Most common “power-up”: Write a memo

What’s true but not obvious? 99.9% of slide decks are terrible.

I’ve been presenting decks for 15 years now (~ that’s approximately 10,000 hours of presentations).

One important thing that I’ve learned: it’s good slides (writing) drive action, bad slides slow things down. Instead of making decisions, people waste their time trying to understand.

Powerpoint is a decent tool to project slides on a big screen, but we miss one point.

Second most common “power-up”: Flip slide order

Bad slides are due to PowerPoint. It’s a ubiquitous tool thanks to Windows/Office. But here’s why I think the Powerpoint team missed a golden opportunity: they prioritized auto content, bullets, clipart & animations instead of enabling users to be better at decision making.

I’d like to share this choice quote about bullets from Richard Feynman:

Then we learned about “bullets”—little black circles in front of phrases that
were supposed to summarize things. There was one after another of these
little goddamn bullets in our briefing books and on slides. - Dr Richard P. Feynman, New York, 1988

Sentences are great. Concise sentences are better. That, all I know about good writing

My Process

I have a simple process for making slides: I use a spreadsheet where I write one idea per row to answer my list of the most important questions and I move the rows up and down to prioritize the message (tip: try removing extra words, particularly adjectives)

The concise sentences become the headline of each slide which when combined together form a storyline (a.k.a outline in Powerpoint). Like good writing, each headline should connect to the next one, like someone telling a story around a campfire.

1. Write storyline. Here is a sample storyline I made in Google Sheets

2. Get feedback. Test it out by asking someone to listen to your story.

3. Design draft slides — do it on paper.

4. Iterate. Improve the look & feel based on where people stop following or lose interest.

Visualization is the key skill, I stopped conflating it with slide development a few years into being an entrepreneur and it made my designs a lot better

A picture is worth a thousand words, otherwise press delete.

Now that you have a storyline and have drafted slides in place, here is how to make them even easier to understand:

Five things I’ve learned: Purpose, Frameworks, Structure, Vertical & Horizontal Logic and Process

Purpose. A deck is a product, it needs to solve a problem. Avoid adding slides + content just for the sake of slides. Less is more, as shown by Warren Buffet:

This version of Warren Buffett - The Reformed Broker

Frameworks. Thinking in frameworks helps people understand and get into details

Structure. There is no single best structure, the structure of your slide will of course depend on the content of your presentation. But here are three of my favorite power-ups when structuring decks:

  • Situation – Problem – Question – Answer (SPQA)
  • The rule of three – Thinking in threes seem to work well for me; keep in mind that the order by which you present your 3 most important points matters too because pointless bullets are the worst thing to happen to a presentation
  • One message per slide with a clear “so-what?” or delete slide. If there are two messages, there should be two slides. Too many slides are a simple dump of the author’s brain instead of actually presenting actionable insights.

Horizontal and Vertical Logic.

  1. With horizontal logic, your audience can just read the headline of each slide to get the whole story of what you want to communicate. One helpful tip for horizontal logic is to have an executive summary up front to give your audience an idea on what to expect from your presentation.
  1. Vertical logic is taking the headline, and making sure that everything in the slide pertains to it.

My Slide Development Journey

Here is a brief history of my slide development adventures, every year I make fewer presentations | Founder CEO – made decks for 5 years for VCs, Customers, Partners, Board & Team. Would know straight away when the slides+story didnt work. Moved to memos as default

Booz & Company | Senior Manager – our work product was mainly slides; made 10,000+ slides for big company CEOs, they didnt have time for BS. the best CEOs asked for memos

Ivey Business School | MBA – made lots of bad slides thinking they were good

Deloitte Consulting | Project Manager – built software & made visuals for executive decisions

Visualization is a super important skill, and is a must have for all storytellers. Just dont confuse it with powerpoint development.

If you have any questions, comments feel free to write below or via twitter DM.