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?


How do you show bad news in PowerPoint?

February 15, 2012

Sometimes it’s necessary to tell your audience something that’s not so great. Most presenters really don’t want to be the Bad Guy, but it’s important that their audiences have all the facts about what’s going on, whether it’s an underperforming fund, a bad quarter, negative ratings, or flagging sales. If people don’t know what’s wrong, it’s hard to develop a plan to fix the problem.

But you don’t want the whole presentation to be a downer, so you need to temper the bad news with some good news:

“Yes, sales are down 4% this quarter, but we have hired a sales mentor who is working with our team to bring their numbers back up.”

“We received some negative feedback on Twitter about our widget, so we contacted every unsatisfied customer and fixed their problems.”

“Fund X did not perform to expectations, so we are diversifying our holdings.”

You should address bad news but you don’t have to lead with it. Here’s what I mean.

I recently met with a medical product client who showed me his “Pitch Deck,” the presentation he gives to venture capital firms and other groups when he seeks funding for his company. One slide showed a table that compared their company’s product against similar products being developed by two competitors. My client had a lot of great things going for him:

  • His company already had products in the marketplace
  • These products were making money
  • They had big-name partners

This product also had a slight problem: it causes a medical condition in 85% of its users.

The slide looked a bit like this (The data have been changed to protect proprietary information.):

Medical product slide before

I asked him about it, and he said that it is a common side effect for this kind of medication and that it is easily treated during outpatient surgery with great results. So the story he’s trying to tell is Great News, Great News, Great News, No Big Deal. But when I look at this table as a member of the audience might, I see this story: Great News, Great News, Great News, Slam-on-the-Brakes Major Problem!!!

While it’s important for investors to have all the facts, it’s crazy to present the data in a table that doesn’t stress the positive and provides any relief for the negative.

Here’s how I would redesign this slide:

Medical product slide: Great News!

This slide focuses on the positive by including a well-known partner logo, making the yearly profits stand out with large type, and showing the product name, which has been trademarked and is on the market. The first panel is green, which implies “go” and “cash,” and the competitors’ panels are drab by comparison. Look at how they lag behind! Who wouldn’t want to fund this guy?

But it would be unethical to withhold the bad news, so here it is:

Medica product bad news

Here, I’ve emphasized the fact that the side effect won’t kill patients and can be corrected fairly easily. The presenter would discuss the side effect and its treatment in greater detail when he’s in front of the audience.

Your Turn

Have you ever had to give bad news during a presentation? How did you do it and how was it received?

What is the number-one PowerPoint annoyance?

October 4, 2011

The history of the PBJ

If you think that a core dump and recitation of your entire store of knowledge on a particular subject makes for a captivating PowerPoint presentation, think again. According to a survey conducted by renowned PowerPoint expert Dave Paradi, a whopping 73.8% of the 603 respondents chose “The speaker read the slides to us” as the number-one most annoying thing that can happen at a presentation.

There’s a time and a place for reading things verbatim to an audience. As a matter of fact, I’ll be doing it all the time as a volunteer in my son’s Kindergarten classroom, where my audience will be learning to pair my vocalizations with those squiggly marks on the page. But when you do this to an audience of people who already know how to read, such as college students, seminar attendees, or the prospects you’re trying to win over, you are communicating very well. But you’re probably not sending the messages you think you are.

Here’s what you’re telling your audience by reading off of your slides during your presentation:

