Category Archives: Reducing Text

The 10 Slide Investor Pitch

Guy Kawasaki has long said that he would never invest in a business that couldn’t make its case in 10 slides. While I’m no venture capitalist like Guy, I’ve seen plenty of pitch and investor decks that had no hope of getting investment—and one of the common themes was far too many slides. When you don’t understand your business well enough to explain it simply, or if your business model is so complicated that it can’t be explained simply, then why would an outside want to invest?

Guy revisits his 10-slide maxim in the below Entrepreneur article.



5 Strategies For Convincing The Boss To Present Differently


One of the questions I hear most often following a corporate training is: “How do I get my boss on board? She still insists on endless bullet points.”

Believe me, it’s frustrating for me as well to train a whole team from a company to present more effectively only to have the CEO (who missed the training) insist everyone revert to death by bullet points because it’s all he understands.

Managing up in any situation and convincing the boss to change course is a delicate art, but here are five strategies for doing exactly that when it comes to presenting with fewer words:

1. Show, Don’t Tell

People make bad presentations because they see bad presentations. From college and MBA programs through to entry-level positions and management positions, most people are simply never taught how to present information well. And so, corporate America emulates the presentations they see being created by clients, colleagues and superiors.

To counteract this, use every opportunity to show the powers that be what good presentations look like. When I first read Nancy Duarte’s Resonate, I was thrilled to see an example of a presentation given by GE CMO Beth Comstock filled with beautiful large photos. I immediately copied the pages and sent them around to my then company’s team that worked with GE. “Show your clients how their boss is presenting,” I told my team.


Collect good presentations every time you see them, and show everyone you can what good slide decks actually look like. Send PDFs, links to TED Talks, hard copies of agency pitch decks or sales presentations you come across.

2. Preach the Golden Rule of Presentation

Okay, “preaching” and managing up are not always compatible, but try to remind others of the Golden Rule of Presentation: Present Unto Others How You Wish to Be Presented To. If your CEO complains about being given bullet-point ridden decks, remind her that you can help create better slides for her to deliver to others.

3. Win Small Battles

A mistake many make is to try to change everything overnight. Instead of standing on your desk and shouting, “One message per slide or else!”, look for opportunities to make over a small internal deck or just a few slides from an upcoming big presentation. Don’t change all of your president’s pie charts into bar charts and remove his legends the night before a major pitch, but try it with a few charts in a smaller deck and gently show how much more readable the data can be.

And understand that you will not win every battle. But be strong and you will start to win here and there. Remember, an aircraft carrier doesn’t turn on a dime…

4. Gather Your Tribe


In his wonderful book, Tribes, Seth Godin urges changing company culture not by altering how leadership thinks, but how your peers think and act. “Gather your tribe,” says Godin, and gain as many allies as possible in your organization. Eventually, this critical mass will influence leadership. And you won’t feel like such an island.

5. Bring in an Outsider

It’s a sad fact that the longer you stay at an organization, the more resistant that organization may be to looking to you for change. I’ve been there. I’ve been hired to “change the thinking” and “remake” an offering only to find myself a few years later shut out when things needed to evolve further. We’ve all seen high-priced consultants brought in to tell a company what many insiders already knew.

But if that’s what it takes, then go ahead and bring in a presentation or data visualization trainer. Sending people to outside training is good, but not nearly as good as physically getting someone in-house to advocate to as many people as possible.

And, of course, If you feel your organization would benefit from an outside voice and training, drop me a line!


Thanks to Tim K. for suggesting this topic.

Categories: Reducing Text.

What “5 Slides Only” Really Means

There has been an increasing trend in companies these days of insisting presentations be limited to just a few slides. I’m hearing more and more from clients that bosses are demanding “5 slides only” or “10 slides maximum” for an internal presentation.

So, what does this actually mean and how do you handle a situation like this?

Slide Number Agnostic

First of all, I have always been slide number agnostic. For an on-screen presentation, it makes no difference if you present 10 minutes worth of content with one slide or with 20 slides. In my trainings, I routinely use upwards of 100 slides per hour.


But herein lies the clue for you when given a cap on number of slides. Anyone who asks you to limit your number of slides is actually asking you to limit and focus your content. Most people assume content is related to slide number the way that a newspaper article is related to word count. But it’s just not true. It’s quite possible to put 60 minutes of content onto 5 slides—and that’s precisely what some people do…

It’s About Time Allotted

The first step in answering this challenge is to truly examine how much time you have to present. When preparing a presentation, overall time and time per slide are two of the most important metrics to consider. If you’re given 5 minutes to present next year’s sales strategy, that’s a pretty good indication that this is not the place to discuss the work history of your 25 new sales reps and the 15-phase implementation plan for the new B2C website. Given 5 minutes, you can only address the big picture and the actionable takeaway, if any.

