Presenters sweat over how many slides they should include in their deck. Nearly everyone compulsively creates more slides than they are going to need and then has to scramble to reduce the number. Rationalizations for this excess of creativity are many, including:
- I want to be sure that I have enough material to fill the allotted time.
- I want to make sure that I do not leave anything out that could be important to the audience.
- I want to “get everything out on the table” (and cover my derriere).
- I have a lot of interesting material and everybody is going to want me to really drill into it.
- I was going to edit it down later anyway. I just want to see all the slides and then pick the best ones.
- Everything else can go in the Appendix.
The slide problem
Being told to keep the number of slides to a minimum (always good advice) can cause anxiety unless you are also provided with a definition of “minimum.” Senior managers don’t want to micromanage the presentation so the directive is usually just “keep it simple.” But that does not mean everything is in fact simple. When you are presenting information that you know is complex, the keep-it-simple directive can be daunting. As Albert Einstein is reported to have said, “Keep it simple, but not too simple.”
We have an engineering problem. We need to compile a lot of functionality in the fewest lines of code onto the smallest footprint. This can result in presentations that are dense and frustrating for the audience to decode in real time. This is where the dread infographic usually makes its appearance and you find yourself explaining the presentation itself rather than the content of the presentation.
What slides do you really need?
It is always good to include images in your presentation. In fact many successful presentation decks include only images. I recommend eight image slides for any basic presentation. The first is a metaphor image, suggesting an imaginative way for your audience to envision, think about and relate to the problem you are about to address. Next are three proof slides. You need to prove that what you are saying is true and you need three proofs to win without argument. If a current system is failing, you need to provide three “photo journalism” images of the points of failure. For example, a NOC filled to capacity, a UI that looks like it’s from 1987, a poorly designed CE product. If you are advocating a replacement product, you need to illustrate three clear improvements. These realistic images reinforce the emotional decision you are asking the audience to make.
The remaining four slides are symbolic. These are the slides that frame the logical argument. If the decision to be reached is financial, these are the number slides: unit cost, budget, actuals and forecast. If the decision is to be based on product features then the four basic symbolic slides you need are:
1. The ecosystem that the technology will plug into: illustrate where and how the new solution will co-exist and contribute to the existing ecosystem. The graphic needs to highlight the new technology within the ecosystem – where it begins and where it ends – and how it connects to existing subsystems. I.e. show the audience where you want them to focus within the ecosystem when looking at the slide. Show not only the forest, but the specific glen and trees you want them to look for.
2. How the technology works: new functionality is often represented graphically by a black box in the ecosystem. It is important to describe visually what is happening within that black box. What functionality, processes, or algorithms are at work? It is important that all stakeholders understand exactly how the technology works so they share common expectations.
3. The app or the UI: how the users will confront and use the technology. This illustration needs to be friendly and inviting. You are symbolically demonstrating ease of use and showing how the UI can be customized and even personalized.
4. Test reports/analytics: define the data being captured. Illustrate how the data presentation is visually arresting, accessible, digestible, and easily exported to other systems. Level set stakeholder expectations with a mental image.
Each one of these slides should be related back to one or more of the proof slides, depicting the way in which your proposed solution ultimately addresses the three points of failure or supports the three virtuous features you showcased in the photo journalism proof slides. (You may need one additional financial slide to show how this technology solution is in budget if that is an open question.)
These are the four key slides your presentation needs. Eight images are better, but you can deliver a compelling presentation with no more than these four. Without these four slides you are leaving your audience unsatisfied and making it harder for them to support your initiative. With them, you can stop sweating and proceed with confidence.