How to create a presentation? [A case study]
March 1 2022
I have over 20 years of professional experience. During that time I have discovered, that experiences on the way only confirmed the assumption that there are two kinds of presentation. The one that has to be done because of the direct order and the one that actually changes something. The first type is overpopulated with raw data, statistics, and facts. They waste time and make long and ineffective meetings even longer and more ineffective. The second type presents a challenge and inspires towards finding a solution. The best type, however… does not resemble a presentation at all.
OK, let’s explain. I specialize in working for technological and product companies, so it’s only natural I saw a few presentations along the way. Even the ones created by software developers that showed new and recommended tools to be used by the entire production crew. They were polished beyond imagination. Graphical marvels that were created with templates. Brilliant, intelligent, even funny at times. But even they don’t meet the criteria for an efficient presentation. The one I would want you to use.
How to look good during the presentation? Get ready for the “narrative memo”
I prefer the (modified, it’s important!) approach created by Jeff Bezos from Amazon. He’s not creating classical presentations. Instead, he creates a document in a way that resembles a press release. Instead of classic slides – notes that in structure and meaning reassemble a press release. If you want to create a presentation that will really help a team, forget about the classic format. Seriously, remove the image from your head.
Instead, think about what drives people to follow others. What helps people to convince the king to finance a trip across the ocean on a few ships to find new lands. What helps people convince an investor to pump money into a startup during an elevator pitch. Beyond each of these successes doesn’t stand a presentation but a story. It’s the story and emotions generated by it that make us listen to another human being. Be with him or her and trust.
No, an alarm can go off in your head. Companies, mine included, need data. Hard numbers that we can analyze, understand, turn into knowledge and use in practice. And you speak of emotions? You mention something elusive, subjective, and connected to decision chaos? No. I’m talking about emotions acting as a starting point, a catalyst. An element that is only a tool.
Amazon doesn’t avoid numbers; their written memos are full of them. However, they are presented in a certain way. This way forces teams to look holistically at a problem and generates the need for a conversation. They fight on arguments, look for a solution.
The method created by Jeff Bezos revolutionizes presentations
Jeff Bezos has introduced a narrative method because he saw a big flaw in traditionally understood presentations. His method forces people who make presentations to deeply understand the subject. This requires engagement, time, and effort, not merely a creation of something, anything just to get by during a meeting.
Bezos claims (and I totally agree!) that PowerPoint should be prohibited in companies. Using this software (or similar, it’s about an idea after all, not the PowerPoint per se) immensely limits the problem and turns it into a numbers game. Numbers show tendencies, they show a certain vision of reality but they don’t solve problems. Numbers don’t build a context for a situation. Instead, they limit the problem to raw data.
It’s easily visible when looking at one of my past clients. After a decade on a market, the company still didn’t have a marketing department. My job was to build it. Nobody in the company knew anything about the marketing, the consciousness level was nearly zero. Nobody understood what SEO is about and why in their situation it was better to first invest in SEO instead of SEM.
The company was so focused on numbers that could not force itself to change the point of view and understand basics. They were occupied by numbers and proofs. They have repeatedly claimed that SEM provided immediate and measurable results and SEO is an investment in uncertain and far away future. They couldn’t understand that first, you have to build foundations and visibility instead of burning money for actions that can’t be fully optimized (yes, paid campaigns also have to be optimized with SEO!)
This is what happens when we are so immersed in numbers alone. Numbers isolate, sometimes even twist the problem. At the same time, the narrative memo can be understood by everyone.
How to create a presentation?
Now we have two options: the old one that Bezos created and the new, modified one. Created by a former Amazon manager. In the old approach, everyone in a team (!) makes a note that has a max of 6 pages. Then a meeting starts with 30 minutes of silence when people read what others made for them. Then starts the talk that leads to a solution.
In a new version of this method, the better one, in my opinion, notes are made as if they were written by a happy customer. He or she gives thanks to a company for how the product changed his or her life. How the product affected this person’s life, how it’s used in daily situations, and when. This approach helps design the product in the first phase of its existence but also improves the next models. Finally, this will help you understand how the customer thinks, what he or she feels, and what is important from that perspective.
How can you prepare for this kind of presentation?
- Think like a customer. Focusing on the customer and his needs is crucial. Not for the purpose of making a presentation, it’s just the tool after all. You need to remember that. If not, you will just turn from “focus on numbers” mode into “focus on narration” mode. That would be trading one mistake for another. It’s not what it’s all about.
The presentation should be made in a way that gives the team a clear notion of what is important in a product. What are its strengths and weaknesses, how the product is used, and for what.
- Write simple, you have to be understood. 2+2=4. Everybody understands that so a classic presentation with numbers should be accessible to all. How much money did the company make, what avenues produces more revenue, and why. The same rule applies to a narrative memo. Write simple, for human beings. Don’t try to win a Pulitzer with a beautiful style. Instead, present material in a way that is important and relevant to everyone in the room.
If you have a problem with that, imagine a customer that uses your product for just a few hours but already sees a real value in it and a solution to his or her challenges. In this context, you will not write a letter to a company that is rational and extremely eloquent. You will write with your heart, with emotions. These will be rather shorter sentences, full of emotional states. A customer in this letter will say how the product is being used and for what.
- Forget about a six pages rule. There can be two or four, it doesn’t matter. The most important is your take on it. If you can pack everything on one page, then one page it is. But remember – this one-pager should be explicit enough for everyone involved and cover everything you want to say. That’s the tricky part.
Next steps and my training
The narrative method, despite being launched by Bezos in Amazon back in 1997 (!) is still not that popular. Few companies use it, especially the modified version. I can gladly help you in implementing it in your company. Business processes optimization and training is a part of my offer.
Simply reach out and tell me what problems do you have in your organization. Maybe meetings are too long and ineffective. Maybe the team can’t develop a rational course of action or make satisfactory decisions. Maybe your products are not received well enough on the market? This can absolutely be the fault of inefficient meetings and internal presentations that don’t lead to results.
I’m often very skeptical about the model developed by Amazon. In my offer, I have even a process of supporting e-commerce to fight Amazon. It doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t appreciate the organizational skills of Bezos himself. As it happens, he developed a unique style of leading and company culture that brings real and extraordinary results. Even if you think this method is weird, I will gladly show you it really works and helps companies in everyday operations. Especially long-term.