Evolution of a (killer) slide

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In a previous blog, I referenced the fact that PowerPoint is one of my tools of choice. To a consultant, it’s often the first and last thing that clients see when working with me. From pre-proposal decks during the initial sales stage to executive steering committee slides completed at the end of a 12 week project.  And when used well, PowerPoint has a powerful ability to merge basic text, insightful data and visually appealing graphics. But like any tool, it can definitely be overused…anyone sat through a 200 page slide show presentation before?

During a strategy project, we often spend hours working on slides that make up 90% of the deliverable, but it’s the other 10% that actually pay the bills. These are the killer slides; that name coming from the Dean of my graduate business school (Thanks Dean Bradford!). They are the key items that clients remember and serve as a calling card of sorts for that particular project.  I’m not saying the other slides are superfluous, because they often provide the depth or background for the killer slides. However, it’s the killer slides that make C level executives sit up and say “that’s what I am trying to say” or produce that “a ha” moment during a steering committee meeting. They’re insightful and complicated, yet intuitive and informative all at the same time.

  • The beginnings- I start with a blank slide or maybe with a reference slide from a previous work project, but what I’m really focused on is how to convey a thought to a particular audience. Many clients prefer simple slides with a lot of white space, while I typically stray to a heftier fill of content. Like I said, you must be aware of your audience. I often use a white board to brainstorm or call a colleague to spark thoughts. But at the beginning, I’m looking for something that captures my client’s interest visually and defines the problem, solution, etc. in a way that everyone can understand.  i.e., the page or slide stands alone. 
  • Refining what you have- Now comes the tough part. I’ve spent an hour or hours coming up with content to fill my supposed killer slide and I realize, it’s time to refocus. I got a little crazy with SmartArt and I loaded up the slide with content galore. Quotes, charts, tables, graphics clipped from Gartner. Whatever, it could be anything. This is a common occurrence with almost anyone who creates strategy decks or executive presentations. You want to throw everything and the kitchen sink into a great slide and you proceed down an ambitious path but end up on a tangent of content, charts, ancillary points that don’t really tie back to what the original plan intended.  So I try to reflect back…am I close to what I was saying? Has my point changed?…and if a piece doesn’t work or needs to be cut, I’m ruthless. It’s my content, and it’s sent to the boneyard.
  • The “so what” test- One of my colleagues would say, “Does it tie to the Pyramid? (that being a reference to Barbara Minto and her lovely book on writing) for determining if it’s a good slide. But a killer slide is beyond good. I think the best advice I ever received for creating killers slides was, “so what”?  Basically, does the killer slide really hit the mark. And for that I came up with my own simple rules
    1. What was the slide intended to say?
    2. Does it really tie back to that point? 
    3. Does it catch everyone’s attention? 
    4. Is there something in it that an executive/manager would use as his one page answer if someone asked “what is happening with XYZ?”
    5. And finally, does it look different that everything else in the deck in terms of design or presentation of information?

There’s no perfect killer slide or even presentation for that matter. And believe me, in some cases the slide template/format that my colleagues and I use at Thought Ensemble can overwhelm our clients with details. But what we’re always trying to build are those killer slides that endure. Sometimes they take numerous brainstorming sessions to create and others, well, they just fall out on to the paper. But in both cases, a killer slide should be the goal when creating high end executive presentations.