they are Word documents with bullets and diagrams, chopped up into slides. It’s not surprising: it’s part of business culture that people send presentations around as standalone objects to read. It’s a hard habit to break.
Your slides and your talk track should work together, inseparably — you shouldn’t be reading out your slides, and your readers shouldn’t be distracted from what you’re saying by trying to read a load of 10-point text over your shoulder.
Keep your slides for:
- Big, interesting pictures that you can talk meaningfully about. Presentations should be visually interesting.
- Diagrams that illustrate relationships and processes. Slides can do a better job of showing than you can of telling.
- Structural elements, such as lists of ideas, that you’ll talk through and expand upon.
- Quotations, statistics and other high-impact points that will grab the attention and punctuate your patter.
- Navigation elements and signposts that will help the audience know where they are.
The detail always belongs in your notes, or in your head.
If you do want to give the audience something, think about compiling a separate written document with diagrams. It’ll be easier for your recipients to print and read, and you can focus on your presentation on doing just one job well.
Resist the temptation to “mine the archives”
Every seasoned marketer has folders full of old decks that were extremely successful in their time, and which took a lot of work to create. Why shouldn’t you go back and mine that rich seam of content when it comes to putting a new deck together?
But when you dig back through your old decks and start copying and pasting their diagrams, flowcharts, examples, illustrations and bulleted lists into your fresh new file, you’re not only adding length, you’re muddying the structure and flow of your fresh ideas. Unless you’re ruthless about asking “does this really belong here?” and “how do I modify this slide to fit what I need to say?” the temptation to copy and paste can ruin an otherwise good deck with repetition and confusing tangents.
We totally understand the temptation to borrow from previous decks that were well-received, especially when time is limited. And we’re not saying never reuse content; we’re all for updating your content and tailoring it for each event. What we’d advise against is cobbling together a first draft by copy and pasting slides from other decks. That’s a bit like choosing where you’re going to stop for breaks before you plan your route. Instead of a powerful presentation with a clear structure that gets direct to the point, you end up veering off to visit Leicester Forest East.
We know how daunting a blank piece of paper can be, but sketching out a rough structure first will pay off in greater impact. Keep it simple, focus on what action you want your audience to take after seeing you present. A handful of bulletpoints is enough.
Here’s the sales pitch
We’re great at structuring content and putting powerful decks together — that’s why clients call on us when they have an important keynote or seminar. We’ve also got the impartial viewpoint, business understanding and conviction to focus down on what your deck needs to say, even if that means making a clean break with the past. Why not try us out?