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Three Signs That Your Slide Deck Stinks

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Earlier this year, I was with an executive who was proudly showing me the Power Point presentation he had prepared for an upcoming strategic offsite.

We got through three slides and he turned to me and asked me what I thought so far. I asked if he really wanted to know and he said yes. My response was that I had seen the same exact presentation at a company conference in an entirely different industry just the day before. He looked crestfallen, but, to his credit, he asked for details. As kindly as I could, I made a little "Blah, blah, blah" motion with my right hand and said that his first three slides were classic signs that the rest of the presentation was going to stink.

They're classic because they're so overused that when the audience sees them appear it immediately shuts down with a "Seen it before," barely suppressed yawn. Does your presentation deck have them?

Here's the checklist:

The From/To Slide: The dead giveaway on this one is the big huge arrow moving from left to right at the top of the slide. Then you have two columns of matched bullet points that tell the audience what the organization is moving away from and moving to. You know, things like moving from working in silos to working across boundaries.

The Table of Strategic Initiatives Slide: The classic version of this stinky slide is a table with five to seven columns with the title of a strategic initiative in the top row of each column. The titles are usually no bigger than a 16 pt. font because it's hard to get that much text in with a bigger font. The rest of each column is filled up with an indeterminate amount of bulleted action steps that support the initiative. Those are usually in 10 or 12 pt. font because there's even more to squeeze in.

The Org Chart Slide: Can't have a strategic presentation deck without an org chart, right? Seriously, though, does it really look that much different than the previous org chart? Probably not. It especially doesn't to the people in the audience who have totally checked out by this point.

So, if you've read this far, you're probably experiencing one of two reactions right now.

The first is a mixture of annoyance and chagrin because I've more or less described the deck you've been working on so diligently. If that's the case, I hope there is some food for thought in what I've shared. Remember, a slide deck is not a memo. You want to share the headlines and images that set up a compelling story, not document every last detail of your message. For expert advice on creating a compelling slide deck, check out Presentation Zen by Garr Renyolds and Resonate by Nancy Duarte .

The second likely reader reaction is knowing nods of the head because you've had to sit through the same presentation I just described. If that's the case, what would you add to the list of signs that your slide deck stinks?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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