They Just Want the Big Picture

And that gets us to what most people are actually asking for when they ask for a cap on slides. They simply want the big picture and the takeaway. But for whatever reason, corporate America has failed time and again in adequately expressing and teaching people how to deliver this. Raise your hand if you’ve ever delivered more than you knew you were asked for. Why did you do it? Well, nobody has ever been fired for including too much…

So, let’s accept some collective blame here, and now understand why you are being limited to 5 slides only. It is a clumsy attempt to force people to not put needless details up on the screen.

So How Do You Handle the Slide Cap Request?

Clarify the presentation’s objectives with whoever has requested the slide cap. Talk in terms of time allotted to present and ask what level of detail and takeaway is required. In most cases, people don’t want all the detail behind the overall message. If it seems as though the requested information can fit into the allotted time, but is still more than what will comfortably fit on 5 slides with one message per slide, then ask for an exception and explain why. If the requested information is too much for your allotted time, then ask to provide additional content in a handout that will never be projected. Detailed tables and endless research notes have a place—just not on the screen in a live presentation. And keep in mind:

“5 Slides Only” = “Just Give Me the Big Picture”


2 is the new 3

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a new iPad app called Haiku Deck.

At the time, they had graciously created a quick deck for me based on my Twinkie theory of presentation. 

Now, they did one better, creating a Haiku Deck based on my 2 is the new 3 post.

If you haven’t checked out Haiku Deck, swing by their site and download the app. It’s a cool way of very quickly creating a simple text-lite presentation. It might even be a cool tool to use when training people to create more visual, less text-dependant presentations.



2 is the New 3


I used to be a big believer in the series of three. Everybody told me things are more memorable in triads: 3 Little Pigs. 3 Musketeers. 3 Stooges. “Stop. Drop. And Roll.” 

The old rule of 3 is still valid—especially when comparing something like a 3-part strategy to a 10-point plan.

But if you know me, you know there’s always a way to further simplify. And that’s why I’ve become a huge believer in the series of 2. 

2 things are just much easier to remember than 3. And it is much easier to categorize things in an “either/or” construct.

For example, my department at Edelman does many things, but here’s how I explain it to new employees:

  1. We fish for people
  2. We teach people to fish

On a more detailed level, we do quite a bit more, of course, but everything we do fits into one of the above two categories.

I recently restructured my presentation training from 3 parts to 2. Initially, the seminar bucketed everything into CONTENT, FORMAT & DELIVERY. But now, everything that I teach about effective presentation falls into one of two categories: 

The new 2-part construct still includes 3 hours of material, but now goes beyond mere categorization. If the attendees can’t remember the dozens and dozens of techniques and tips at any moment, hopefully they will always remember the 2 overall goals when creating presentation materials: Everything in a presentation should strive for CLARITY and STICKINESS. And everything you put on a slide should address at least one of these 2 aims.

Audiences Remember More When Given Less

People always want something for their money. Therefore in business presentations, there is the constant urge to include more value by simply including more. And so you get lengthy and immediately forgettable bulleted lists in slides like this:

Traditional studies have shown that the brain can manage and remember up to 7 items at a time—this is one of the reasons phone numbers were initially capped at 7 digits. But studies on education have also shown that students learn more when presented with less. Think about that, because it’s quite a radical idea. You will leave your audience with more by giving them less. And if we want to use the phone number example, note that the numbers are divided into TWO packages of numbers. You won’t remember 3481372, but you will remember 348-1372. So, wouldn’t this be much better if you’re aiming for stickiness?

Steve Jobs Knew the Power of 2

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he found his old company selling dozens of different computer models. At a meeting attempting to sort the confused product line out, Jobs grabbed a marker and walked to the white board. He drew a simple 4 box grid: The columns were labeled “Consumer” and “Pro” and the rows were labeled “Notebook” and “Desktop.” A consumer would only have a choice of 2 items at any given point in their decision-making. 15 years later, this is still essentially how Apple sells its computers. And if you’ve ever tried to choose a computer from Dell’s mess of a website, you’ll understand the power of Jobs’s series of 2 selection scheme.

CEOs Want Fewer Choices

Last year we created a “Walking Deck” (more on that in a future post) for one of our executives to present to a major pharma CEO. CEOs are notorious for wanting simplified messages presented to them. You do not want to walk into their office with 15 options. (You want to ask them to make the decision between spending $100 million or $10 million based on your analysis and recommendations.) So here’s the first page agenda presented to this CEO. Of course, each item has sub-items, but it was important to umbrella the entire meeting into just 2 items. 


At the end of the day and over the course of the entire meeting, this CEO was only asked to make a decision on 2 things: Did he want to engage Edelman to:

  1. Increase engagement and access 
  2. Provide measurable results

The Paradox of Choice is a very real thing. So throw away your 22-point programs and embrace the Series of 2. Of course, true communication masters only present 1 thing…

visual training presentation