Viewing entries in
Story

Cutting the obvious out (or not)?

Cutting the obvious out (or not)?

Doctors know what causes a certain disease. Investors know that hardware margins are small. Social media experts are aware of the huge install base of Pokemon Go. Cable operators know that an onsite visit to a customer costs a fortune. Even this presentation designer has argued many times not to preach to the converted, it is better to spend time and slides on issues that are less clear cut or controversial.

I still believe this is true, but I would not go as far as completely eliminating the obvious point from your presentation. This will break the flow of your story. Also you miss out on the opportunity of using the same visual concept for both presenting the (obvious) problem and your (not so obvious) solution.

A place holder slide with a simple image or statistic is enough to remind the audience of the obvious in 20 seconds. 


Image from WikiPedia

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Against all the other options

Against all the other options

During a TED talk, most presenters have the luxury of bringing a totally new, surprising, inspiring story to an audience who cannot wait to hear it.

When you pitch a business initiative it is unlikely that it will come as a total shock or surprise to the audience, Investors have seen similar ideas before, potential customers have heard your competitor sales pitches, senior management heard you talk about this plan in last quarter's strategic planning presentation, market sizes look roughly the same as in yesterday's pitch, payback time is again around 6 months.

Why is your idea different than all the other ones out there?

 

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
The country update

The country update

I get many clients who are some kind of local distributor or agent in a country and are asked to present an update on their business to the global headquarters of the company. Most of these clients have some sort of standard presentation that they use in the local market:

  • First up: the history of the company
  • Then missions statements, organisation charts
  • Then examples of advertising and campaigns for the product

But think about the corporate headquarters, they are likely to see 150+ country presentations that look more or less the same. They hear 150+ company histories that are similar. They have seen many ads for their product. They probably have a computer system in which they can call p the sales results by country and compare them against last and year, and, more importantly, against other countries.

Here is another approach:

  • Keep the obvious stuff very short, here are our brands, here are the results.
  • Think in what way your country might be different than other markets (population concentration, market preference, local competitors) and discuss how you solved these specific challenges.
  • Use lots of photos that give a good visual impression of how your product is positioned in the local market.

Image from WikiPedia

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Cold emails

Cold emails

Now that I am a CEO of an Internet startup (www.slidemagic.com) my email address is slowly spreading in the databases of app developers, PR people, recruiters, marketing consultants, SEO firms etc. Although not in the same quantities, I start getting the type of pitch emails that venture capitalists, journalists, bloggers must be getting.

Most of these emails actually get through spam and other gmail filters. In some way or another, the recipient will look at them. Especially now that mobile devices enable you to kill dead time with gracing through your email field.

The majority of these emails get totally ignored. First of all because of basic hygiene that has been discussed in thousands of blog posts before: generic subject line, generic "hello there" greetings, spelling mistakes in names, etc.

But there is a bigger thing that turns me of: the way they are written.

  • Too generic. The sender has not bothered to check out what my app does, what stage my company is in, what sort of services I might need. Instead, it could have been highly personal and relevant (what features my app lacks, which LinkedIn contacts we have in common, etc.)
  • Too complete. The email tries to do a full pitch of the company and its services. As a results things sound bland. You will never land a contract with a cold email. Better is to write something very short, but intriguing. Something that does not cover everything you want to offer me, but makes me hit reply to find out more.
  • Specific links to specific information are missing. A portfolio to look at, apps that you designed, not just the root of your web site.

A pitch to me good be. Hey Jan, we had a look at your app SlideMagic.com and you have set yourself quite a challenge by taking on PowerPoint. Your app requires a lot of client-side Java script, and that is our specialty. Have a look at [app], [app], and [app], examples of client work we did. We have a few ideas on how to improve your app, do you want to discuss?

When pitching investors you can do something similar. Hello VC. I read your blog post of last week in which you expressed interest in drones. We are the first company that has a solution for that issue. We can explain later in more detail, but the crux of the idea is that we combine [z] and [u] to do [d]. As you know, nobody has made that happen. Do you want to find out more?


