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Archive for November, 2009


Types of PowerPoint Presentations – Part 3: Conference Presentations

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Woo, boy.  You are a presenting machine now.  It will not be long before someone asks you to present at a conference.

Let me preface this with the fact that I am assuming you are not being asked to explain how you cured cancer to one hundred cancer scientists.  Or “black-hat secrets of SEO” for the top one hundred SEO geeks on earth.  I assume those presentations will consist largely of dense gibberish on a page.  I am assuming instead that you have been asked to give a broader discussion to a more generalized audience.    Even in the above situations, one should seriously consider using the approach I describe below.

I don’t know how many of my readers have read Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm”.  If you haven’t, go read it!  It is considered one of the seminal books on how to start companies and has core ideas there that will be critical to your thinking in the future.  One thing he talks about is how, as a company goes through various stages of its lifecycle, the way you manage the business changes.

The same is true of presentations.  When you are called on to do a conference presentation, it is a completely different kind of animal from all the rest of your presentations.  In fact, a good conference presentation requires you break the rules.  Here, people want a memorable story.  People want twists and turns.  People want the UNEXPECTED.  If you bite the head off a bat on stage, they will pay more attention to you than they have paid to any other speaker all day.  Think about it.

Your average conference presentation bores to tears.  To have a great presentation, the most important thing, in my opinion, is to entertain.  If you entertain, you have the chance to educate.  If you bore, you cannot possibly educate.  With that in mind, here are the new rules:

  • Slides should not have more than 6 words on them.
  • Slides should be dominated by an image that explains the point.

Here is a presentation I did for Ignite Baltimore.  Remember the Ignite rules, these slides are auto-advancing every 15 seconds.

No lie, many people thought it was the best presentation of the evening.

Flickr is a great place to find graphics for these kinds of presentations.

Types of PowerPoint Presentations – Part 2: Sales Presentations

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Yesterday I talked about how I develop Deliverables in Powerpoint.  Today we will talk about how I develop Sales Presentations.  These are slides for a smaller audience (20 or less people) where I am trying to persuade and educate them.

The key thing I think about when I am building these presentations is that the real person I am trying to sell is probably not in the room.  I am trying to give concepts to people that they can take back to their boss or talk about with their teams.

The same title logic I discussed with Deliverables, I typically carry through to here, but there are a few extra nuances that I apply:

  • Larry Weinbach, the former CEO of Anderson Consulting and Unisys, once told me, “in a sales presentation, the potential customer can only remember about three things, so what are yours?”  A great comment that stuck with me.  Before you start writing your deck, you should figure out what the three things you actually want them to remember are.  Then, as you build your deck, remember that those are the only things they will actually remember.  You will find that this actually has a lot of impact on the deck construction.
  • Pictures are really important.

Let’s talk about pictures.  Pictures of smiling, multi-cultural people shaking hands and looking at laptops and being productive are probably good.  Someone smarter than I can comment on that, because I have not tested it, but what I really think about is a picture describing what I am talking about.  Typically the three things I pick when I am focusing my presentation are complex, so I need to have a simple way to describe each one, otherwise, my first thing will end up being 10 different things they have to remember.  That is a fail.  If you are looking for a simple way to describe something complex, it can be helpful to remember that a picture is worth a thousand words.  So a good picture does wonders.

My approach when trying to define the picture is that it has to be articulated in such a way that if someone in the room wants to sketch it later for their boss or team, they can do it justice.  It can’t be some crazy network stack or some insanely complex diagram.  It has to be something simple, like a triangle, or a few interlocking bubbles, or something like that.  A great way to start is to draw it by hand – because that is what they will be doing.  You can have a designer add some sex appeal to your graphic later, but remember, the utility of the graphic is that it is so simple and easy for someone to capture in their mind that after you show them the graphic and explain it, they can run back to their bosses office and draw the exact same thing on his/her whiteboard and explain it the exact same way.  This ability to explain one of your key points is a core concept I try to accomplish in a sales presentation.

While the Deliverable presentation was incredibly verbose, this presentation is less wordy.  It is still complete sentences and at least two bullets everywhere, but you don’t have to put it all in there because this is not designed to be documentation.  Deliverables are reference material.  This is persuasive.  The voice track that walks someone through the pictures is critical.  If you can explain it well on the slides, so much the better, because different people learn differently, but the key focus is on your few critical pictures that drive your three points home.

Tomorrow we will do Part 3 – Presentations for Conferences.

Types of PowerPoint Presentations – Part 1: Deliverables

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

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.

Less PR, More Flame Wars

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

graphBack in the day, newsworthy meant people did something and then they told people about it and from that, press sprang forth.

Today, in a world of navel-gazing bloggers and social media pundits, the key to becoming newsworthy is to enrage these bloggers and pundits enough to become worthy of being punned and blogged.  Voila, instant news manufacturing.

If Microsoft needs to activate the community, all they need to do is call John Gruber and say, “Windows will always pwn Macs” and they have instant articles being generated about whether that is true.  From the initial flame by Gruber to retaliatory responses and back and forth, the media consumes it.

A perfect case study is, a sweet product a buddy of mine built for turning Windows 7 boxes into Wi-fi hot spots.  Rather than a traditional press release, he wrote a story for slashdot that implied that Windows 7 was pretty sweet because his product was available.  It quickly became one of the most popular articles on Slashdot, not because it was about his product, but because people on Slashdot love to talk about whether Windows sucks or not and here was another custom-built forum.  The copy was written perfectly to activate and coalesce opinions on both sides and generate the buzz products need.  This news generation by creating reactions is part and parcel of the new medium.

This is also another example of an old axiom: No one cares about your start-up, so figure out how to relate your start-up to the big companies that people actually do care about and create a story from that.