Another House Analogy

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I recently worked with six executives from a large company who were preparing for their Investor Day. Each would give a 20-45 minute PowerPoint presentation to a live audience of about 100, with a simultaneous webcast.

All of the presenters received from their Investor Relations VP the same general outline of what to cover. Once they showed her a first draft, she gave them individual feedback. The CEO had his assistant write his entire presentation, a couple of others had their assistants help pull their notes together and the others wrote theirs themselves. Everyone’s speaker notes consisted of complete, and complex, sentences.

Presenters generated slides according to the outline given to them, and speaker notes were written to correspond with the slides. They did cover the desired areas and points, but slides had little relation to each other. There was no story or narrative to serve as the receptacle for the information presented. And each point was fleshed out in such detail, on both slides and in the speeches, that a listener might loose track of what was actually being discussed. All the presentations were written beautifully, but in a literary style that would sound completely unnatural when spoken, especially since most of the speakers initially planned to read from their notes.

Where to start? Our first mission for each presenter was to identify the story we wanted to tell, and the main message, or what I call the “point of view” (what we want the audience to believe when they leave the presentation.) All the required points and topics then had to be placed within the narrative. They had to make sense together, in a logical order, with appropriate transitions, and they all had to support the point of view. The points needed to be clearer, backed up by, rather than smothered by, the many details and intricacies of the topics at hand. And of course the information needed to be edited down so as not to include material extraneous to the main points.

Finally the speeches themselves needed to be simplified so they could be delivered naturally, rather than read in a stiff, formal manner. By the end, most presenters had reduced their text to bullet points or short phrases they could “pick up” from the monitor then speak to in a powerful yet conversational manner.

The slides also needed to be reworked to create visual representations of the main points – with less text — and to eliminate the extraneous details that did not directly support the points. Slides are an enhancement to the spoken word, so they needed to follow the speakers’  ideas, not vice versa.

I hope these speakers learned something about the presentation creation process from our work refining their presentations. Start with your point of view: the idea you most want them to believe about the matter at hand. Think of your narrative. What story are you trying to tell? Build your points, and later your slides, around the narrative. Fill in the details, the supporting information and the anecdotes after you have the outline for your presentation. In other words, design the house before you start construction, and start building from the base. It’s impossible to install a window or roofing without a solid structure to support them. The pretty yellow paint has to wait until the house is standing.

Until the next time…

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