Everyone dreads the boring presentation. The reams of data, haphazardly placed on a mauve background. The 12 point font. The 15 deep bullet points that read like an epic snooze fest. The poorly graphed data, with small legend, seemly infinite data points that clutter the page with a rainbow of colors, sprinkled with the kindergarden shapes. These are truly awful to behold. Senior managers spend countless hours in boring meeting after boring meeting just trying to figure out the slides. This plague can almost always be found in technical companies and it’s primary cause is an utter lack of pretty picture training.
A Proper Picture is Worth A 1,000 Less Questions
Senior managers are busy. They have a million things on their mind and the last thing they want to do is dig in to figure out some poorly presented slide deck will of text. Couple that with their short attention spans and a poor slide deck with get in the weeds quick. This is why a couple of nicely done graphics can save you countless, uncomfortable questions. During these meetings, you want to avoid questions about your presentation of data and really focus on your message. Being lost in “slide format question hell” will distract and confuse. Doing this will end up losing your message in the mess.
You Should Interpret Data
Critical to presenting any data is it’s interpretation. Don’t just throw up numbers and say “here is my data.” You must tell your audience what you think the data means. This is the whole purpose of the meeting — to get agreement on your interpretation. If you do anything less, it will only confuse and distract your audience. Senior managers just love to show how smart they are and flex their once active technical muscle. Doing this will crater your presentation and lead you down a path of more work and less control of your project.
Short Attention Span Theater
Did I mention that senior mangers are busy. Well, if you don’t believe me, take a look around a meeting sometime. How many are typing on their laptops? How about checking their PDA’s? I bet all of them are. Senior mangers have the ultimate short attention spans. They are drowning in data. If you want good dialog about your project, then make the points simple and easily digested. Complex slides with nested ideas will just confuse and disorient. Craft your message to the audiences attention span. Drive home points multiple times, in multiple places. Don’t assume they got it just because they nodded. Reinforce the message by asking for acknowledgement of your preferred course of action. This is the only way to get the message through the dense information cloud that swirls around all busy senior mangers.
Craft the Picture to the Audience
Reams and reams of data are fine for a technical presentation where your peers will be memorized by how tight your triplicates are but not for senior mangers. They want to see summarizes that give concrete conclusions. Your peers may want to debate, ponder and ask questions, so make sure the questions are about the data and not the presentation of it. No matter the audience, follow these simple rules for better pitch visuals:
Liberal use of white space: Don’t cram your text in every nook and cranny. Make sure there is enough white space and at least a 0.5 inch boarder.
No Animation: Avoid any kind of animation. It just distracts from your message and always messes up.
Thirty point font: Don’t use anything less than 30 point font. The only exception is full references to sources of data, which should be at the footer, properly annotated.
Four to Five Points: Keep each slide to four or five bullet points. You can maybe go up to seven but no more. Don’t follow a long list with another long list. Break it up so it has some rhythm.
Clear Graphic Backgrounds: Make all of your graphics with a clear background.
White background: It’s best to have a white background. It’s easier to view and print out. If you have a color background, make it only one color. Multiple colors are hard on the eyes.
Pretty Pictures Can’t Save Muddled Data
Presentation is important but data is still king. No amount of fancy graphics can save poor or muddled data. It’s important that whatever you present has a high value of content and not just nice graphics. Senior mangers can see right thought weak data and will start to ask even more questions. You also don’t have to dumb it down to a fourth grader either. Matching the message to the audience is critical but that message has to be a quality message.
Make it Ebb and Flow
Rhythm makes a presentation. Slide after slide of boring text will put even the most interested person to sleep. Senior managers will lose interest even quicker. Did I mention they get easily distracted? To make your pitch ebb and flow, follow some of these recommendations:
Breakup your slide deck into manageable chunks that read like a play. Think like a playwright and have acts to your presentation.
Mix up the graphics and pretty pictures with simple analysis that reenforces your command of the material.
Tell them what you told them multiple times so that the message sticks.
Give examples or anecdotes that connect the concepts to everyday things.
In The End, It’s Still About Pictures
Ask any senior manger about what they remember most about a perfect pitch and it will be that perfect graphic or picture. Pretty pictures work. They encapsulate complex concepts in an easy to digest format that sticks with you. Senior mangers love them because they can easily remember the concepts and show other senior mangers, with one slide, the great stuff their teams are working on. Think about that the next time you pitch senior management.
Jason Cohen says
I tried to follow along but without visuals my mind kept wandering… Hey look a funny video on Twitter….
Seriously, these are great tips; I’ve been in these situations many times and your description of the problem and solution are accurate.
Just make sure you don’t take the leap into saying they’re “stupid.” They’re not, but often they’re having to make sense of information that isn’t in their realm of expertise. All the more reason to be as clear and simple as possible.
Jarie Bolander says
Jason- It’s so true that the message gets lost in the noise if the pitch is poor. Senior managers struggle to separate the wheat from the chafe.
Thanks for your comment