Or how you can learn to communicate better by keeping things simple
What is something common you can find in the phrases below:
- Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
- Veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered)
- Government of the people, by the people, for the people
- Location, location, Location
These are great examples of communicating powerful ideas using common themes of
- Limiting the key ideas to no more than three at a time
- Being concise and precise, therefore more likely to be read
- Being easy to process and remember
(See the list above is limited to three themes as well)
I originally started by writing code in the initial startup days. As the startup grew, I switched to mostly writing powerpoints and emails. I created my share of bad powerpoints as I learned to get better and also sat through hundreds of dreadful powerpoints from others.
Most of the powerpoints I have seen are bad because they
- Usually have too little context and background
- Try to pack too much in a few slides
- Have no strong finish
Let me try expanding on these three most common problems:
No context or background
Most people forget is there is a big information asymmetry between what is known by a few and what is known by many. This is especially true if you are creating a deck to explain something that you know perfectly well to a bunch of people who only usually have the foggiest idea of what you are talking about. Combine that with most situations where a deck is usually presented. It is to a group of people who are distracted, busy, waiting to speak next and who generally are not really paying attention.
The only chance your deck has a prayer of having impact is if the background and context is setup on slide 1 and it is clear and simple enough that it can be grasped by people who might not all be familiar with your domain of expertise.
Packing too much in each slide
How many presentations have you seen that looked like the above? Packed to gills with stats, numbers and eye-popping detail that would take a sane person about an hour to fully grok?
Madhan’s law of bad powerpoint is :
“The more senior the managers who attend, the more densely packed and unintelligible the slides become”
There are several reasons this happens:
- People assume more complex the slide, the more smarter you are
- People assume things are complex and therefore require complexity to explain
- People assume this is ‘best practice’ as most templates and other management presentations look this way
The way out of this madness is to make your slides powerful by simple and easy to follow. A simple rule of thumb is no more than 3 ideas per slide (ideally it should be only one). If you exclaim that your subject has many factors and it cannot be simply reduced to just three, I would argue that you can just pick the top three. Usually most things follow the Pareto Principle.
Here’s an example of a simple but powerful slide
Have no Strong Finish
The biggest final problem I see with most presentations is the lack of a strong takeaway.
When you finish up, the closing is what sticks in everyone’s mind and you need to make sure you leave them with a strong sense of what is happening, what is next or what is the action. Without that strong finish, almost all of the time spent on the deck just vanishes as nebulous vapor at the end.
Again, don’t end up listing 20 action items or summary list, you really need to limit yourself to (you guessed it) to a maximum of three things so that it has the maximum impact.
Here’s some additional notes on a perfect presentation
- Give yourself about 2 minutes per slide, which means that if you have 30 minutes, your deck will not have more than 15 slides at the max. Generally you will find that when you cross 10 slides people start getting losing attention.
- Become an expert in your subject and your presentation will become effortless.
- Only use visuals instead of text whenever possible. Here’s an example below
After reading through all these, if you have three things to takeaway to drastically improve your presentations:
- Keep your slides simple with one main idea (or a max of three) per slide
- Provide a start with strong context and background
- Finish strong and make sure your attendees walk away with the most important takeaways