Art: Hendrick Avercamp, on the ice, 1610

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
10 slides in, and we have not made the big point yet

10 slides in, and we have not made the big point yet

Impatient audiences of senior management or investors often complain (rightfully so) that they have been listening for 10 minutes, 10 slides, and still the main point of the presentation has not been made. 

The common reaction to this feedback:

  • Shuffle slides around, and drop slides from the back of the presentation all the way upfront. The result: a broken story flow. The sequence of slides in the front does not make sense anymore, and the left over slides in the back don't connect together.
  • Cram a lot of content on the first 3 slides and call them "summary". The result: your audience never gets to see you beautiful, highly visual slides in the back, as you are fighting your way through the bullet points in the front.

What causes the delay?

  • Think about why it takes you so long to get to the point. Does the audience needs all that background? The company mission? The company history?
  • Think about what the audience means when they say "getting to the point"? Do they really want the full detail of your solution on the first page, or would simply telling your audience what you are about quickly be enough to calm them down and stop them from guessing?
  • Think about whether your existing summary is stuck in the middle: too long to serve as a real teaser for what is about to come, and too short to give the full detail of the pitch.
  • Are you taking too much time to present your slides? Uuuh, uuums. Side tangents. Details, exceptions, apologies for rounding errors, footnotes.
  • Are you going off script: you put up a slide, but take the story in a different direction ("let me give you some context first")
  • Do you spend too much time on the obvious: explanation of buzzwords ("let me explain what the sharing economy is", "look at this data about the stellar growth of mobile phone penetration").
  • Are you reading out all the elements of a slide one by one, but because someone else designed the slide for you, they don't really fit the way you want to tell the story. So after you are done reading, you tell the message the way you wanted it, effectively presenting each slide twice.

Keep your summary super short, it is more a teaser of what is about to come. Then tell the story at a pace you would use when explaining your idea to a friend, without slides at all. 


Image from WikiPedia

 

 

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Anticipating the next question

Anticipating the next question

We all understand that story telling is a better way to get an idea across than reading out bullet point after bullet point. Still, most presentations happen in a business context. And in business, people do not have the patience a movie audience has (15 versus 90 minutes).

One approach I use to plan a story flow for a business presentation is anticipating the next question of a smart audience. Each pitch, each situation, each industry, each vertical, each country, each type of meeting has their own sequence of questions:

  • What is it they actually do?
  • Will it work?
  • Why is this a big deal?
  • Why has this not been done before?
  • Can they pull it of?
  • Can people game the system?
  • Will anyone sign up for this?
  • What happens if Google enters the market tomorrow?
  • Can they make money?
  • Will people pay for this?
  • Can they sell it?
  • Are they focused enough?
  • How financially stable are these guys?
  • Do I like these people?
  • What is the accent?
  • When is lunch?
  • Do they have data to prove it?
  • Why did no one else invest?
  • Isn't this exactly the same as the idea I heard last week?
  • How can a 25 year old make this happen?
  • Can it scale?
  • Will the government agree to this?
  • What if a "Black Swan" event happens?
  • Why is she not answering my question?

Text book structures for business presentations follow a generic, logical sequence of questions. Your pitch might have to deviate from that.

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Convincing the centre

Convincing the centre

The presidential campaign is gearing up in the US, and opinion pages and social media posts are full of passionate declarations of support and/or disapproval of a specific candidate. Most of these are not going to convince people to change their mind though.  In most cases, the audience and the "presenter" probably agree already, they read the same newspaper, watch the same channel and are friends connected on social media.  

To make change, you need to convince the people that are doubters, the people in the centre. You don't do that by implying that supporters of the other side are not very smart or insulting them in other ways.

Think about the doubters, what it the final straw that might convince them to switch sides?


Image from WikiPedia

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Repetition = boredom

Repetition = boredom

In big presentation days with lots of decks you get the inevitable situation that some slides fit in multiple presentations. Some presenters double them up, and start presenting the slide (after the apology "you have seen/heard this before" as if it was the first time).

Don't. Repetition is boredom. Your audience can/will remember. You have 2 options:

  • A super short "taste" of what is about to come later. I.e., introduce what a certain company does briefly, without going into any detail or background. Do the full elaborate presentation the second time around with a quick reference to your earlier slide
  • Do the full presentation early on, and give a very small recap of the story later when it comes up the second time. One solution is to present a thumbnail screen shot of the original slide plus 2 bullet points (oops, yes I said it) of the key take aways of the slide.

