I am the kind of presenter that people either love or hate. I have a lot of manic energy when I talk and that either rubs people the right way, because they love my enthusiasm, or the wrong way because they think I am a nut.
Regardless, I have now done hundreds of presentations in my life using Powerpoint and I have developed some strong feelings about the way that these presentations should be done. I am no expert on presentations, and there are some books out there by real experts that are better and more relevant, but there you go.
I have broken down my presentations into three types:
1) Deliverables – These presentations may be requirements documents, strategy documents, or other kinds of content where format “is not important”. Not surprisingly, I have a very strict format that I feel is the right way to do it when format it not important.
2) Sales Presentations – This kind of presentation explains a product or organization to a relatively small (20 or less) group of people. This is both persuasive and informative.
3) Conference Presentations – This is meant to entertain and educate potentially hundreds of people at a time.
I worked at Booz Allen Hamilton for a year and while there, I got to see a lot of systematic thinking about how presentations should be put together. Unfortunately, I felt like the only situation where the thinking they had done could be applied was this particular kind of presentation. A lot of this thinking was based on their best practices.
First, let’s talk about deck logic at a high level. You could build a story incrementally, slowly working the audience up to your big conclusion: “These are the features, these are the costs, these are the risks, this is the conclusion!” or you could tell people the conclusion up-front: “This is the conclusion, now we will break down why.”
Generally, the up-front approach is the way to go. There is a reason people flip through decks to get to the end while you are talking. This is what they want to know! Tell them early and you will have more control over the presentation. The only situations where you may want to go incrementally are:
- The conclusion is controversial
- The audience does not agree among themselves
- The process that led to the conclusion is just as important as the result
People love the incremental approach because it is more “story-like”, but remember, when you start telling stories, audiences start waiting for the plot twists and surprise endings – and no one wants a surprise in these kinds of presentations. Up-front approaches minimize surprise, making for a dull presentation but a happier audience.
Another best practice I took away is titling slides. Booz Allen had a standard: No longer than two lines, a complete sentence (without a period at the end), and should summarize the page. One thing every partner would do to check a presentation in development was to flip through it reading only the titles. If the presentation made sense, it was a good presentation. If it didn’t, then you knew where to work. If a title was only one line, then it could probably have more information added to it to make it more impactful. Let me give you a quick example:
- Widget X is better than its competitors in three ways
- Widget X is smaller, faster, and less expensive than its competitors
- Widget X is 25% smaller, 100% faster and 50% of the price of its nearest competitor.
That is a great slide title! Does that make the bullets on the page a little more boring? Yep. The goal is to reduce surprise.
A final note from a mistake I see frequently that makes me cringe: There should always be at least two bullets. If there is less, it should be combined with the top level.
Knowing going in that you are going to follow this standard prevents you from agonizing about how you are going to do it. A perfect example of methodology freeing us to focus on where we really need to be creative.
These presentations tend to be very verbose. Ideally, you should not even need to present them. They should stand by themselves. They are designed to act as a presentable replacement for Microsoft Word. To that extent, they probably require a table of contents slide and then a slide at each section break introducing the next chapter. This slide should be a version of the table of contents slide with the next section highlighted in some way. Yes, this means that the slide after the table of contents slide is a table of contents slide highlighted with the next section. The table of contents slide is to discuss the table of contents, the next slide is to introduce the first section. Standard is good!
Tomorrow I will talk about Sales Presentations and how they should be structured.