Over the years, I have developed an approach for building content for presentations where a PowerPoint or Google Slides deck is required. Here it is, in case it is helpful to you.
I don’t go through this whole process every single time, however if I have no previous content to draw from, I have adequate time to prepare, and I need to do a good job, this is what I do:
1. Write down bullet points for the following. [15 minutes]
- Who is the audience for the presentation?
- Who else is likely to see the presentation?
- Why do they care about the subject?
- What do I want them to know about the topic? (3-5 things)
- What I hope to accomplish by presenting? (1-3 things)
- This is what you want, not what the audience wants. e.g. for a project to be funded, to hire more people, to give management confidence in the team’s capabilities.
2. Write a short essay about the topic. [1 hour]
- Make an outline of the main points, based on the above.
- Write a 1-3 page essay based on the outline.
- Assume very little prior knowledge.
- Don’t use jargon.
- Do it quickly and don’t worry about flow or structure. I try to write the essay in less than an hour.
3. Do something else for a day or two.
4. Revise your essay. [30 minutes]
- Read it, without consulting your prior notes.
- Pull out the main points based on your reading (or ask someone else to read it and tell you).
- Think about whether the main points should change, or be reworded.
- Edit the essay as necessary.
5. Make a skeleton for the deck. [30 minutes – 1 hour]
- Make a single slide with the main points as bullets.
- Make a single blank slide for each main point, with the main point as the title
- Ask myself which basic concepts need to be explained, and make one slide for each concept.
- You will reuse these “concept” slides in future decks.
- Even if your audience is already familiar with the concept, build the slide anyway. You can put it in the appendix. Most of the time, your audience is not as familiar with basic concepts as you think.
- Think about whether there is a good real world example that makes the point.
- Don’t worry about whether the ordering of slides makes sense.
6. Build slides. [several hours]
- Look at one slide at a time.
- If you have content from previous decks that fits, go ahead and pull it in now, as long as it really does fit.
- Think about the point you want to make on the slide.
- There should be only one main point.
- If there is more than one point, break into more than one slide.
- If you end up with too many slides on one topic, don’t worry about that now.
- Think about a picture, data visualization, or table that might make the point well. Re-use old content if you can. Don’t worry about making the visual content look nice at first.
- Work in whatever order feels comfortable.
- Keep doing this until most of the slides have content.
- Do not do an intro slide or a conclusion slide.
7. Edit slides. [several hours]
- Flip through all of the slides and see if there is a logical story being told.
- Example: “Situation, Obstacle, Action, Result”
- Move slides to the appendix if they seem extraneous
- Start asking for feedback from people you trust, even before you are done editing
- Think about ‘frequently asked questions’ that might come up. If they are important, put them in the main flow. Otherwise, make a slide in the appendix.
- Now get very picky about wording and presentation:
- Remove extra words
- Always use the same terminology for the same concept
- Spell out all acronyms the first time you use them
- Use consistent fonts, visual styles, and alignments
- Format all tables properly
- Always label the axes of charts, and give all charts meaningful titles
- Add arrows and short comments for things that require particular emphasis. Lower the cognitive burden on your audience.
- Here are some more tips from a blog post I wrote seven years ago…
- Make an intro slide last.
- Consider omitting a ‘conclusion’ slide – you often don’t need it.