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Why you can’t send them the slides

March 9, 2010

How many times have you been asked to send someone your presentation slides before a session? or send them to people after the session?

I don’t know how many either, but it’s a lot and what I’ve discovered is that it’s never the right thing to do.

The basic reason is that your slides should be your visual aids and only that. Would you ask an author to send you just the illustrations for a paper or a book? Of course not, because you know the story (well for most books) isn’t in the pictures—as nice as they might be, they won’t work by themselves. The same should be true of your presentation:
to be effective, your slide deck can’t stand alone either, it’s there to help you, not replace you.

Business, academia, government… we’ve all developed some very bad, lazy habits here and it’s one major reason that our presentations are so bad. We take a shortcut and force the slide deck to the job of three things and it ends up doing all of them badly. We need:

1. Read-ahead: material sent out in advance for the audience to read
2. Visual aids: material for your use as illustrations and story-aids
3. Leave-behind: material left for follow-up study by the audience

Only #2 above is suitable for PowerPoint and it’s the only one not intended to be given to the audience!  But we take everything and cram it on the slides. As a result, the slide deck is big, ugly and does a lousy job for all three purposes, especially #2 which, ironically, is the only one that it should used be for.

So, if your slide deck is really good as read-ahead, then cancel the presentation, send it out and, if necessary, schedule a discussion meeting. If you need something to help guide the discussion session, create a new, simpler, and slimmed-down slide deck .

Same deal with the leave-behind. It’s a really good idea to have one—that’s where you’re going to put all the details and the “stuff’ that didn’t fit in your simple and supportive visual aids. For the kind of technical presentations I mostly do this is especially important. For one thing it impresses folks during the presentation when you refer to all the details in the leave-behind and if they read it, you get another opportunity to reinforce the message. More reinforcement equals more memory.  More memory means more impact.

So, to do it right you’ll have to avoid the one-size-fits-none approach. By all means make and send a read-ahead, it could be a one-page point paper to prepare them or a full-blown report but PowerPoint is the wrong tool either way and it’s not your slides! Ever.  And don’t leave/send them your slides afterward—your visual aids aren’t meaningful if you’re not there.  Make a real leave-behind for them, it could be a one-page summary or big report but it’s not your slides!  Ever.

No, it’s not what they expect or what you’ll be asked for. Exceed their expectations and instead of what they ask for, give them what they need. Make an impact!


For another take on the topic try Marjorie Brody’s blog post

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Eddie permalink
    March 15, 2010 16:24

    gotta mull over this one… not sure if I would always agree or not…
    I find myself occasionally doing highly technical presentations for an extremely limited audience (2 or 3 people perhaps – sometimes even just myself!). This is generally to clearly explain a very “in the weeds” issue – one that is frequently best explained with a handful of pictures. Furthermore, this can (and does) serve as a way to archive some nitpick that is important, but maybe only to a few people.

  2. March 15, 2010 20:42

    Eddie — well, always and never are dangerous words and I used one of them. Yeah, there’s always an exception! And to be honest, it’s fine to break the “rules” as long as you know what the rule was and why you’re breaking it.

    In the case you’ve described, it sounds to me like you’re using a few slides not as visual aids, per se, but as the actual content for a discussion/analysis/problem solving session. For the type of thing (specialized) and the type of audience (specialized) you’ve described, what you’re doing sounds okay to me, too. The only part I’d quibble with there is whether PPT is the right tool or not, but if it works, okay.

    Alright, so maybe “never” wasn’t quite right–but hey, it got you to thinking about it. I score that a success for both of us! 🙂

    Anyway, thanks for the input.



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