The Author 42
Welcome to Becoming Clear: Creating Logical Presentations
Clarity is the most important factor in the success of a presentation. Unfortunately, clarity is no longer an objective. With the advent of programs like PowerPoint, clarity has been replaced by entertainment value and pizazz. I wrote this book to bring
clarity in presentations off the shelf. If I can pull this off, it should be of great value to presenters. While it might be a great shock, audiences might actually understand what you are saying.
I want to teach you to make clearer and more logical presentations. If that is what you want, then we are in sync. If what you want is learn better ways of using PowerPoint and making colorful slides, then our paths diverge.
In that case, I ask you to stay with me until you have the hang of what we are doing and then decide if our path is the one for you.
Later we will discuss your relationship with your audience. First let’s look at the kind of audience that you want to reach.
I have heard a lot of presentations over the years. Some are designed to reach fans and others to find partners: what is the difference? Fans are characterized by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion; they are usually fickle. Partners engage in close cooperation with you. You each have specified and joint rights and responsibilities. An old word usage is for partners is one of the heavy timbers that strengthen a ship’s deck to support a mast. Which would prefer on your ship, parties on deck or support for your mast?
In an audience you can choose between the two by your presentation. Is your presentation designed to entertain or to educate? Most of the presentations I have seen recently are
designed to entertain; to create enthusiastic fans. Creating a presentation to educate potential partners is more difficult. In this book I am going to challenge you to clarify your ideas for the sake of communicating with partners.
What is wrong with enthusiastic fans? In my experience, the enthusiasm doesn’t last. The default position when things go wrong is to blame you for everything, even when you are doing exactly what they asked you to do. As my grandfather would say “Who needs the aggravation?
Perhaps the most seductive words in the English language are “If you do this, then we will invest”. When we think we can “smell” the money” we are very vulnerable. We may have a lifelong dream to build a company. All I have to do is fire my grandmother and the dream will be realized.
Ii could turn out that you have lots of grandmothers. By that I mean that there may be lots of junctures where investors may try to bully you to take their “suggestions”. Whatever happens it is your fanny that is on the line. I
It is important that you take time to consider any but the most obvious suggestions. You need to ask yourself why you are willing to take a suggestion, and then live with the answer and the implications.
On the other hand, they may see something that you don’t. It’s important that, as the title suggests, that you become clear about their desire to make the change and about your desire to follow the suggestions or not. Once you are clear and make your decision be prepared to live with it and its’ implications. As they say, it is times like this that you find out why you are being paid the “big money”.
Presenters ask, why one should care as what sort of people they are long as they invest? Peter Drucker tells us that things will inevitably go wrong. My own experience seconds that. For me, I would rather have partners than fans;
The purpose of this book is to expand and focus your awareness of what making a presentation is about. Using specific techniques and examples I will teach you to be aware of the results you want to achieve and to focus what you present towards achieving these results. Much of the book is presented as text interspersed with a summary of the key points. The general layout of the books is as follows:
Introduction This is an introduction to the book and the course. This gives you a chance to determine if this sounds like something you would like to do.
Basic Concepts How to view a presentation and the impact that our view has had on creating our methodology.
Slide Creation Detailed information on how create each individual slide and the overall presentation, how to review the slides as you work along and then as a whole.
Summary A review of the book.
Now let’s move into the book Itself with Basic Concepts.
At first this may seem very simplistic. It is my experience that presenters sometimes wander off into realms of their own rather than sticking to the central theme; make something happen.
Presenters often make the mistake of thinking of a presentation as a performance. They dress up their slides with animated, color drawings. If you are not performing, these are a distraction. In the performance model, success of the presentation is measured by the immediate audience reaction; applause. A problem arises if they are reacting to being entertained.
The other day I listened to a presentation that was voted best at the conference. The presenter used colored slides and props. The presenter talked so fast that I couldn’t follow. A performance like this sets the “bar” very low. I want to raise it and with it your ability to achieve success.
