Egocentric PowerPoints fail the “WIIFM?” test

June 11, 2012

What's in it for me?The other day, a friend of mine wanted my advice on pricing the redesign of her client’s pitch deck, the initial presentation shown to a prospect to get hired. When I opened the presentation, my jaw literally dropped because it was an 11-page résumé in 16-point type sandwiched between a title slide and a closing slide. And the closing slide didn’t even have any contact information.

My friend’s client seems to believe something similar to the Field of Dreams maxim: “If you build it, they will come.” In his case it was “If I tell people how great my company is, they will hire us.” But this is a terrible approach.

When you focus entirely on your own qualifications, education, and achievements you’re not necessarily demonstrating your worth. Instead, you’re bombarding your audience with data about how great you are while ignoring issues they may be facing. The focus has to be on the audience and address the big question that’s on everyone’s mind: “What’s in it for me?”

In marketing we speak of “client pains” — problems the client has — and how to solve them. The best marketing addresses these pains directly (“Are you tired of paying too much for cable?” “Been in an accident?” “You could save over $475 on car insurance!”). It can be even more effective if you’re able to reveal pains the client didn’t know he had which could cause problems later on. By providing solutions to these pains, the savvy marketer positions himself as the only logical choice for the client.  Addressing and solving client pains is client-centric, not egocentric, which is what great marketing should be. What’s in it for me? You could save money, increase efficiency, live longer, be happier, lower your risk, etc. etc. etc.

To be fair, the client approached my friend because he recognized that his deck was unattractive. And as everybody knows, admitting you have a problem is the first step to overcoming it. But redesigning this deck would’ve been like putting lipstick on a pig because it was entirely presenter-focused.

What can help for this type of presentation when you’re trying to get someone to hire you based on your credentials?

  • Client testimonials: Ask satisfied clients to described how you helped them to save money, finish a task in record time, avoid red tape, etc. Would they rehire you? If so, quote them on it!
  • Highlight benefits of certifications: If you’re certified or trained in a particular specialty, how does that save your client money? Ensure the success of the project? Prevent rework?
  • Photos of completed projects: A picture speaks a thousand words.
  • Success stories: You don’t need full-blown case studies, just some anecdotes about how you helped your clients to solve their problems.
  • Relevant companies you’ve worked with: Focus on companies you’ve worked with that are similar to your audience’s.

Remember, the presentation is always about the audience, not about the presenter. Always focusing on the “What’s in it for me?” question will help you stay on track to create presentations that really mean something to your audience.

Your turn

Have you ever been to an egocentric presentation? What was it like? Have you ever delivered one?


Why you should never send your PowerPoint decks to people who ask for them

April 9, 2012

Sending PPT by email

How many times have people asked you to send them your deck, either after or (worse) instead of your presentation? On the surface it seems like an OK idea. It requires minimal effort and we don’t want to appear rude by saying no. And it’s a common enough request, so why not, right?

Don’t do it.

The minute you send your deck to someone you lose control of how they experience the presentation.

Presentations aren’t about the slides, it’s all about the presenter: how she’s dressed, the tone of her voice, the excitement she generates, her interaction with the audience. The deck is just a backdrop to the speaker, supporting key messages. Take away the presenter — the most important component of the presentation — and much of the impact is gone.

The presenter’s biggest job is to guide the audience through the story so that they arrive at the inevitable conclusion she wants them to reach. That’s why presenters use remotes to advance their slides, to control when information is revealed. When you send your deck to someone, all of that timing is lost and the viewer has a number of ways to display your slides, some of which are better than others. All of the suspense and big reveals get lost in the Slide Sorter view.

Animated slides can present problems, too. Complicated animation can make slides look really awful in any view but Slide Show. And viewers might breeze through the animation just to see the effects play out, rather than absorbing your message with the timing you provide during your live presentation.

As a good presentation designer you’re putting all your text and bullet points into the Speaker Notes, right? So if you send your presentation out, then the person who receives it has to know enough to look at the Speaker Notes to understand what’s going on. And if your slides have a minimalist look that you’ve spent a lot of time to achieve, it will all be ignored when the viewer decides it’s easier to simply read your notes.

