Avoid Death By PowerPoint – Create Slides That Don’t Suck

This article previously appeared in Forbes.

As a venture capitalist, I am asked to provide feedback on a fair number of PowerPoint and Keynote slide decks. I usually only have time to perform a cursory review. Even so, I find myself repeatedly making the same recommendations, which I have codified below.

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9 Steps To Better Slides

Presentation slides serve two primary purposes. One is to support a live presentation in which each slide is annotated verbally. The other is for the content to standalone, allowing a reader to effectively review the slides without the benefit of a speaker's insights. The relevancy of the following suggestions is dependent on the slide creator's underlying intentions.

Lead With Team - Establish credibility with your audience at the outset by graphically depicting you (and your team's) experiences by displaying organizational logos. For instance, I might show a logo of Computer Motion, GoToMeeting, Citrix, UC Santa Barbara and Rincon Venture Partners on my first slide as a means of depicting my past and current professional affiliations.

What's Your Story? - Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Your slides should do the same. If you are a startup seeking funding, convey your company's origins, your current status and your ideal exit. Presentations that meander without a story-telling structure are painful and ineffective for all parties. In this regard, Nancy Duarte's discussion of The Structure Of Great Talks is priceless.

Present Naked - Slides all too often become a presenter's crutch. Some of the best entrepreneurial pitches I have witnessed are those that involved no PowerPoint. Instead, the presenters told their story in a conversation manner, rather than via the typical monologue approach.

More Is Less - I recently had lunch with a friend who is a highly successful entertainment industry executive. We were talking about an upcoming conference when he declared, "I hate PowerPoint. I wish people would stop trying to show how powerful they are and just get to the point."

Have you ever sat through a business presentation and thought at the end, "Wow, I wish the speaker would keep talking." No one has. Most business talks are way too long. Avoid this common mistake by limiting your presentation to a maximum of a dozen slides, including your Intro and Thank You slides.

Exhibit Slides - Depending on the nature of your talk, there might be areas of discussion that are interesting, but do not fit within your dozen key slides. In order to adequately prepare for such sidebar discussions, place such slides at the back of your deck, after your Thank You slide. Know the order of these slides intimately so that you can quickly access the appropriate one(s), as needed.

Imagery Over Text - Text is boring. Too much of it and a portion of your audience will stop listening and start reading while the remaining folks will tune you out altogether. Keep in mind that images are more than photos; graphs, schematics, tables and charts are excellent ways to draw your listeners into your story.

If you, heaven forbid, had a heart attack in the middle of your talk and the audience was able to click through your slides on their own and fully understand them, your slides are too text heavy. Even slides intended to be augmented by a speaker's comments should only contain bullet-point phrases.

Slides Are Not Art - Compelling images are important, but ensure that your message is not overcome by design and production elements. Entertaining slides are effective, as long as they do not distract from your story.

Legal Footer - If any of the information contained in your slides is sensitive or proprietary, include a macro footer on each page noting, "Confidential - Do Not Distribute." You should also note your copyright ownership, depending on the nature of your content. If your slides are particularly sensitive, convert them to a PDF before distributing them.

Pretend You're A TEDster - Hundreds of instructive examples of effective PowerPoint and Keynote slides reside online. In particular, TED speakers make extremely effective use of presentation tools. When viewing a TEDTalk, notice how the speakers time the builds of their slides to accentuate their key points and craft a story that engages their audiences through the beginning, middle and end.

Despite conventional wisdom, it is not PowerPoint that sucks, its presenters who do not know how to use presentation tools that blow.

Follow my startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. I won't tweet you a PowerPoint deck that sucks or a photo of a killer burrito I am about to devour - just startup stuff.

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John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.


Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.





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