My PowerPoint decks have always been heavy on the bullets.
OK, really heavy.
But I tried something different this week for my presentation to a conference of graduate-school financial aid professionals. I was asked by the Access Group to talk about the impact of the new credit-card legislation on their students, and I certainly could have gone down the “heavy on the bullets” approach.
But I decided to go the other way. I outlined my presentation, wrote my speech, spent a lot of time thinking about how to illustrate my points without hiding behind bullets, and used iStockPhoto.com to find professional quality photos for my slides. I then created two pages of Speakers Notes, which I copied onto one page and passed out in lieu of a deck that wouldn’t mean much to someone who wasn’t in the room with us.
What did I learn?
- I spent more time thinking about the flow of my presentation and the audience’s experience than I ever had before. It finally started working when I decided on the “one thing” that I wanted them to leave with — Risk and Fear are the drivers of changes in the card industry and the new business model that issuers are creating.
- I spent coming up with stories to illustrate my points, It helped that I set up a format for my outline that included Headline, Graphic, Key Point, Supporting Data, and Story for each slide.
- My presentation was more memorable (i.e., sticky). People were smiling at some of the images I put up on the screen. For example, I used Kudzu (aka the plant that took over the Southeast) as the illustration for a slide about the unintended consequences that have arisen from the bill. It took me two sentences to make the connection, but it worked. Very few people smile at bullets.
- I probably swung the pendulum too far in terms of marrying the illustrations to charts and graphs. In retrospect, I could have easily added a few charts that would have made a few of the slides work even better.
- On the other hand, I had a section that outlined changes in credit lines, household card debt, account closures, and mail volume. Would have made a mind-numbing slide of bullets in the past. This time, I used a photo of a rollercoaster just before its first plunge and two 28-point boxes that showed open credit lines falling from $4.7 trillion to $3.4 trillion in just over a year. That approach enabled me to tell a story that used data rather than being driven by it.
- This approach also added a bit of serenity to my final preparations. I was changing my own personal Speaker Notes, rather than changing slides. I did make a last-minute decision to change the order of two slides to improve flow and help with transitions, but that was no big deal.
I know changing my approach will take time, but I got my feet wet on this one. I’m sharing it with a few friends to see what they think. There are some great resources out there to get you started — I’ve been reading Nick Morgan and Jan Schultink. You can’t go wrong with Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds, who has a Must Read book of the same title (and a new coming out soon) and a website. The link is to the website. Seth Godin put together a great site dedicated to becoming a really good graphic designer.
The most important benefit to this approach was how I felt as I entered the room. I had a strategy and I had a message. And I had confidence.