Then there’s the fact that PowerPoint files are source documents which means that they are editable. What if someone decided to use your deck as the basis of one of their own?

Early in his speaking career, Brandon Dunlap of Brightfly, a Seattle-based computer security consultancy, was asked by the organizers of a conference to send them the PowerPoint file of his presentation. “I was just starting out, and I didn’t know any better, so I did it,” says Brandon. “Turns out the conference organizers put everyone’s presentations on USB sticks, which were given to all the attendees.”

The following year Brandon presented at the same conference. He was approached by one of the previous year’s attendees and was dumbstruck when that man told him, “I gotta thank you, man! I got your presentation at the last conference, and it was great! I’ve been using it all year, you know, spreading your message.”

“Now when people ask me to provide my deck I give them PDF files of the Slide View,” reports Brandon. “Since my decks are just a backdrop to what I’m saying, they don’t have a lot of text and bullet points. All that’s in the Speaker Notes, so my deck can’t be presented by anybody else and I maintain control of the message.”

All of this sounding good? Still want to send out your presentations?

When somebody asks you to send them your deck, what they’re really saying is, “I want to view your presentation when it’s convenient for me.” The good news is that there are several ways you can create a presentation that not only can be viewed anytime and anyplace, but which can be created in such a way that you control how your message is delivered. And isn’t that why we present in the first place?

Next: How to make your PowerPoint presentation mobile

Your turn

Have somebody ever asked you to send them a deck? If you did, did this act come back to haunt you later or did everything turn out all right?


Are you presenting for yourself or your audience?

May 31, 2011

Boring presenterMary Nell McCorquodale is a management consultant with decades of  experience presenting to savvy audiences, from C-level professionals to top brass in the US Military. As a young presenter, she learned very quickly that if you stick to your own agenda without finding out what your audience wants then it will be impossible to get your message across.

Early in her career, the company that Mary Nell was working for — a multinational technology and consulting firm — offered a weeklong training program for their clients. She was conducting a workshop on Day Three of the program, and was made aware of a major problem the minute she got started. It turns out that by the time they reached her session, the executives were pretty fed up. Their perception was that it the whole event was a rah-rah program for the host company, and they told her that if her session was going to be more of the same then they would leave. Suddenly, Mary Nell’s entire presentation as she had practiced it was worthless.

What would you have done, faced with a hostile audience that didn’t want to hear what you’d prepared? Well, rather than just pack up and leave, Mary Nell asked them to tell her exactly what they wanted to learn about her company’s products and what they hoped to get out of the session. She wrote everything down then called a recess so that she could retool her presentation to be able to address all of her audience’s concerns. When they returned, she delivered a very effective presentation with which her audience was extremely satisfied.

Over the years, she’s added another useful item to her presentation toolbox: the BLUF line. This acronym stands for Bottom Line Up Front, and it’s the way you tell your audience — within the first five minutes — how what you’re talking about will benefit them. It is also an opportunity to edit your presentation on the fly. For example, if the first half of your presentation is about how to bake a cake and you find out that you’re in front of a roomful of pastry chefs, if you deliver your BLUF line early on you will realize that you should skip that part. Otherwise you will bore your audience by telling them something they already know.

Reading a room and adapting on the fly isn’t easy, especially if you have prepared extensively for your presentation, but it gets easier with practice. Communication is a two-way street, so you must listen to your audience to make sure you’re sharing information that has value to them.


PowerPoint for Print? Sometimes!

March 21, 2011

PowerPoint bookLast week, I did some work for a client who wanted me to create an image library in PowerPoint. The person I was working with was appalled and would have preferred doing the job using InDesign. While it’s true that InDesign would have yielded professional results, this time it wasn’t the right tool for the job. Neither was Microsoft Word, which would be the logical choice for creating a printable document that a client could edit.

This client is a housewares retailer that has hundreds of product lines, each with its own individual package design. They needed a catalog of images so that each marketing manager could tell at a glance what products they were overseeing this year. In some cases, the images supplied might need to be changed later on. Most importantly, the client needed to be able to make changes when the need arose.