 

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Storyfying financials

Storyfying financials

Most presentations have some sort of written summary on the first page. You often almost skip it when presenting live, but it can be important for an important that reads your slide deck at the computer rather than attending a live presentation.

The one thing that I find really hard to summarise are financials. Prose that goes like "sales were x, up y% compared to last quarter but z% versus the same quarter last year at a slightly higher operating margin of v%" makes me totally lose the picture.

Financial journalists fill pages of the Wall Street Journal with this type of texts. And they are upset that it is now possible for an automated bot to do this job: insert a financial table and out comes a perfectly written paragraph. (Robo journalism)

What do I do as a reader? I reconstruct the table back in my head. 

So what to do in a presentation? I recommend a super simple written summary on page 1 (sales were up, but profits down), and then a very crisp financial summary table on the next page. Round up numbers, and use colour coding to show what went up or down.


Image from WikiPedia

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
"Ooff, but we answered you already"

"Ooff, but we answered you already"

Often, when I start a presentation design project, I find that the real message of a pitch is buried.

  1. Buried under buzzwords and jargon that make the pitch sound the same as any other presentation out there
  2. Buried under "short cuts": this is a bigger problem. Over time, the company has developed an internal proprietary language where certain key terms summarise the entire concept behind the company. The insiders understand it perfectly, to an outsider it sounds meaningless.

As a result, I tend to get back to the same questions in a briefing meeting. "Why are you different again? What is the difference between your product and the one that company is offering?" My first version of a slide deck often contains deliberately blunt charts that force the client to react and correct a positioning that I think I understood (sort of).

Some people in the room fear that they hired the wrong presentation designer, who keeps on asking the same ignorant questions. Most of the time, I manage to convince them by the time my final product is delivered.


Image on Flickr by Nic McPhee

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Presentation design without the design

Presentation design without the design

Most business presentations can be done perfectly without sophisticated and complex visual concepts. That image of an elephant balancing on a ball, or a 3 dimensional constellation of rotating database cylinders might not be necessary to get your point across.

Instead focus on the non-design challenges:

  • Finding nice full page images that can introduce the problem you are trying to solve
  • Recutting, regrouping, re-wording the key problems and your solution in a very clear and crisp table
  • Deciding what are the key statistics and data you want to use to show that your solution works and that the company is having momentum
  • Organising the more "boring" facts about your product/company in some decent looking tables in the back of the deck (team, product offering, pipeline, terms, etc.)

Full page images, tables, and simple graphs, that's all  you need (and all you will find in my presentation app SlideMagic). Doing more complicated things is more risky:

  • A perfectly executed simple slide looks a lot better than an amateurish looking effort at something that is more than you can pull of.
  • You can hire an expensive graphics designer to do the concept for your, but her style will be dramatically different from the slides you want to add yourself to the deck last minute

Keep it simple, and do that really well.

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Presentations are short cuts

Presentations are short cuts

Many of a company's operational processes have become a lot more efficient over the past decades, partly with the help of automation and computers.

Above the factory floor, middle management of corporations gets more efficient as well. Computers take over routine tasks, and slide/dice data so it becomes easier to make decisions.

Human communication among decision makers is pretty inefficient. People are bad at formulating and selling their ideas. Presentations have helped though: they have replaced long-winded memos and forced people to get to the point faster. Visuals are easier to digest, and more importantly, it is faster to skip through useless pages of a presentation (PGDN, PGDN) than looking for "the meat" in a text document.

This realisation might help you with the design of your everyday presentations. It should look decent. It should get to the point. It should show interesting, unusual, unexpected facts and insights. You want to get to a decision, you are not aiming to publish a complete, scientific document.

Here is where my presentation app SlideMagic comes in, adding even more shortcuts to make corporate decision making more efficient, and less cumbersome, boring and time consuming.


