Presentation Blueprint

Presentation blueprint: what’s the ideal slide structure?

What’s the ideal slide structure? I hate when people do that, but… I have got to say:¬†it depends! ūüė¶

Now the longer version: depending on the pitch type, on the audience, on the room, and on the medium (live x video), you will need to adapt you slide structure. Yes… it means you will need to make a whole new presentation!

Competition Pitches

As we talked on the Pitch Types article, competition pitches are those you make in front of a large audience, usually on a stage, etc. Based on that, we can assume:

  • You will have a short time, usually 6-7 minutes to present. Thus,¬†pace is fast;
  • It’s a unidirectional:¬†people won’t interrupt you to ask something¬†in the middle;
  • Audience level of understanding of your business/ market/ model might vary a lot. You will need to set the bar at the lowest point;
  • Some people will be far away, when seating on the last row;
  • If your not a native speaker, or have a stronger accent, people might have a hard time understanding what you say.

Those assumptions are crucial to determine how your slides should look like. There’s not an specific structure, but some rules you should follow:

Rule #1: one information per slide

Example of competition pitch slides: company description

Example of competition pitch slides: company description

Example of competition pitch slides: 1 info per slide

Example of competition pitch slides: 1 info per slide

Rule of thumb for “normal presentations” is 2’30″/3’00” per slide. On competition pitches, though, it’s completely different. The last pitch I gave, at 43North¬†competition, I had 24 slides for a 7 minute pitch; that’s almost 3.5 slides per minute!

For that to work, you need to use the slides to support you, without the need to explain them. And to guarantee that, you must have only one information per slide, period.

Rule #2: more images, less text

Example of slide with supporting graph

Example of slide with supporting graph

Example: image supported slide

Example: image supported slide

With 15-20 seconds per slide, people won’t be able to read full sentences. But don’t worry: images and graphs are to support you! On competition pitch slides you use much more visual elements in detriment of text. That’s a rule.

Images must support your point, and not just be an aesthetic element. Having said that, choose high quality, good taste pictures. It’s worthing investing a few bucks and buy professional images from stock image sites such as Shutterstock, Getty Images etc.

Finally, pictures won’t speak for themselves; I recommend using some¬†words to reinforce the message and guide people towards the expected conclusion.

Rule #3: make it large enough so people on last row can read it comfortably

Rule #3 speaks for itself. Elements on slide must be large so to guarantee that everyone will be able to comfortably read it.

If an information is on the slide, people must be able to read it. Otherwise, just remove it. A common example is the scale on legends on graphs;¬†they’re usually too small to read.¬†An information that cannot be read is just noise. I recommend removing all the possible noise.

On exception is when you mention the source of an information. In this case, you¬†need to¬†trick the audience: people won’t be able to read it, but they will know you haven’t¬†just invented the numbers.

Exception - add the source of information even if people won't be able to read it

Exception – add the source of information even if people won’t be able to read it

Rule #4: easy on the animations, big boy!

First time I used Power Point I remember how cool I thought those animations were. I used as much as I could… thinking about it right now gets me dizzy.

Animations, as pictures, must serve a purpose: emphasize a point, especially when the slide is a bit too dense, as on the example below:

Example of Animation: 1example animation - 2example animation - 3

example animation - 4example animation - 5example animation - 6

Exaggerating on animations will just add noise to the message, since it makes people confused or annoyed. 

Remember also, that you will need to click¬†on each step of the animation, and it might be a a bit overwhelming if your not an experienced presenter. Oh, and don’t even consider using automatic transitions. The odds of something going wrong are¬†huge.

Rule #5: quality design matters

All we’re talking here with those pitch techniques is about how to better communicate yourself and leave a good lasting impression. A bad company, with an awesome pitch will still be a bad company. The opposite is true as well.¬†Some early pitches from very successful startups such as LinkedIn, BuzzFeed and Youtube, as you can see on this cool FastCompany article, will make you wonder why you’re reading this article at all. They sucked big time.

Having said that, quality design matters; it increases your odds! To make matter worse,¬†good taste is something you cannot learn… If you don’t have a designer or someone with¬†good aesthetic/ design skills, I recommend you that you hire a freelancer to help you. Make the full presentation and then hire¬†someone on Fiverr, Upwork (former Odesk), 99Designs¬†to make it presentable.

Investor Pitches

Let’s now reset what we just read… Investor pitches are totally “different beasts”:

  • You have much more time, from 30 minutes to one hour;
  • You will be presenting to a couple (2 to 5) people, probably in a room;
  • They will ask you questions and interrupt your presentation;
  • You will probably use the presentation as a handout as well.

In that sense, slides will contain much more information; you will probably spend 2-3 minutes on each, and you’ll need to add some text to it, in case¬†presentation becomes a handout.

Rules #4 and #5 still apply for Investor Pitches. Good design is important and you should be sober about animations. Remember that people might print (yes, on a thing called “paper”) your slides to take notes. This way, animations¬†must be done in such a way so contents do not overlap each other.

Having said that, we have a few other rules to share:

Rule #6: use header to tell a story

Example of slide structure

Example of slide structure

People usually use the upper title section poorly,with generic and repeated titles. It’s a big mistake. As in your website, that’s the premium section and you¬†should use it to the most.

I remember my days as consultant and the lesson I remember when the senior partner taught¬†me how to use this section: “the title should contain the conclusion of the slide. You should be able to understand the entire presentation only by reading the titles”. That’s a powerful tip,¬†and I add two others:

  • The limited space of the title will actually help you:¬†If space is not enough to conclude all the information presented on that page, you should break it in two;
  • To make sure we have a continuous flow, I use “…” at the beginning and at end of the phrase, as if they were part of a larger sentence

flow 2 flow 1

Rule #7: we love bullets

Yes, we love bullets and we’re not ashamed! Using bullets is a great way to make information flow more linear. It also helps you to be come out with concise sentences. It’s also very easy to change the order of ideas… we love everything about it!

Rule #8:¬†the magical “3 key¬†messages”

To me that’s like¬†physics elemental rules, such as gravity, time etc. Everything in the world can (and should) be concluded in 3 points; everything!¬†If you define this as a mandatory rule it will force you to think about priorities/ hierarchy of ideas, extracting what really matter about it.

Again I remember my consulting times when I learned the power of 3 key points. We were developing a very complex project to a multinational CPG company; there were more than 20 consultants in the project and, if you know consultants, the growth of slides and presentations are exponential. The “project buyer” (the person in charge for the project in the client) defined one rule I took for the rest of my life: the first slide of all presentations should contain the¬†“3 key messages” of the entire presentation. Not only that forced us to be objective about what we were trying to tell them, but it also helped to set the context of the presentation; if people already knew the “answer”, they could spend their time understanding it and challenging it, instead of understanding.

Slide structure is¬†not art; it’s science. Similarly as with the content,¬†you need to adjust it according the audience, environment and purpose; “one size doesn’t fit all”! If you follow the above rules (and common sense) you will be able to build slides¬†that people will feel comfortable reading and “processing it” (understanding). That’s our goal on this blog.