  1. I have no idea what I’m talking about. People will be able to tell if you’re doing a cold read off your slides, and they’ll conclude that you not only have no knowledge of your subject but you’re unprepared.
  2. I don’t value your time. In Galaxy Quest, a sci-fi comedy about a TV show much like Star Trek, Computer Officer Tawny Madison’s only job is to repeat what the computer says to the rest of the crew. At one point in the movie she yells that she knows her job is stupid, but it’s the only thing she does on the ship and she’s gonna keep on doing it. Similarly, if you aren’t improving the presentation experience then why are you in front of your audience? Why not save everyone’s time and just email the presentation to everybody? Oh, and by the way, create it in Word so at least you’ll have a little more control over formatting, page flow, and layout.
  3. I don’t have a compelling story. Some of the best presenters don’t use PowerPoint at all. (Yeah, I know: “GASP!”) But if you have a great story and are animated when you tell it, then you sure don’t need to read it to your audience. Memorize the fundamentals and then improvise each time you present, changing little details here and there but basically sticking to the script. Your knowledge and passion for the subject will stay with the audience a lot longer than ten bullet points per slide ever could.
  4. I need to use my deck as the handout. No you don’t. Your presentation is the teaser, the invitation to your audience to learn more. When they need more information, you can direct them to your Web site, send them documentation (professionally designed, of course), or schedule a one-on-one meeting.
  5. No, my boss said I have to use the deck as the handout. What, your boss hasn’t seen a TED talk? Ok, then put all your information into the Speaker Notes and distribute that. Then tell your boss to stop hassling you and let you do your job as a stunning presenter.

So stop reading and start communicating!

Read the interview with Dave Paradi on the Indezine blog to discover the other top four biggest PowerPoint annoyances.

“Oh, you didn’t know that?”

September 1, 2011

Closed sign on doorHow many times have you heard somebody say, “Oh, everybody knows that!” If you happen to belong to the lucky group that “knows that,” you may smile and nod sagely. But if you’re out of the loop it can make you feel foolish to hear these words. Something happened to me recently that clearly demonstrates that depending on one’s perspective, common knowledge isn’t always universal.

I brought my oldest son to an orthodontist appointment one Friday morning in July. We arrived early, but the office door was locked and all the lights were out. A sign on the door said that the office was closed for renovation and that the orthodontist would be seeing patients in one of two offices, each of which is about 20 minutes away from where we currently were.

I called the number on the sign to confirm that we had an appointment and the receptionist assured me that it was still on. “But I’m at your office and it says you’re closed.” “Oh, we’re never at that office on Fridays! The doctor always works out of this office on Fridays.” We were able to arrive at the other office only 15 minutes later than the original appointment time, so luckily we didn’t need to reschedule. But the experience was an excellent lesson about making assumptions.

The receptionist lives with the fact that she works out of a particular office on Fridays and a different office on other days — she has to change where she shows up to work from day to day. My son is a new patient and this was our second visit, the first having been several months earlier. I had no idea that there were any locations other than where we’d been before, and we’d had no contact from the office in that time.

Something similar happened to me earlier this year, when a salesperson from the auto dealership my family and I have been doing business with for six years casually mentioned the fact that they would be moving to a different town. Old hat to them, news to me! (Read about this exchange.)

How does all of this relate to PowerPoint? Well it shows that you can’t make assumptions about what your audience knows about the subject you’re presenting. An annual shareholder meeting is a perfect example; this audience convenes once a year, so the presenters must communicate all the developments that have occurred in that time. Even if your company has been working day and night to get Product X out the door, your clients probably don’t know about it, so you shouldn’t talk about it like it’s old news. It makes people feel neglected, not a good feeling to instill in one’s clients!

If you don’t know what your audience doesn’t know…ask. That’s how you can determine whether you need to explain things step by step or launch right into your subject. Don’t waste people’s time either by presenting confusing information or boring them with needless explanations. It’s like they say, never assume or you’ll make an ASS out of U and ME.

Photo credit: keyseeker from

The Principals of Copyright

August 31, 2011

You may have noticed a potential misuse of the word “principal” in the headline of this blog. But it was no accident: the subject of this blog is the new principal of my sons’ school. She gave a PowerPoint presentation that violated one of the main principles of the use of copyrighted images: you must pay for what you use.