Strangely enough, PowerPoint is very well suited to this kind of job. Unlike Word, which creates kind of a “scroll” document, PowerPoint creates individual slides or, in this case, pages. While it’s possible to rearrange pages in Word, it’s not as easily done as in PowerPoint’s Outline or Slide Sorter. What’s more, with the Normal View’s split screen, when you click on a title in the outline view on the left side of the window, the slide pops up on the right side, showing you what’s on it. This combination of text- and image-based navigation makes it easy for somebody who isn’t a publication designer to rearrange or add pages.

Speaking of adding pages, have you ever tried to add pages into a Word document? It’s not easy. But with PowerPoint it’s as simple as dragging a slide from one presentation to the next. True, there may be some reformatting involved, but it’s not that difficult.

The handling of graphics is easier in PowerPoint in some ways, too. PowerPoint backgrounds can be set to appear on all slides, or you can hide the background elements when you want so that you can include other graphics. Again, it’s not impossible to create different backgrounds for each page in a Word document, but doing so requires that you create a new section for each new background. It’s a big drag and not for the faint of heart.

This isn’t the first time I’ve used presentation software for page layout. Years ago, I worked in an office where we used Aldus Persuasion for page layout. It was selected for the reasons I’ve mentioned, plus at the time its drawing tools were superior to those of Word. When Persuasion was bought by and subsequently discontinued by Adobe, all of the office’s documents were converted into PowerPoint.

For this most recent project, the biggest factor in choosing which layout software to use was simple: it’s what the client asked for. Now, usually I wouldn’t cite this as my main motivator because clients typically hire me because they don’t know exactly what they want. They turn to me to provide alternate solutions to their problems that they may not have thought about. But the reasons in this case were very clear:

  • These files are for internal use only, to be printed out on an office printer when needed.
  • The files needed to be editable by everybody using familiar software.
  • It’s cheaper and faster for the client to do their own edits.

So, heck yeah! PowerPoint can — in some instances — be an effective tool for page layout. But don’t tell any other graphic designers I said so; they’d drum me out of the corps!


How do you communicate?

February 9, 2011

Communication imageAbout a month ago, I submitted a proposal for a fairly small job to a new potential client. A couple of weeks went by, then he emailed me requesting a meeting. Believing that I had outlined my role in the project very specifically in the proposal, I wasn’t keen on attending a second, unpaid project meeting. So I replied to his email, asking if his question was something we could discuss on the phone. A couple of days later he responded, again requesting a meeting but this time letting me know that a colleague of his would also be there. Again, I asked if this was something that could be handled in a phone call, and once again a couple of days went by before he sent another email asking for a meeting. Well, I was getting pretty annoyed, so I asked him if there was a time in the evening I could call (ordinarily I don’t like making business calls at night, but I figured it was the best time to get ahold of him). He agreed on a time, and we finally spoke the next day.

It turns out that he had some useful information for the project. After we spoke about it, we agreed that I really wasn’t needed at the meeting and could just be told the details afterwards.

When I hung up, I realized that each person has a communication style he is most comfortable with. For me, an email’s as good as gold. But for some people, a conversation is the best way to conduct business. Although he could’ve emailed me all of the new details about the project, the client was much more comfortable (and comforted) by a phone call.

It reminded me of something that happened with another client for whom I’ve been doing essentially the same annual project for the past six years. Last year some new people were involved, and they really wanted to meet me face-to-face. It wasn’t important to them that their company and mine had a years-long relationship. So in the middle of a snowstorm I drove 50 miles to see them. After the initial round of handshakes with the new people who were involved with the project, I was left to sit at the corner of the conference table while they continued their conversation. After about an hour, I was told I could leave. Then it was 50 miles back in the snow. Later, the woman I’d been working with for the past six years told me that the new people thought the meeting went very well and they were satisfied that I could help them with the project.

In this day and age where we are increasingly using electronic forms of communication —texting, Facebook, Twitter, and email — as our primary way of keeping in touch, it’s easy to forget that some business is still done with a handshake and that often the best way to cut through the clutter is to actually talk with someone.


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