Making a good PowerPoint comes down to a few very simple tenets. But like many simple things, it may require you to change your mindset and your process.
1. Start not in PowerPoint.
So you need to throw a deck together. DO NOT click that PowerPoint icon. Don’t do it! Instead, start in a Word doc, or a Google doc, or a notebook. Write out the goal of your presentation. Then write, as simply as possible, how you’re going to get there.
If you’re creating a sales presentation for a new line of cocktail mixers you’re selling to bars, your goal might be “get bar manager prospects to switch to our mixers.” Your “how I’ll get there” could look something like this:
• Establish the opportunity among millennial consumers (trends)
• Show that millennials prefer our cleaner cocktail options (new market research)
• Establish social proof (Ricky the bartender testimonial)
• Share flavors/sizes and innovative new packaging for easy measuring and pouring
• Offer free case to see how they like it (call to action)
If you’re pitching an idea internally—say, a new brand strategy—your goal might be to convince your leadership team that it’s the way to go. Your “how I’ll get there” bullet points might then be:
• Start with all the things we’re doing great
• Then go into what could be better (lagging retail sales)
• Identify the problem—not speaking to our core consumer
• Show brand strategy aimed at senior women
• Show example ad creative and new packaging
You can then do a second draft where you flesh out these bullet points with sub-bullets. Start high-level, without stats, jargon or technical matter; then get a little bit deeper from there and flesh out your outline with those details and support points. This will help you synthesize your thoughts and stop you from spending hours finding the sweet ShutterStock image to perfectly express your brilliant idea—before you can actually put into words what that idea is. It takes more time up front, but ultimately it saves a TON of time and leads to a much clearer and more persuasive presentation. Future you will thank you.
2. Tell your story in headlines.
Try this. Turn all your slide titles into the next line of your story, so that someone could read just the headlines in your PowerPoint and the story would make sense. So instead of starting with “Cocktail trends among millennial consumers,” my first slide would be headlined “There’s an untapped opportunity among health-conscious Millennials.” Followed by, perhaps, “They want flavorful cocktails without the calories.”
You don’t have to keep your headlines if they feel forced or overwrought. But the point of this exercise is to help you hone your narrative. You’ll likely find yourself presenting with more fluidity and confidence, not to mention issues with the flow of your content, or just alternatives for the order you’re presenting it in. And maybe you’ll even like those headlines.
3. Tell your audience what you want.
You’ve probably heard the “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them” bit at some point in your life. Yet rarely does this methodology get put into practice. When making a presentation—especially one that’s actually going to be presented—don’t fear repetition.
Don’t overestimate us. We’re all really just tired children. Just tell us what we need to remember and what we need to do next. Be excruciatingly clear. Explain up front just why you’re standing there taking up everyone’s time, and be sure to summarize with key points or takeaways with a clear call to action.
4. Choose an owner (and avoid death by a thousand contributor slides)
This may be awkward, but it’s for the best. Designate an owner for the deck and make this clear to everyone, sweetly but firmly—whether it’s you or someone else. The worst PowerPoints are the ones that have been “collaborated” to utter nonsense because Mary in marketing wanted her slides in and Pete in product wanted his and now you have a 180-slide deck that makes you want to chug a 10AM vodka soda before confronting its many flow charts.
Remember that outline you created not in PowerPoint? Let it be your north star to guide you home. Of course, you can change your outline at any time. You’re free to add things in and take things out. But the owner must retain control of the narrative. This also helps guide discussions about the deck when you get on the inevitable 14-person conference call. We can absolutely change the way we talk about product based on Pete’s input. But the point is that we’re revising a story (or refining an argument), not squabbling about slides.
5. Start with a story
This one applies more to when you’re actually presenting, in-person or virtually. The best presentations we’ve seen don’t start in the PowerPoint. They start with the speaker telling a story, before they even click past their title page.
“Hi everyone, I’m so-and-so from such-and-such. Thanks for having me today. I want to tell you about a revelation I had a few years ago. I was having friends over for dinner, and it was 20 minutes before they arrived, and I had a moment of panic…”
Ok, what happened? Why did you panic? What does this have to do with whatever you’re about to tell me about which is probably not dinner parties? I have to know, and so I have to listen.
This process can really be applied to any presentation: a sales deck, a new business pitch, an internal project, anything where you have a story to tell and a point to make. Stay tuned for part two, where we’ll share design-related tips to help you design a really non-sucky PowerPoint once you have your narrative down.