Presentation Design Masterclass: Before you begin

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Happy Monday, and welcome to the first module of the Nicework Presentation Design Masterclass! Get out your notebooks and pens, because today we’re talking about what to do before you even think about opening PowerPoint. Make sure you get all the way to the bottom of this post – as with every module of this class, there’s a handy free resource for you to use and abuse.

Are you ready? Let’s go.


Know your goals

What’s your challenge?

The first thing you need to know before you start your planning process is what challenge you want to tackle with your presentation.

Sometimes that challenge is obvious – maybe you’re presenting a marketing plan with the aim of getting this year’s budget approved. Other times, it can be more personal – perhaps you’re presenting your first big project at a conference in front of the executive board of your company, and you need to make a big first impression. Obviously, this is 100% tied up in who you are presenting to – who your audience is and what you want from them should drive your presentation at every turn.

Your goal may not be commercially driven, but that’s okay. It’s important to be clear and honest from the start about what your desired outcomes are, because they will inform everything else.

When you have your challenge, pick one big idea for the audience to take away


After you know what your challenge is, the next thing you need to nail down your big idea. If your challenge is a question, your big idea is the answer. If your challenge is a problem, your big idea is the solution.

“Why should the board approve this budget?”
“Because in the long term, it has the potential to substantially grow our profit margin.”

“Why should we pay attention to some guy on the bottom rung of the ladder?”
“Because I just ran a project that’s making waves in my department, and you should be taking note of that!”

The thing about a really good big idea is that it’s so big, there’s no space left for more ideas. In other words: you can’t have multiple big ideas. The more you try to address in your presentation, the more you dilute its impact. If you’re presenting to a diverse audience, pick the people who are most crucial to your goal, and speak to them. The hardest part of the preparation process is accepting that you can’t please everyone.

Use every slide to further your big idea. Be brutal.


Once you’ve locked down your audience, your challenge and your big idea, here’s the next step: kill your darlings. As you move forward into structuring your slide deck and notes, think long and hard about every single thing you want to include. How does it further your goals? If there are things in there that don’t directly push the presentation towards your big idea, kill them. Don’t include slides with massive tables of facts and figures as a “nice to have”. Don’t include a massive wall of text if you don’t plan of talking though it thoroughly. It might make you feel more at ease to have all that content in your presentation as a security blanket, but jumping through slides with a ton of unnecessary junk on them just makes you look ill-prepared.

Bottom line: if there’s a slide in there that doesn’t directly drive you where you want to go, it has no business being in your presentation.

A presentation is a story, it should have a storyboard

The storyboard is a tool stolen from the film industry – it’s used to nail down the general spread of the story before it gets broken out into more detailed scene descriptions and shot lists. Since we’ve already determined that a presentation is a story (right?), it seems fitting to use a storyboard when you get started.

Start with pen, paper and post-its


Physical storyboarding is a crucial step to take before you jump into PowerPoint. Seeing all slides laid out early on helps with seeing the full scope and deciding if things need to be cut. (See above: be brutal.) Using actual, physical pen and paper gives you a really great tactile experience of the scale of your presentation early on, and keeps you from getting too caught up in the granular little details.

Explore ONE idea per slide


 If you’re trying to explain multiple concepts on one slide, break that content across multiple slides.

I’m going to commit a little bit of sacrilege here: it’s touted by many very clever presentation gurus that the sweet spot is one slide for every three minutes of speaking. In our experience, that’s ratio should be closer to one minute per slide, and here’s why: moving faster through your slides gives your audience the impression of forward motion, keeping them engaged.

This technique can also save you from yourself – if you’ve committed to one slide per minute, you can’t put miles of content on one slide. An added bonus is that less content per slide keeps your audience from reading ahead, so they’ll be focused on you, the speaker. Remember, your slide deck is there to support what you’re saying – not deliver all the information by itself.


Start the journey with the end in mind

The first slide you want to lay down in your storyboard is actually your last one. Nail down your conclusion – that is, your big idea; your answer; your solution. Next, you can decide on your opening: the problem you’ll be solving. All you have to do after that is fill in the middle of the sandwich. Easy!

To aid you in the process of planning your amazing presentation, we’ve put together a handy printable worksheet that should help you answer all these important questions and more. To get your hands on it, just click the giant yellow button below. You can’t miss it.

If you found this post and worksheet useful, keep an eye out for the next module later this week. We’ll be discussing how start your presentation rollout on the right foot, by setting up your PowerPoint document in a way that will streamline your layout process and simplify your life. See you then!

Published by Ross

Ross grew up on the wrong side of the Jukskei. He studied at Vega and was awarded the Top Student prize at his graduation. After working as a freelancer for four years, he founded Nicework with Ben Vorster. He has a penchant for Scandinavian wood furniture and really nice shirts. He is open to bribery- all iPads are welcome. He also likes chocolate cake and is happily married.

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