The presentation needs to reach beyond being an end in itself. It should be the he beginning of a deepening relationship between you and your audience. You want to leave them wanting to hear more and to contribute to your ideas in any way that they can.
A final note. If the presenter doesn’t know what they are talking about neither will the audience. The time spent with decorating your slides is usually wasted. Time spent achieving clarity that you can communicate moves the whole project along. A presentation is an invitation to a conversation. It begins with the presentation and continues until, hopefully, your objective is achieved. The results you want to create can range from tangible gain (e.g. money) to acceptance of a point of view, to praise for a discovery. However, the common point is get something; for something to happen or be transferred. The results of a presentation can sometimes be seen right after the presentation. Some part of the audience may want to engage with you right then. On the other hand, it can take weeks or months until you see results. Remember that you are building a relationship that you began with your presentation, and that it may take time to develop.
The work of creating the presentation must be done as a team. Please do not go off and create this yourself and then attempt to sell it to a team. Part of the power of this process is that, if you do it as a team it will create alignment in the team. If, in the process you discover someone does not get with the program, there are two possibilities. The first, and in my experience the most useful is one in which the person who has seen things that the rest of the group does not see. Work with them to express their concerns clearly.
I worked with a group in which one individual kept telling us that we were off track. Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore. She stood up and said firmly and loudly “as my Polish grandfather would say we are pissing in the soup”. The room went quiet. One group member restated her objection in a slightly different way. The lights went on in the group. Everyone realized that she was correct. We were adding stuff that confused and weakened our points, He went from goat to hero in a very short period of time.
The second possibility is that someone is not going to contribute to the team in a useful way. If you decide that this is the reality you will have to find a way to deal with that, the sooner the better.
Prepare to Create Slides
The more honest people are willing to be about these questions the more powerful this exercise will be. In order to get things going, answer the question yourself first. If you are willing to do this and are honest about it the other members of the group may gain permission to be honest themselves.
I walked into a startup once where people were standing in the halls and discussing what the company would be worth sometime down the road when they went public. I tucked away a secret prediction; they would fail, and they did. On the other hand, I have never been with a successful startup where anyway one talked about what the rewards were. They were too busy.
I am not suggesting that money is not important and that it is not
of interest in a startup. It’s just that that is not why most successful startups are created. In my experience it is for the challenge, the excitement of bring something into the world that was not there before. Another important reason for joining a startup is that you must adapt so quickly that you must learn fast and on the job. As a way to broaden your experience and learn a great deal there is no better school.
A problem people sometimes have with a statement of purpose it is that it can seem corny. It helps to think of it like the Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona which will not be completed in a single lifetime. I am not a religious person but in seeing it I was reminded of humanities ability to transcend personal considerations to focus on purposes which extend beyond their own lives, into those of their children. grandchildren and even further.
We took our grandson there when he was ten as part of a trip to Spain. He connected with it as the highlight of the trip. In a few weeks he is leaving for Europe and Spain in particular. The cathedral is tops on his list. My own experience is that if I can discover a purpose in my work that transcends my own narrow needs it becomes a much more powerful journey.
The purpose is usually a lofty statement. Not so lofty that you will not be able to determine whether you are on the right path. Consider a relatively near term time frame, 2 or 3 three years at most. For example, you could say that you are working to find
new drugs in the South American jungles in order to shorten the time for new cures for cancer.
To be really powerful the purpose should come from the “gut” of the people on the team rather than what you think your purpose should be. The answer should be intuitive not formulaic. The question of what your purpose is not just a formality. It is intended to provide guidance when things get dodgy. In the desire to provide this guidance I always think of it as the church spire which can be seen from anywhere in the city.
