Yes, it’s January, but the PowerPoints I’ve been going through in the last eight weeks have me flashing back to the Christmas letters I was reading just a few weeks ago. You know the ones. Each letter is filled with an update from the family that sent it. The letters typically fall into three categories: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Let’s take a look:

  • The Good.Lots of photos, little text, only high points. Leave you feeling like you miss the people and you want to re-connect. The feeling reminds you why you like them.
  • The Bad.One photo. No text. Standard “Happy Holidays” with ink-jetted signature. Gives you the feeling of a bad stand-up brochure for plumbing or painting services.
  • The Ugly. Two pages of 6 pt font text, outlining every event of the year including the dog’s de-worming. Possibly a photo thrown in for good measure, but it is posed in front of the obligatory fireplace with the Mr. Potatohead smiles in place.


The parallel to PowerPoint presentations is hard to miss. The best ones have the following characteristics:

  • Short and sweet.I mean less than 15 slides total. Trust your audience and trust your presenter. Your audience will fill in with questions and its own understanding some of the gaps. Your presenter is there to tell a story that brings your slides to life.
  • Low text.Why did you send a presenter if people are supposed to read the text? If you don’t trust your presenter to get it right, I suggest you train him or her better or send in a different presenter. A dense and long presentation will not make up for a bad presenter.
  • Focus on the audience. When you read the Christmas letters, what is interesting to you? The key events, the photos that show those events, possibly an insider comment that connects us with those events. That’s it.

I was reviewing a 47-slide presentation deck the other day for a client. It included:

  • 6 slides on the history of the company
  • 4 slides on company credentials, (awards, market position, client logos)
  • 10 slides of market analysis and “State of the Market”
  • 14 slides of product specifications, (2 slides for each of 7 products)
  • 12 slides of product demonstration type information (screen shots of their system, work flow pictures, performance statistics)
  • 1 slide at the end with the obligatory “Next Steps?” prominently placed in the middle of the slide.

This was ugly in the worst way. I was exhausted just reviewing it with no one else in the room, and I get paid to look at it. I can only imagine what some poor prospect who was sentenced to this meeting would be thinking. Clearly, the creator of the presentation believed that the purpose of the meeting was to provide a detailed brochure of everything that we do, who we do it for and who we are. But, you already do most of that now on your website. Is the purpose of the meeting to provide a 3-dimensional brochure? Is it supposed to be an enhanced and more detailed website? Is it to provide a human FAQ resource? NO! NO! NO! The purpose of the meeting and the presentation is to create conversation that is about the prospect. The presentation is supposed to guide that conversation.

Before I lay out what I consider to be the proper outline for a first meeting presentation, let me give you a few general guidelines for great PowerPoint presentations.

Power Point Guidelines:

  • One slide for every 2 minutes of presentation allotted time.If you have an hour meeting scheduled, no more than 30 minutes of that meeting should be presentation. Follow the rule and keep it at 15 slides maximum.
  • No more than 100 words of text per slide, and I would prefer much less.That’s 5-7 bullet points of less than 15 words each.
  • More than half of your slides must be image-driven slides.Graph, chart, screen shot, photo, video clip, whatever. This means that the dominant element in the slide is an image, not text. If you don’t have an image, you don’t have a story, you have only narrative. There are some very important variances from this rule. That’s when we get to slides designed to direct conversation. We’ll get to that later.
  • Own the ‘Next Step’. At the end of the presentation, you should provide options to the audience of what happens next, what their role is and what you are going to do. You asked for the meeting, you should have a general plan of what happens next.

Example Outline for a Power Point Presentation. 1st Meeting

The first meeting is usually a qualifying meeting for the presenter, and the one in which we gather enough information to ensure that we have identified the right people, problem and opportunity for the two companies to be working together. It is also a credentializing meeting in which your company demonstrates that it is a credible vendor/partner to solve the identified problems. You are giving and gathering information. Those being the goals, most of the presentation decks that I see are so focused on a company “credentializing” themselves with everything but the kitchen sink that they overwhelm and overbore their audience.

I recommended this outline to a client recently:

1. Cover
2. Agenda (Purpose, Talking Points, Outcomes)
3. What we think we know about you. (5-7 bullets, 4. What we would like to know about you (5 questions, key to understanding issues, buyers, urgency)
5. What we would like you to know about us (next 7 slides, establishing relevance and credibility, not necessarily capabilities)

  • How the world looks (Specifically, what are the market drivers)
  • How we look at the world (How we affect those drivers for our clients)
  • Who looks at things this way (Our clients, logo slide)
  • What we have done with them (Key solutions that we provide)
  • The process that takes us from challenge to solution (How we make it happen)
  • How we look at working together (Our general approach)
  • Defining the challenges from the outcomes backwards

7. Our recommendation (“The first steps of past successful relationships have started in this way…”)

Clearly, this outline represents a very “them focused” approach to the conversation. That means that you have to have done a lot of pre-meeting research (as you should). It also means that you have to have a very facile knowledge of your business and solutions.

I believe that these types of presentations are facilitated conversations that put the presenter and the audience in nearly equal contribution to the success of the meeting.

My recommendation is that you look at your standard deck right now. Ask yourself these questions.

      1) Does this meet the Great PowerPoint guidelines listed above?


      2) If I was to turn our presentation into a guided conversation, where can I invite interaction? You will note that in this outline, we invited interaction at the second slide.


    3) Is there a way to make every slide about the audience and not about you?


The interesting thing about the best Christmas letters in our house is that they go on a wall in our entry that people who enter our home see right as they walk in. They have the montage photos of friends and family with interesting stories we can tell. The rest of the letters are gently grouped together and lovingly placed in the recycling. When asked about those people in casual conversation, I can’t really think of a memorable thing from their Christmas letter that I can add to the general conversation.

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