Recently, someone who noted the clarity of my presentation decks (thank you!) asked who creates them and what software is used.  Always seeking to kill two birds with one stone, I decided to blog my reply.  🙂

I create my own presentation decks.  I once worked exclusively in PowerPoint from a laptop, and now use Grafio and Keynote apps on my iPad.  I’ll probably be using something else in the future.  The software is irrelevant.  The clean, clear slides are the product of a good eye and a focused mind (thank you art school and years of entrepreneurial struggling).

Presentation software puts powerful (and largely unnecessary) tools in the hands of EVERYONE:  including folks who have no real education or experience in how to make their point.  At the very least, you must consider the purpose of your presentation and then distill your content through the filter of your intended audience.  No amount of templates or whiz-bang features will save you from yourself.

Here are the principles that I recommend and aspire to (admittedly, not always as successfully as I would like):

1) Determine the takeaway of your presentation.  What do you want the viewer to do?  This should be ONE THING ONLY, such as “buy your product” or “fund your project”.  Amazingly, many people (especially those in corporate environments) simply make presentations because they’re required to, without any real consideration of the deck’s purpose.

2) Craft the arc of your presentation, using The Rule of Three.  (Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis.  Act 1, Act 2, Act 3.  Setup, Expectation, Comedy.  “A… but then B… therefore C.”)  Some examples:

A) Your teeth are key to your appearance…
B) But hidden plaque can ruin your smile…
C) Therefore, you should use our toothpaste, which kills hidden plaque.

A) Watching movies is fun…
B) But a night out is expensive and returning rentals is a pain…
C) Therefore, you should subscribe to our online movie service.

3) Keep it simple.  Try to make your case in ten slides, or even SIX if you dare:  What?  Why?  Who?  How?  Where?  When?  (6 slides takes more thought than 60.)

For example:

WHAT?  We’re starting an immersive content venture.
WHY?  The boom in VR & AR hardware needs fuel in the form of content.
WHO?  A team of experienced entertainment creatives.
HOW?  In partnership with Studio X.
WHERE?  In China, which will soon be the world’s largest entertainment market.
WHEN?  Now.

4) Outline your presentation on paper.  Get six to ten 3×5 index cards.  With a Sharpie marker, tell the story of your presentation by writing ONE logline on each card (as in the example above).  Stick the index cards on the wall.  The loglines should be brief enough and large enough to read from 6 feet away.  Rearrange, add and discard cards as necessary.  (Added bonus:  you can do this work on the plane during takeoffs and landings.)

5) Put each line in large type at the top of a slide as a “headline”, in your presentation program of choice (it really doesn’t matter which one).  Choose a font that reads easily, and that is in character with your content and your audience.

6) Choose (or better yet, create) one strong, simple image or graphic for each slide.  Let the image dominate the slide as it would in the days of old-timey carousel transparencies.

7) Add supporting text points if you must, but no more than three per slide, and make sure the text reads from across the room when projected.  If you want to be a rock star, delete all text and deliver your presentation with images and graphics only.  I’ve done it many times.  🙂  You’ll give a better presentation (because you won’t be tempted to read your slides to the audience), and you’ll also have the latitude to adjust your content on the fly in response to the tenor of the room.  Here’s a great example from Ian Collins at Note & Point.

8) If you need to provide a “reader” deck as a leave-behind, create this as a separate version, or else put the “eye chart” slides in an appendix (and please don’t inflict them on the viewer during your presentation).  You may also elect to interleave the “newsy” slides with your “headline” slides, as in this deck on the Cannes Film Festival, walking through them if you’re running short, and skipping over them if your running long (which is the more likely scenario).

And there you have it.  This would have been an eight-slide presentation.  🙂

If you follow these principles, you’ll have a fair shot at crafting a deck which will induce your viewer to remember and consider your proposal… and hopefully act on it.  A compelling offering with clear presentation must still encounter an open mind to thrive.

On that note, those of you in conservative business environments should prepare for the possibility that your audience won’t take your presentation seriously if it does not hew to the turgid “eye charts” that your company culture may unconsciously (or consciously) encourage.  In that case, feel free to bend and break these principles as required, to keep your job.  😉

For the rest of you, always remember that your goal with each and every deck is INCEPTION:  the implantation of an idea into your viewer’s mind.


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