If you are creating new realities, you need some concrete milestones and these are what the intended results are for. When trouble arises, as it always seems to, the intended results help you not to be sidetracked; you stay on course to produce your intended results and to change course only when it is the right thing to do. One of the difficulties of a new venture is that there are never enough resources to deal with the problems at hand. The purpose and results help you discriminate between what is necessary and what is only interesting and must be left for a later time or not at all. One or more of the tangible results needs to impact the lives of your teammates and your own life. Self -interest is a powerful motivator. Pretending that you are completely self -sacrificing and altruistic is a stretch; an unreachable one for those of us who are members of the human race. I get inspiration from the saints and prophets, but I don't pretend to be one. For intended results the answers are specific and measurable. How far they extend out depends on the nature of the work to be performed but in my experience a year or a bit more is about the right time frame
Note that the intended results are quite specific. What is missing is a time frame. Investors would like you to provide dates, steps and time frames. At this point I would avoid that if possible. It is classic that new projects cost more and take more time than first estimated. A problem with new product development is that you don’t know what you don’t know about what difficulties may arise. Therefore, by definition you can predict anything about it because you just don’t know what might arise.
People have told me that their projects are always on time. You can do that if you make the goals easy. Easy goals are not what most investors want. They are somewhat risk tolerant, it comes with the business, but they have been burned before. For example, will the sun come up in the morning. Within our lifetimes that is pretty certain. For a joke I sometimes include a caveat. I tell people that this morning’s news headline said that scientists had made an error in calculation of a few billion years and the sun will stop this week.
What I believe works best is that you discuss the time frame in a later discussion. Your team knows about the project, time frames, show stoppers, accelerators and points of inflection. The investors have probably worked with many companies and seen many projections. They will have a sense of reality and how to factor that into your projections. Between the two teams the results are more likely to work.
Don’t be afraid to include what’s in it for you and the team. Be as complete as possible. This is not the same as putting everything you can think of on the list. Although you may be satisfied at the time, more may come up; add them.
Slide Creation Process
We discovered that what works best is to fix the number of slides before starting. By fixing the number of slides you force the group to boil down their ideas to their essence. That is hard work but is the heart of this process. If you allow slides to be added to “get it all in” you are liable to create the overlong rambling presentation that we are seeking to avoid. We settled on six slides as the number in the first time we presented using the process. We had six minutes and settled on one slide per minute which worked very well.
Over the years six slides have worked in every situation we encountered. The diagram presents the six slides along with a brief statement about what each of the slides do. The diagram presents one version of what each of the six slides might contain. Slides one, two and three are almost always appropriate. The way those slides are labeled there is a great deal of latitude in their use. In the most restricted use they expand the basic concept that you are presenting. In a more open use they can be extended to include almost anything from marketing to staff to finance. Slides four and five are the most flexible and their appropriate use will become apparent as you work through the first three slides. Now we will go through the creation of the presentation slide by slide.
As we go along we will deal with the flow from slide to slide. Many presentations have a patch work quality to them. What you see is group of slides selected from a much larger group. Each presentation then has little or no time spent to the subtleties of coherence. We will show you how to prevent that. Later we will discuss the creation of coherence in presentations and how to ensure it. Sometimes during a presentation, you can lose your place. A coherent presentation can make that a lot less likely. You will have a real sense of flow so that the question of coherence is much less likely to show up. Further this sense of flow will transfer to the audience and aid them in following you and understanding what you have to say.
You are now applying what we have covered in a previous discussion to your specific presentation. Supposing you develop a duck that flies faster than any previous duck. Your discussion of this invention has to include why it is important. That is the purpose of the exercise. In the case of the fast duck invention it is to put the value of your work right at the beginning. With that in mind your purpose might be stated as “with global warming many birds will find limitations their ability to migrate. The current project is the first in a series of designs to increase the capabilities of wild animals to deal with global warming.” The result you are looking for might be to for the audience to see the relationship between your project and the need for mankind to stabilize nature to ensure our survival”.
