Marketing, Investor relations, corporate communications, business development, everyone likes to have a say in the design of the next keynote address of the CEO at that important industry conference.

When the team "works" on a presentation, you usually get the following pattern:

  • Long meetings in a conference room, with a few people dialing in by phone (people who cannot see the slides), discussing the key messages on each slide
  • Long email exchanges without an organised discussion thread to log changes

Design by committee also does not work for presentations. Here is why it goes wrong:

  • In the end, you need to pick a consistent approach to the story. Mixing and matching parts of approach A and parts of approach B is not going to give you a "best of both worlds" result. The only way to get something consistent is to have one person write it.
  • A committee focuses on the slides, adding footnotes, changing headlines, shuffling the order. And while doing that, they feel like they are "programming" the verbatim of the CEO (who is not in the room). Wrong, in the end the CEO will pick his own story, sometimes despite the slides.
  • In a committee there is no one doing the real work, at the end of the meeting, the most junior person at the table probably gets tasked with "incorporate all comments into a new version and email it around by 9AM". That junior person might have dropped / not understood a few comments, and probably lacks the spine to push back against more senior executive in the company (who made a point that does not make sense).
  • You will for sure miss the contribution of introverts
  • The casual observer in a committee meeting often does not have the in-depth understanding of how the presentation is built, and what is written on which slide. As a result, noticing that important elements are missing, she will suggest to add comments, bubbles, and footnotes on random slides to make sure that the key messages are "at least written down somewhere".
  • Committees under time pressure like to give drastic input. After a 3 hour discussion: "oh yeah, the deck is too long, collapse 35 slides into 10", leaving the junior team member confused what to do.

A better approach:

  • Interview the CEO/the person who is actually going to give the talk
  • Get the committee together and "shake the tree" for all messages and issues that need to be included
  • Now, design the whole deck start to finish
  • Then ask input from the committee and be tough with accepting comments

Art: Claude Bernard and his pupils. Oil painting after Léon-Augus Wellcome

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