Mapping your PowerPoint slides

Mapping your PowerPoint slides

In the last blog entry, we shared 3 steps to build your PowerPoint story. With your story written out in paragraph form, you can start mapping your slides.

This step doesn’t require PowerPoint – map your slides with pen and paper, with a word processor, or with a notes application on your phone. You can complete this step while riding a cab, on the plane once your laptop has died, or at your office desk.

Write Action Titles

Each paragraph of your story should correspond to a slide and the first sentence of the paragraph, which consists of your primary point, maps to the title of the slide. These are called Action Titles as they they alone can clearly tell your story and make it easy for the reader to quickly discern your primary points and insights.

Action Titles are far more effective than descriptive titles which provide little information:

  • Action: Price and brand recognition are our customers’ primary purchase decision criteria
  • Descriptive: Customer decision criteria over the last 5 years
  • Action: 70% of widget growth is driven by demand from manufacturing automation
  • Descriptive: Widget sales by customer segment from 2009-2016
  • Action: Our market share has dropped 5% as we have been challenged by new entrants
  • Descriptive: Market share analysis

From a visual standpoint slide tiles should be located in the same position and typically written in a larger font than any other text on the slide. Slide titles should not have a hanging or widow word – a single word that doesn’t fit on the first line and is placed alone on the second line. Either shorten your title or increase its length so that more than one word appears on the second line. Alternatively, adjusting the line break position may be an option. Hanging words are considered poor typography because they leave too much white space. In addition, concise slide titles that fit on one or two lines are more impactful as they are easier to grasp and understand.

Sketch out your slides

You should now have blank slides with completed titles. For each slide, quickly sketch out how you’d like the slide to look. Use a combination, of charts, visuals, and text boxes that will best support your title or assertion and can capture the remaining portion of the corresponding paragraph from your story.

Experience helps when sketching slides as the more slides you’ve read the more visualizations you can pull from. To jump start this process you can complete the following exercises:

Put the presentation frame in place

With the bulk of presentation in shape, step back and review your objective (as we’ve previously discussed). Does your presentation need an executive summary, conclusion, or next steps slide to frame the story?

An executive summary typically follows the title slide and provides a complete overview of the presentation. A well written presentation story can quickly be adapted into an executive summary. As a starting point you can use your slide titles from the body of the presentation (or first sentence from each paragraph of your story) to form a rough executive summary. The conclusion slide provides an opportunity to provide a summary, state any overall insights, and pull the presentation toward the final objective. And the next steps slide helps align a small audience on their tasks prior to the next meeting

Consider breaking long presentations into chapters and placing a rolling agenda – a slide that is repeated with the new agenda item highlighted each time. The agenda reminds the audience how the section fits within the broader story. Or if some slides are not critical to the story, create an appendix or back-up section. An appendix can contain extra analyses or research that may answer audience questions.

Writing your PowerPoint presentation story

Writing your PowerPoint presentation story

Before diving into the slide manufacturing process, it pays dividends to step back and map your story. This 3 step process involves determining your objective, understanding your audience’s perspective, and crafting your story to ensure you have a clear, comprehensive and concise presentation.

Determine the objective of the presentation

To start, write down the single primary objective of your presentation.  Some potential examples are:

  • Teach the audience to use a social app
  • Convince the audience to switch from bleached to whole wheat bread
  • Motivate perspective customers to buy your widget
  • Obtain funding for a drone research proposal

Focus on the objective of the current presentation. While your ultimate goal might be to close a sales deal, your current objective might simply be to engage the audience and schedule follow up meeting.

If you have multiple objectives, determine if one is more important than the other. In general, communicating several objectives at the same time risks the chance of confusing your audience or losing their focus.

Your objective guides the construction of your presentation – every slide, visual, and bullet should serve your objective. All other content likely distracts and should probably be removed.

Put yourself in your audiences’ shoes

While the objective defines the end goal of the presentation, understanding your audience’s perspective tells you where to start and what path to take:

  • Is your audience familiar with the content?
  • Are they friendly or hostile?
  • What does your audience want to get out of the meeting/presentation?

With the audience in mind you can compile a list of the content pieces required to achieve your objective. For example, new members not familiar with your work will require additional context and background information. In addition, you can choose a tone that will best engage the audience. If the group is a little hostile, soften the language around big statements:

  • Instead of saying “Adwords will double your revenue”, say “Adwords has shown to double the revenue of companies similar to yours” or “Adwords will likely double your revenue”

Craft your story by first writing it out

With your objective and audience in mind, write out your presentation story. Applying a story format gives you the opportunity to build a more compelling message that your audience will remember. You can write it in paragraph form where each paragraph represents one point. The first sentence states your point and the following sentences support it. For example:

Company X is the market leader in the widget industry with $300M in annual sales. Globally, X has a 35% market share and a near monopoly in Europe. Their widget paint product represents 80% of their business and is growing at a healthy 10% CAGR.

The story also acts as an initial draft of your delivery script.

As you write your story consider how your audience will react to it. Are your messages inline with their thinking or provocative? Typically, strong stories follow an ‘answer-first’ approach where the presentation starts with the key take-away message and follows up with the rationale. However, for provocative messages, consider an ‘answer-last’ approach where you first share the underlying facts before delivering the hard take-away message.