That is a challenge and a tall order. The intended results would give the specifics. To allow a duck to fly at 50 miles per hour for extended periods of time; to increase the ducks feeding range by 60%.; to allow ducks to thrive under temperatures rises of 10 degrees’ world-wide and finally to accomplish all this without have an impact on world ecological balance.
This question is intended for you to decide how you will differentiate your business or offers from others. It could be restated as follows. You have something to offer all or a portion of the world. This might be marriage, procreation, sales, enrollment, partnership, a product, or products etc. You want them to accept the offer.
Alternate offers by alternate sellers that the desired customer could be aware of are being proffered all the time. Why should yours be accepted? Don’t get hung up on value judgments like “ marriage is not a business”. The point I want to make is that a transaction occurs. This slide should product a wow from the audience. You will never have a moment like this, with this audience again. This is where you begin to catch their interest You can’t exaggerate at this point. If you do it will catch up with you. It must be a real distinction providing value to the potential customer beyond what any other can offer. But it must also hold some things back which you will present and elaborate on in a later slide.
You must really believe that what you are saying is true. Without that as a base you are through before you begin. Here is where you begin. Can you do that?
I worked with a person who was one of the greatest inventors in his field but to date had had only a modest success. His product was a series of tapes that trained you in a particular field. I pointed out to him that his tapes were actually a course. Once he saw that things moved quickly for him and the company he started. You need to asks yourself whether are you “packaging” your idea to express its’ maximum value for your customer. In the case above customers had to figure out what to do with a tape. Everyone knows what a course is.
Are you selling tapes or a course? So if you are selling tapes you might say that: We allow ducks to fly faster. If you are selling courses you might say: We ensure the long term survival of ducks as a species by increasing theirs foraging range by 50%. You then might “wordsmith” to say “Ducks that survive in the wild.
Begin by asking yourself for the purpose and intended result for this slide.
You are expanding on slide 1. Not to give a detailed answer but to take the audience along with you to a next step.
Do the slides work together? This is a question that you will need to answer again and again as you create more slides. You want to wind up with a coherent picture the audience can follow. Slides 1& 2 must work together to achieve the best results. Working together means that there is both forward and backward flow. It should be clear that slide two arises from slide one, but also that slide 1 is a natural precursor to slide 2 and that slide 2 provides a solid answer to the questions that arises from slide 1.
Some criteria for coherence are:
Type, Type Size, Style, Word Usage, Completeness.
Slide 3 is not a repetition of slide 2 but rather provides the opportunity to go deeper into the structure of your idea.
By now you should be an expert in providing the answers for these questions. You will again begin the process of slide creation with your purpose and intended results, How will this flow with the same material for slides one and two? Until you have settled that you are not ready to create the slide itself. Up to now the work that you have done has concentrated on the uniqueness of your project. While we could go levels deeper we have gone deep enough so that some percentage of the audience is starting to believe that you are creating something that is unique. You need to make this objective (how do you do this #2) doable. You may think that your child is the most beautiful anyone has ever seen but not everyone will agree. It is not important that they do. What is important is that they are following you, that they are engaged.
An overt way of checking this is to now (after slide 3) ask for questions. On the other hand, rather than ask for any questions it may be more useful to ask what questions they have at this
point. If none are forthcoming have a team member ask a question about a key point, particularly one that you regard as a point of vulnerability. You, of course, will have a brilliant answer in your pocket. Not a slide but an explanation. This is particularly impressive if you draw on the board. It may turn out to be most dramatic if another team member draws on the board and answers the question. Whatever the question being discussed it will be a natural segue into the next two slides; Risk and Reward
it is not important that the audience is in agreement with you about either. What is important is that they are engaged with you. With all of these points in mind let’s move on to slide 3. If it seems to you that at this point you are in drama it is only because you are. You don’t want to write a soap opera just have everyone be engaged.
A final rule; their ideas are always better than yours. You want to co-opt resistance not beat it down.
