Reframing Slide Decks

This post was written by Hannah Morris, Director of Assessment & Advancement at The Latimer Group.

What is the point of slide decks? Some see them as colossal waste of time, a bizarre corporate obsession, a crutch. But many of us still see the value in this tool. We see how powerful it can be when wielded adeptly. And the key to doing this is in reframing its purpose.

Instead of looking at your decks as a repository for everything you want to say or all the details you want the audience to know, let’s think of it more simply.

Your slide deck is a tool to help your audience see your message.

When we look at it that way, every choice we make will be about how the audience will experience it, what they will need or want.

This framing will help us pare down overloaded slide decks where the extraneous information risks distracting the audience. It will also help us enhance slide decks that are so sparsely filled that they do not yet contain the essential information and thus, do not yet provide any great value.

So, what does the audience usually need to see?

They need to see the important statements. Make sure that your key points are visible within your slide deck. If possible, make them pop off the page or screen. There are many places where you can do this – with your header or subhead at the top, with a callout box or takeaway bar at the bottom, or with explanatory bullets in the middle. Keep word count down so the audience can take in the points quickly and easily.

They need to see the key numbers. If you are asking for an investment, include the total cost, and also the projected return on that investment. If you are proposing a solution to a problem your team has identified, quantify the pain of that problem. If possible, quantify the risk of inaction or delay to build a sense of urgency. Consider using color coding to add meaning to your numbers and bold to draw attention. Business case details need to be evident to convince an audience; don’t make them work to find what is at stake.

They need to see the right visuals. Especially if the audience doesn’t know what something looks like, include an image. This can anchor your message in their memory. If you have a complex issue, trend, or outcome that you want to describe, see if you can illustrate it with a chart. There are many types of charts to choose from, so focus on the one that tells the story in the simplest, clearest way.

They need to see relationships. Depending on your topic and message, you may need to provide a map of key locations, or a side-by-side of three potential options, or a reporting structure with proposed changes, or a current-future process study. The audience needs to see comparisons, connections, and timelines. Use your deck to help them connect the dots.

Once you have completed your deck, review it one final time “from their eyes”. Get into their perspective and ask yourself what will stand out to them. Always come back to the central question of: Does my audience need to see it: is it essential or extraneous? This can be the key differentiator between a document that supports the message and complements the speaker and one that detracts from the message and competes with the speaker.

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Hannah Morris

A book about change

The Latimer Corporation’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.