Structure an Effective PowerPoint Deck

PowerPoint is the tool marketers love to hate.  At least that’s what I hear at almost every conference, seminar, and workshop.  At a conference I attended this fall, the moderator of the two-day event declared it a “PowerPoint free zone.”  Within five minutes he called up the event agenda… on a PowerPoint chart… so much for a PpT free zone.

There is a lot of good information on-line about PowerPoint design principles.  Here’s a tip about how to structure a good PowerPoint chart deck.  Use the onion approach, build content layer-upon-layer.  This approach can be especially helpful when as a presenter you may not be in control of your time on the agenda.

Chart 1 Title Slide: Often thought of as a placeholder, this could be the most important chart in your deck.  Use it to own the topic.  If this is the only chart people see from your presentation, it should convey your organizations expertise and leadership.  It should include your name and contact information as the thought leader on the topic.  If presentations are made available following an event, the only chart from your presentation some people might see is the title slide.  Make it good, capture attention, and take ownership of the topic.

Chart 2 Presentation Summary: Skip the agenda and bio slide, make this chart the elevator pitch.  Everything the audience needs to know about your capabilities should be summarized on the second chart.  That doesn’t mean using 3 point font and cramming in dozens of lines of text.  All the rules of effective design still apply.  (Large font, limited words per line, etc.)  Use images and bold text.  Drive home a single take away message about: 1) Features or Background; 2) Benefits or Opportunities; and a 3) Call-to-Action.  I’ve been in meetings where the audience (usually a group of executives politicking for advantage) has interrupted the presenter who never got past the second chart.  Structure your talk so that if your time on the agenda is hijacked by others in the room, you can still deliver the central message.

Charts 3-5 Key Points: Expand on the three points from the second chart.  If time is running short, these three charts provide a bit more detail and can quickly highlight your most important take way messages.  If time is not an issue, they can serve as an overview for details to be discussed later in the presentation.

Charts 6-20 Main Talk: If as a presenter you’ve reached this point in your talk, time on the agenda is yours.  Use the remaining 15 charts in your presentation to finish your talk.  In most cases, 20 charts should be enough to cover your topic.  Remember, the charts are not your presentation, you are the presentation.  Charts serve to illustrate and reinforce your message.

Charts 21+ Supplemental: If your talk is very technical in nature you may want to have a collection of charts that provide a very detailed, deep dive on the topic.  These can be helpful if the presentation ends with a closing Q&A.  They can also be useful information if the chart deck is provided in PDF following the conclusion of your talk.

PowerPoint is only a tool.  In my workshop I have hammers, saws, wrenches, and a lot of tools I have no idea how to use.  I don’t hate my collection of hammers.  When I need to drive a nail a hammer works quite well.  When used correctly, it’s the right tool for the job.  It’s not much different with PowerPoint.


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