We are taking another cut at the first three slides and asking a different set of questions. If, in your preparation, you don’t have positive answers for these questions for the previous 3 slides then go back until you find a place where the presentation to that point does work and slowly move your way forward until you have all positive answers. If when you get back to the first slide and it still doesn’t work, I recommend that you and the group stop for the day. Next day start all over from the very beginning.
Coming at work from different angles provides different insights and serves to improve the product. The questions above do just that. Please take the time to answer these questions thoroughly. Make any changes that they suggest This will be the most important work in your review.
Slide 4 Risk
It is hard to define what is an appropriate risk for you since I don’t know that direction you are going in. When I find myself in this situation what I do is tell a story: so here we go, actually I’m going tell you two.
It is said that when Jack Kennedy finished his putting a man on the moon speech the materials, fuel and navigation guys ran up to him and told him that that he was crazy. We don’t have that and we can’t get there in ten years. Good, he is purported to have answered, we know what we have to work on.
A friend once told me to be a cowboy about some risks I was about to take on. What does that mean I asked? Well a cowboy doesn’t care how afraid he is, he just mounts up and rides.
The risks you think will stop you won’t. What will cause you grief are the risks you don’t know about. Anyone who tells me that they have all the risks covered doesn’t know anything about life. You see in life you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s there that the real risks arise.
I have concluded that if I understand the risks involved I would never have taken on anything I have ever worked on. It would be too scary. When someone asks me what the risks are I tell them that is the region where I get lost. If I knew how to handle them they wouldn’t be risks, would they? Trying to control all risk is futile. Besides the ones you know about are not the ones that will get you in trouble.
In case one of your team members tells you that they are not scared tell, them about Bull Simmons, the famous Army raider. He was about to leave on one of his missions. He asked the team who among them was not afraid to die. No one raised their hand. Good, he said. I am not going out on a mission this dangerous with people who are not afraid to die. In your presentation you want to project confidence not fearlessness.
In addition, and equally important as the emotional and existential, are the risks that rate specifically to the problems in areas such as the market, competition, technology, hiring and financing.
What if someone in the audience shows up with a risk that you have not thought of. Some people are at your presentation just to play a game called “gotchya”. This gives them the opportunity to show how much smarter they are then you, your team and everyone else in the audience. Let them win!!! t should be immediately apparent to you that they have raised an excellent point, even if what they are saying is nonsense. (Note sarcasm). Their game is to prove how smart they are. You game is to use any opportunity to extend the conversation past this original presentation. This is fine territory to do so. However, it is unlikely that you will have not missed things as you put your presentation together. You can count on the fact that the dumbest person in the audience is very bright. If they can point out a problem that you have not seen and you can work together to fix it, you will then have what we amateur psychologists call a relationship.
There are many ways of looking at rewards for success with a new venture. They range from personal. to financial Let’s assume that we are discussing investors which in most start-ups include employees, individual investors including friends and family and institutional investors. We also must not neglect customers from whom the improvements promised by your startup may have a profound impact ranging from pricing to performance to markets addressed. Since all management books tell you to hold the customer first we will begin the customers first.
There is nothing more powerful in presenting than to actually have customers and revenue. The most powerful proof of the validity of your business idea is to already be in business.
There is a hierarchy in the value of your company when you begin to talk with those who you want to fund you. Actual business in process is at the top. First of all, your business is more valuable if you have reached this stage. You have proven that your product concept works and this reduces the odds against your becoming a successful business. Proof of concept coupled with market acceptance puts you in the “cat bird” seat.
Baring this, the next level of development that serve you well is to feature potential customers who know the products and the state of the market and the potential value of your new idea for them,
At the other end of the spectrum where you have “nothing” but an idea or concept you can still find verification. You can find companies who will validate your idea even if only with the caveat “if you can execute”. Your exposition of your idea must be clear. and the closer you can come to the concrete, if even only by analogy, the more powerful case you can make.
