Presentations - How to Design Content

A.T. Gimbel
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April 10, 2018

We have all had to give presentations before. Some are internal to our teams/bosses, some are external to customers/investors, some are live in front of an audience. While some presentations are just informative, many presentations involve trying to “sell” ourselves, an idea, or a decision to be made. Your ultimate goal is to reach a decision that aligns the team on the path forward. Having given and received many of these presentations, I have learned a lot from the times I did not have a strong presentation as well as the times that the presentation went well. For this article we will focus on tips to design the right content; in a future article we will touch on tips to deliver that content effectively.


Know your audience

Before you begin preparing, make sure you know your audience. Who are they? What do they know/not know? How do they process information? What are their likely pushbacks? What is the setting for the meeting? Who is the decision maker? Thinking through these types of questions will help you better prepare your presentation. Imagine if you had a room full of finance people and your presentation had little numbers/analysis to support your decision. Or what if you were presenting to the CEO but had a 50 page presentation with no executive summary. Or you had a stand-up presentation to a 200 person audience but had 10 point font and word walls on your slides. Even for the same content, you might prepare different presentations for different audiences. Another simple way to ensure you know your audience is to circulate an agenda in advance to ensure you are aligned with what you are trying to accomplish.

Create the story

Another helpful strategy is don’t deliver just a presentation, but rather tell a story that is relatable and memorable. Think about the overall outline, the key points, and how the story connects throughout the presentation. A simple and effective presentation often starts with an executive summary centered on three key points, slides that support each of those main points, and then a summary/next steps at the end that reiterate the key points and path forward. Telling a story is often easier for an audience to grasp than a series of text slides.

Design the slides and transitions

Depending on the format of the presentation (i.e. live to audience vs. leave behind/posted), you might design your slides differently. Generally pictures are better than words. With pictures, people are more likely to remember a chart that shows sales spiking up or a graphic of a new logo than text that says the same thing. Less is often better than more. Most people do not like word walls on slides, and if you have them the audience will be reading the entire time instead of listening to you. Furthermore, an audience will only remember a few key points, so it is often better to just have those as the simple main points on the slide and you talk to any other details. Lastly, ensure your slides transition well from one to another and include some variety. Nobody likes to see the same monotonous format over and over.

Getting the content right is critical for any presentation, and doing that effectively is just Step 1. We will soon follow-on to this with methods to effectively deliver that great content you have created.

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