3 Simple Questions to Transform Any Presentation Deck

3 Simple Questions to Transform Any Presentation Deck

Every now and then at work I get asked to help review presentations intended for senior leadership and provide feedback. This is secretly one of my guilty pleasures: after all, it’s one of the few moments at work where I get to make an impact without actually rolling up my sleeves and doing too much.

Here’s my observation after many years of doing this. It turns out that a lot of presentations suffer from a few common pitfalls, despite the raw material being quite solid. This is a shame. I especially hate seeing good effort go to waste simply because the delivery fell flat.

The good news is that plugging these gaps is rather easy: you just have to actually look out for it.

Here’s 3 simple questions you can ask yourself to pressure-test any presentation. I guarantee that plugging these gaps alone will immediately uplevel your slides and enhance their effectiveness.


#1: “Am I burying the lede?”

Most presentations are built with very logical storylines — this is not a bad thing at all. After all, presentations are stories, and so the storytelling logic has to make sense.

The downside, however, is that you bury the lede.

For instance, imagine a presentation that seeks to pitch a business case to senior leadership and garner sponsorship. More often than not, the flow of the presentation goes something like this:

  • Here’s the market landscape…
  • Here’s what customers want…
  • Here’s what competitors are doing…
  • Here’s what we offer…
  • Here’s the opportunity that we could potentially capture…
  • Here’s what we’ve tried (and here’s what worked / didn’t work)…
  • …and therefore please give us [insert resource ask] so we can make $!
This is a perfectly logical narrative and rigorous storyline — but it is a horrible sequence of slides.

For one, most of the time leadership is already deeply familiar with the market landscape (or other context-setting material)— you do not want to waste precious time re-educating them in a live setting.

The bigger issue is that you’ve created a series of distractions along the path towards your grand thesis. And thus during your live presentation, at best your executive audience will become impatient as you slowly unpeel the onion. At worst, they’ll get fixated on certain parts of your context-setting slides, and you end up running out of time before you get to make your pitch.

Personally, I always start out my presentations with an executive summary slide, where I put the most critical messages and intended takeaways up front. If the audience needs to be convinced and brought along the journey— no problem, that’s what my other slides are for. If the audience is already familiar or even bought in, then I simply jump to the solutioning and problem-solving part, rather than waste time on useful yet non-controversial material.

So, rule #1: always challenge yourself and ask if you are burying the lede. Ask yourself if your well-thought-out lead-in slides are actually preventing you from getting to your money slide(s) as quickly as possible.

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#2: “Do I lose anything by dropping this slide?”

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