There are reasons for showing your ideas to potential customers beyond verification. You can get feedback, suggestions for improvement and third for confirmation that you are on a useful track. Just always make sure that there are no obvious glitches and that your presentation is crystal-clear. The next points to consider in this slide are the same as those in slide 4. Just go back and reread and commit them to long term memory. What I am doing is attempting to give you a sense of reality about what happens in these presentations and discussions. I warn you will see things that you don’t expect. I can prepare you for that up to a limit.. What I am hoping to prepare you for is to handle being thrown by the situation and somehow coming out of it looking ok.
One of the best presentations on starting a company was one I attended given by Alan Shugart of disk drive fame. Two of the stories have relevance here. The first is that a potential investor asked him why they should fund him. He replied that “maybe they shouldn’t”. The second is that he and Finis Connor proposed an 81/2” hard drive for the first PC based unit. Merv Dyson heard their spiel and told them they what they wanted to build was a 5 ½ inch drive which would fit in the floppy space in a pc. As Shugart described it, he and Connors looked at each other and simultaneously said “what we want is a 5 ½ inch drive that fits into the floppy drive space”.
In this 6the and last slide you are going to ask for the order. You are going to tell the audience what you want from them and what they will get in return. Venture capitalists listen to presentations all day long. It is rare that presenters come to the point. Also the presenters give over optimistic projections both in money needed and time. But the answers the potential investors want often don’t exist yet. What happens in the so called real world is that the initial investment, no matter how large, will allow you to see the problems more clearly. At that point you have a decision to make. Do you create what you can now and release it to the market or you keep going with your ambitious plan
For continued musing. At one point in my career my boss’s boss asked me when my project would be finished. I told him that I didn’t know. The third time that he asked the question I told him the following “You are starting to scare me so I am reaching a point where I will make something up; but the truth is I don’t know” He accepted that along with a promise from me to keep him abreast of out status.
That is really all you can do since you don’t really know how close you are to victory or whether you can get there. Raw startups are like that. Many VCs won’t invest in business this early. They want revenues and customers providing proof of the adequacy of the product. But at that point the company is worth more and a given investment buys less of the company. The results of all this is that the earlier the investment the more difficult it can be to raise money. So how do you deal with that? A friend of mine says “If you can’t fix it, feature it”. For one thing, if it was easy to do and there was certainty that it can be done it would have been done already. You can point out that recognizing the opportunity was the first value creating action of the team. Second you can point out that only a team with the unique talent and experience of yours could even recognize the problem and solve it.
This is pretty clear. The author asks for what they want and gives two strong economic reasons for acceding to the request. It should lead to questions like: Will you provide display materials? What evidence do you have that these knives attract other business? What volume of sales is required to achieve the $1 OEM price?
Bert Berson spent 20 years in industry rising to the position of division Vice President for a publically traded company.
He left industry to found Berson & Associates, specializing in long-term interim management, sales, business development, fund raising and management consulting. His experience spans the range from startups to emerging companies to Fortune 100 companies, DOD and non -profits. The company has participated in eight companies which have had successful IPOs and a number that have merged or been acquired.
He lectures on business and technical subjects in the United States, Europe and Asia.
The majority of presentations that I hear today are designed to entertain the audience, leaving a confused message. As an entertaining speaker, you get applause from the audience but not much else. Is that what you want? If the above strikes home, you’re on the wrong track. The purpose of your presentation is to deliver results, not just applause. What you need is a logical presentation whose clarity allows your audience to understand what you are saying; then you have given the audience the ability to make cogent comments and questions. That is how an ongoing relation begins. Then, the chances that you will reach your goal increases substantially. I have based this book on years of experience in creating presentations for audiences; from VCs to DoD to nonprofits, here and abroad. My experiences have been as an executive or consultant leading teams to produce results. Through instructions and examples, I will lead you through a process slide by slide. Then you can speak with conviction and confidence