Image from WikiPedia

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
The audio recording test

The audio recording test

Next time when you do a pitch in a 1-on-1 meeting record the audio (obviously ask your meeting guest). Back in the office, play it back with the slide presentation closed. Hit pause after every major point and scribble/sketch a quick chart you would use to make that point. When finished, compare your scribble with your slide deck and make the required changes.


Image on WikiPedia

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
"It takes too much time to get to the solution"

"It takes too much time to get to the solution"

Clients say they get this feedback after giving a pitch. The initial reaction to this would be:

  • Cut slides from the deck
  • Take the specifics out of your text, make it shorter and more high level
  • Combine multiple slides into one

The danger of this is that you end up with a few slides of highly generic and dense bullet points.  Remember:

  • Slide count does not equal time spent presenting them
  • Smacking someone with the solution in their face instantly takes away the opportunity to lead them by the hand in an interesting story that covers the problem you are trying to solve.
  • The best way to sell the solution is to sell the problem

Here is what I do:

  • Create a super short intro slide that explains the audience what you solve and what you do. So they can stop guessing about the point you are trying to get to.
  • Now, lead people through a sequence of visual slides that highlight the problem, slowing down sufficiently to make sure that the audience "feels" the issue. "Production cost is too high" is too generic. Why is it so expensive, and why could no one do it cheaper until today?
  • Then, present your solution and use the framework of the problem you set up in the previous section to mirror your product against markets that are out there in the market today

Image by David Felstead on Flickr

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Teach them how to think about you

Teach them how to think about you

This debate on the Fred Wilson blog whether you should look at Twitter in terms of monthly active users who log in, or (the much larger number of) people who view/get exposed to tweets is an important lesson in investor presentation design: sometimes you need to educate your audience how to think about you.

Investors like benchmarks that they can compare quickly across stocks, like features of car: EPS, CAC, churn, MAU, eye balls, beta, EV/EBITDA. If your company does not fit the traditional pattern you need to make sure your audience understands it.


Image from WikiPedia

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Clever categorisation

Clever categorisation

Categorisation is a key skill for presentation designers. Raw material usually consists of lists of bullet points: some are detailed, some are generic, some are important, others not, some overlap, sometimes lists are not complete.

Moving around these points, grouping, categorising them is an important part in the design process. Next is the decision what issues to tackle on what slides. Where can you condense, where do you need to break things up over multiple visuals.


Image from WikiPedia

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Too good to be true

Too good to be true

If this is the main message of your presentation, very few will believe you, unless you have a very credible explanation why you can offer a free lunch where others can't. "It is like magic" will not cut it. 


Image by Eva Peris

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Brief memo by Churchill on brevity

Brief memo by Churchill on brevity

Still relevant today:

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Quotes in presentations

Quotes in presentations

Most quotes in presentations do not add to the story:

  • Too long to read
  • Too many buzzwords and generic language
  • Given by a person nobody has ever heard of
  • Given by a person with a position that is not very impressive (junior analyst at unknown consulting company)
  • Give by a person who is very famous but has nothing to do with the subject (Ghandi)
  • Used too many times

What can you do better? Find the right person, and get them to say something specific, clear, and simple: "This solution saved the launch of product [x]!" 


UPDATE February 2018: I have added a new post about using quotes in PowerPoint to the blog

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Management vocabulary

Management vocabulary

This picture by Anouk Zwager has an interesting list of common management vocabulary in the Netherlands. Part of these words sound perfectly fine to an English speaking audience, but in a Dutch context, with many words in the Dutch language available it just does not feel right.

I will try to translate, some of them might not work:

  • To roll out
  • To make an areal approach
  • To hook up
  • To smack on something
  • To sound board (verb)
  • To hit a marker stick in the ground
  • "Bila" short for bilateral discussion
  • To benchmark
  • To level
  • To secure (like you do with a ship wreck)
  • Low hanging fruit
  • Quick wins
  • To scale up
  • To wrestle
  • To harmonize
  • To shoot at something
  • Commitment
  • To press ahead
  • To shoot on goal
  • To tick the box
  • To hit the gas
  • Hands on
  • To "further develop"
  • To crystallise
  • To adjust downwards
  • Out of the box
  • To "communicate further"
  • Pro-active

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.