This Matters: Presentation vs. Dialogue vs. Reading decks

Most of the presentation advice out there focuses on Presentation decks, the ones where you do all the talking (one-way communication) and your job is to inspire a large audience like in a keynote presentation, a sales meeting or a town hall meeting. The slides you create for that need to be quite simple and visually stimulating. They look something like this:

However, in the business world, many PowerPoint presentations are given in a boardroom type of setting. These are not one-way but actually intended to generate a dialogue, analyze options and come to consensus. For that, you need a different type of slide deck. You need a Dialogue Deck.

Dialogue decks have more text than presentation decks because you need to share information to be able to generate a discussion. However, this does not give you permission to just cram the slides with text. You still want to produce visually aesthetic slides that make it very easy for people to get your point. You want clear headline titles, well-organized text combined with appropriate and well-position images (photos or icons). You want slides that show that you have done your homework preparing for the meeting: they have the right flow and the right content to have a productive dialogue within the allotted time.

The slide below combines text on the left and an image on the right. This is the preferred way to position these two because your eyes go the left first and the info there helps explain the image on the right. Note that contrary to what many people out there recommend, it's okay to use bullet points as long as you are not creating slides that just have bullet points.

The next slide shows a table with information but instead of just using the default from PowerPoint, this table has been formatted to highlight the relevant data.

Finally, the example below shows two lists. But instead of using default bullet points the slide has been formatted a little to give it a different look that's easier to read.

How long should Dialogue decks be? Well, it depends on the topic, the amount of time you have to present and the audience. For a typical one-hour discussion with a group of executives I strongly recommend less than 10 slides with 5-7 being the optimal number.

Now, while Dialogue decks need to have more information than Presentation decks, they don’t have to have everything because you will be presenting them and you can fill in the extra details (that's the value you bring to the room). When you won’t be there and instead you will be emailing slides then you need to create a Reading deck. This one has the most amount of information and in fact it should have plenty so anyone reading it can fully understand the situation, analysis, recommendations and any asks you may have. Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen, calls these types of slides Slideuments (a mix of Slide and Document) and Nancy Duarte, author of Slideology refers to them as Slidedocs™.

Here is an example. Notice how the slide is much more dense but yet organized and with a few key words are highlighted in bold.

Why does the distinction between decks matter? Well, think about this: if you emaila Presentation deck nobody is going to understand a thing because it just doesn’t have enough information to stand on its own. And if you show a Reading deck on the screen during a convention people won’t be able to read a thing because the font is too small. Have you ever heard the typical “I know this is an eye chart but…?” That’s because people are presenting you a slide that was meant for individualreading.

Now you know. Good luck with your next presentation and don't forget to check out my "PowerPoint Slide Design for Crucial Presentations" on-line course at Udemy and get 50% by using this link.

-Guillermo