The new principal was hosting a meet-and-greet to introduce herself and was telling us about her background. One of her slides detailed her hobbies, and looked something like this:

Bad PowerPoint slide

Apart from the fact that these images are tiny and therefore don’t communicate as well as they would if they were larger, they are clearly cut and pasted from a Web site, as indicated by the watermarks and the file information that appears below each one. I don’t think it made an impression on anybody else in the audience, but it made a profound one on me.

Photographers make money from the sale or licensing of their images. That’s why photo processing centers will not make duplicates of any photographs that bear the photographer’s or studio’s copyright mark, and it’s also why a portrait session with a professional photographer generally doesn’t cost a lot (they make their money by selling prints).

The Web has been both a blessing and a curse for photographers. On the one hand, it’s easy to get one’s work seen by a vast audience of potential clients. On the other hand, it’s incredibly easy to copy images from a Web site and paste it into whatever one wants. For free. And that amounts to stealing.

Photographers and royalty-free photo sellers such as iStockphoto, Getty Images, and Veer imprint all images with a watermark, usually a logo going right across the center of the image. It is supposed to prevent people from using images they haven’t purchased or licensed, but in this case it wasn’t enough of a deterrent.

While this instance of copyright infringement didn’t register with this group, imagine if someone did this in a corporate setting, say at a keynote presentation, annual sales meeting, or client pitch. The presenter would be demonstrating that:

  1. He didn’t pay for the artwork
  2. He doesn’t care if everybody knows it

Realistically, there is very little that photographers and their agents can do to prevent this type of copyright infringement. There are no Copyright Police who surreptitiously attend corporate meetings. You are not going to jail for snagging a picture from flickr and not correctly attributing it. And people typically are not going to report you for engaging in this practice. Legally, though, it is stealing. Ethically, stealing is wrong. By not paying for images we use in our presentations, we are saying that stealing is OK sometimes if nobody catches us doing it. Is that true?

You can be sure that I will be speaking with our new principal about copyright issues and the unconscious messages she’s sending so that she doesn’t make the same mistake again.

Get Your Facts Straight

June 20, 2011

Bad Middle East mapI’ll admit it, I was glued to the television for the premiere of Falling Skies, the latest series to tackle life in a post-apocalyptic world. I loved just about everything about it: the premise, the plot, the special effects. But one thing really bothered me, and that was the geographical inaccuracies. It made me think that a few wrong facts can really derail your message.

The story is set in Massachusetts six months after an alien invasion. The aliens have just bombed Boston, so the surviving humans must leave the city and fan out to the suburbs. While I congratulate the writers for using the actual names of Massachusetts towns, the dialogue contained many made-up facts.

The survivors are split up into several smaller groups, one of which is instructed to travel north on Route 3 until they reach Revere. Uh, Route 3 doesn’t go anywhere near Revere. Another group must go to Acton, meeting at the (nonexistent) Littleton Bridge before they reach their destination. Excuse me, Littleton is further west, so they’d actually travel through Acton to reach it. When they finally make camp in Acton, they dispatch some scouts to the (fictitious) Acton Armory and climb a hill with a commanding view of Boston (which, if you could actually see from Acton, would look much farther away than it does in the show).

It’s true that for the vast majority of viewers, these things didn’t matter at all. Everybody knows that Hollywood takes liberties and that it’s impossible to get all of the details exactly right. But the inconsistencies pulled me out of the story. And they would have been so easy to avoid if the screenwriters had just consulted a map.

What has all this got to do with presentations? Well, if your presentations include “facts” that you haven’t checked, or if you make claims or include information that is later proved to be inaccurate or false, you will lose credibility. People will ignore your message, preferring instead to wait for your next mistake. They might even let you get to the end of your presentation before telling you that you are wrong. Worse, they’ll say nothing to you but Tweet, blog, and email all their friends and colleagues about what a dope you are. Is that your message?

Make sure you have all your facts straight for every presentation. That one time you stretch the truth or include information you haven’t verified, there’s bound to be someone in the audience who’ll know you’re wrong.

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.

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