How to create a killer slideshow: use fewer words and slides

Posted: January 25, 2012 in content creation, Creating context, marketing, sales
Tags: , ,
Business Presentation

One of our security-software clients had us come in last week to help craft a pivotal presentation to one of their new customer’s blue-chip partners.  We ended the day with a killer deck of slides — and a reminder of what an effective pitch is and isn’t.

Fortunately, our client understood the principles of Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule: no more than 10 slides that support a 20-minute stand-up and utilize 30-point type from the Arial font (which studies repeatedly show is easiest on the eyes).

The secret to turning slide-ware into a weapon of mass persuasion?
  First, understand that a powerful pitch has power because it’s been well rehearsed. And there are no shortcuts.  Second, do not make the mistake of cramming the narrative of the presentation onto the slides. Because audiences read faster than they can listen, they’re skimming the screen while you’re talking. They are not listening what you’re telling them.  You get them to listen by keeping the focus on yourself and telling a good story that has a beginning, middle and end.  Here’s what we advise:

1. Internalize the psychographics or temperament of the audience. Who are you addressing and why are they interested in this topic?  What are their foremost concerns?  What kinds of appeals would be most compelling to them?  What data or evidence substantiates your position? Why would this resonate? What kinds of points can you make that would cause them to mentally applaud you and be persuaded that you have their interests and issues in mind?  That you are speaking their language and addressing their issues — that you are essentially one of them. Only when all this is clear and comprehensible are your ready to create content.

2. Clarify the purpose of the pitch and be clear on its objective.  Given the audience, what do you want from them? What idea do you need to convey? Hint: you want to arouse a discussion in which you can elaborate and clarify your leave-behind message. This is the real purpose of any presentation.  You want to extend the wrap-up section of the formal pitch, in which you told them what you told them, so you can launch into a useful conversation or Q&A where you can continue telling them. And presumably encourage their buy-in or support, while getting the skeptics to further consider.

3. Storyboard the pitch.  In no more than three or four general sections outlined on a whiteboard, in sequential blocks, outline the content that tells the story: an introduction that describes what they’re going to hear, a main section or two that lays out your points and presents substantiating facts and figures, and a concluding section that re-states and summarizes the salient points and substantiation.

4. Transcribe key takeaways of each storyboarded section or “chapter” onto the slides
, but in very brief, concise points that highlight the story you are telling.  When you present, do not merely recite the content on the slide.  Let the slide underscore your narrative. Use body language and tone of voice to emphasize key points (not animation).

5. Rehearse, dry-run, and rehearse again. And again.  Screen the pitch to a preview audience of devil’s advocates.  Insist on ruthlessness. Tweak your content and delivery. You will be rewarded by the end-result.  Everyone knows about Steve Jobs’ copious hours of rehearsal. This is how and why he sounded like he was speaking contemporaneously, coolly off-the-cuff. It was also mission-critical to his success as a communicator. Jobs was prepared. And as far as holding the attention of an audience, he’s a pretty good role model.

How do you prepare for presentations?  Was your last one as effective as it could have been?  If you could do it over, what changes would you make?

(A condensed version of this post appeared today in The Write Stuff, the blog I write for at Write Angle Inc. )


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