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Taking PowerPoint presentations from hell to heaven!

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I’ve said this before – people judge you based on your writing skills. Turns out they judge you based on your PowerPoint presentations as well! If you’ve ever sat through the PowerPoint presentation from hell (and we’ve all been there), then you’re going to love today’s guest blogger! Dave Paradi is a presentation expert who helps professionals and executives turn confusing, overloaded PowerPoint presentations into ones with a clear message, focused content, and effective visuals. And (fortunately for all of us) he’s my friend. Which is why he has very graciously agreed to author today’s instalment on the blog by asking (and answering) this key question: “When asking your staff to prepare slides for you, which type of leader are you?” And here is his response.

When it comes to requesting slides from their staff on different topics, I see two types of leaders in the work that I do with organizations: the typical leader and the top performing leader. Here are the differences. Think about where you are and what you can do in order to move from typical to top performing.

Requesting slides from staff

  • Typical leader: asks staff for a presentation on topic X
  • Top performing leader: Defines the goal of the presentation and the audience when making a request

By defining the starting point (the audience) and the ending point (the goal), the top performing leader gives their staff direction. What they get back is focused and less likely to need major changes in direction. It requires the leader to have thought through the goal and audience first, which most typical leaders do not take time to do.

Reviews

  • Typical leader: Reviews the slides and has plenty of changes. Goes through dozens of revisions, mostly to the content. Staff waste many hours creating slides that are never used.
  • Top performing leader: Reviews a text outline of the presentation content. Gives direction and finalizes content. Goes through a few revisions to slides.

By starting the reviews in text format first, the discussions about the content and what supporting information will be used on the slides is done without the effort of creating the slides. This saves hours of staff time and dozens of revisions.

Limits

  • Typical leader: Places slide limits on staff, i.e. “no more than five slides”. Gets back five overloaded, confusing slides.
  • Top performing leader: Asks for top insights of what to do next on a topic or issue. Gets back a few key actions that can be easily conveyed in slide format.

Limiting the number of slides is a poor way to focus staff on getting to the key nuggets the leader needs. It just causes them to cram 20 slides of information onto five slides. Top performing leaders ask for actionable insights instead. Those insights are the result of boiling down the analysis into next steps. The actions can then be communicated in slide format with relevant visuals.

Preparing for senior executive presentations

  • Typical leader: Spends hours redoing confusing slides from staff. Takes time away from family to do so.
  • Top performing leader: Gives staff the training they need to create effective slides that clearly communicate important messages. Quickly assembles slides into a presentation and spends the rest of the night or weekend with their family.

The impact of staff not creating effective presentations is felt most by the leader’s family. In a recent article, I showed how a typical leader spends more than two weeks each year revising slides. Time that they typically take after hours or on the weekend. Get that time back by giving your staff the skills to create the effective slides you need for senior executive presentations.

So what if you lean more towards being a typical rather than a top-performing leader? Here are three actions you can take right away:

  1. Think through the goal and audience for a presentation before you make a request to your staff. The more direction you give them up front, the less time you will spend in revisions later on.
  2. Commit to reviewing and deciding on the content before any slides are created. This will save hours of revisions.
  3. Train your staff on how to create effective slides that clearly communicate a message. This investment will pay off many times over in time saved for you and your staff.

So … have you had the misfortune of having to prepare PowerPoint slides for a typical leader? Or have you had to sit through the PowerPoint slide deck that is overloaded and confusing? Either way, please share your experiences. And if you have additional ideas on how not to die a slow painful death from PowerPoint, please let all of us know!

Dave Paradi has been recognized by the media and his clients as a presentation expert. He has authored eight books and four Kindle e-books on effective PowerPoint presentations and frequently is consulted on high-stakes presentations. Learn more about Dave at his website at www.thinkoutsidetheslide.com.

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