Slide Deck Beats PowerPoint — Sometimes

PowerPoint is a wonderful tool. But like many things, it can be overused. I use PowerPoint in my writing workshops that usually have a minimum of 20 people. And I generally follow the standard guideline of no more than six words across the line and no more than six lines to a slide. My font size rarely goes below 28. Occasionally, I’ll slip in a humourous slide to keep things lively.

When I use PowerPoint, I stand in front of a group and speak to the points. Although questions are encouraged, the purpose of presentation is not to create a dialogue with one or two individuals but to provide information to a multitude.

But what if your purpose is to brief a senior manager or to put forth a proposal to a small committee? Standing in front of a person or a small group and addressing them through a PowerPoint presentation is overkill and can make you feel uncomfortable.

Hence Slide Deck. Slide Deck enables you to deliver your message in a more persuasive and efficient manner. In fact, the word “tool” is probably a misnomer. There is no equipment – just you and your package: sheets of paper. And you sit down at the boardroom table with the people you are trying to convince. I provide everyone with the entire package immediately so they can add their notes or questions as we discuss the topic. And “discuss” is the operative word here. I am not lecturing. The session becomes much more interactive as we are sitting together working through the information. Learning improves and no one has a chance to fall asleep.

Although I often use the PowerPoint application to create a slide deck, the slides look quite different from those shown electronically. With PowerPoint slides – because of the size of the group – the font is large and points are presented in a linear fashion. Less is best. It’s the opposite with Slide Deck. The more you cram on the page the better. The font size can be much smaller – normally reading size.

The header is not just a few words. It is the entire point you want to make. After the meeting, the reader can quickly review the key points by glancing at the headings. For example, if I was trying to convince a group that they needed a workshop on business writing, the heading on my first slide package might be “Effective Business Writing Projects a Positive Image of Your Organization and Creates Greater Reader Buy-In.”

With a PowerPoint presentation, I would then probably follow with a list of how it creates a positive image – no more than 6 points. I would then have to develop another slide to discuss reader buy-in. With Slide Deck, I work in what I call “squares of points.” Each square supports the main header, e.g., one might contain information on how business writing affects a company’s image; a second square would discuss how it creates reader buy-in; a third square would discuss common problems employees may have with business writing; a fourth square would contain ways to improve the writing of staff. And, at the bottom of the page, I would summarize: “Staff need training in business writing to support XYZ.”

Remember,  the key point, the four “squares” and the summarizing point are all on the same sheet of paper. I have covered on one page what I would normally need 4-6 PowerPoint slides to reveal. My next sheet would start with the key point “Effective Business Writing Relies on Plain Language Writing.” The squares below would cover the definition of plain language writing, the characteristics of today’s readers, what readers want in a business document, and the steps for plain language writing. Again followed by the summarizing principle. I have reduced the presentation by another 4-5 PowerPoint slides.

I also find that it helps to number the squares of material on each page as well as the pages themselves. This allows me to quickly answer questions: “You’ll find that point covered in square #2 on page 4.” You’ll also increase your chances of reader understanding by anchoring some of the squares with supporting graphics. For example, when discussing emails and letters, I’ll add artwork for hamburgers and ice cream cones to the appropriate squares to reinforce the differences in the two communication forms.

Slide Deck is a powerful tool for me when briefing senior managers or when making a sales call. It allows me to discuss issues, build a relationship, and leave an impressive package the receiver can refer to later. For a larger audience, a traditional PowerPoint approach works.

Jane Watson is a trainer, author, and consultant in the field of written business communications at Ontario Training Network. She teaches Slide Deck in some of her standard writing workshops.