The Powerpoint Test: Keep It Brief And Sell Your Ideas



My family travelled to Greenfield Village in Michigan when I was eight years old to visit the Henry Ford museum. While we were there, I was able to print out a 3-inch by 5-inch copy of a die-cut of the Gettysburg address. That epic speech fit easily onto a small piece of paper.


I still have that printing, and it taught me a lesson that day which I try to apply to most of my business correspondence, pitches, and collateral: if you can’t say it one one slide, you need to rewrite it.


This might sound crazy to a lot of people, especially if you, like me, have worked for companies who think it’s not just acceptable, but optimal, to dump as much information on to a page as possible, but consider this:


If you had to buy something of high cost tomorrow, would you rather buy this one:


“{item}: engaging toys built to withstand the demands of enthusiastic toddlers. ”




“{item} has outperformed its competitors in 16 challenges worldwide. Michelle Obama owns one, it’s $50 dollars cheaper than the next competitor, three of your facebook friends own one, and it comes with a 20-year limited parts warranty, so you don’t have to worry. Here’s a giant infographic so you can see what we mean.”


The kitchen sink or “deluge of data” method simply doesn’t cut it. It looks scattered and desperate. I can find the rest out in a 10-second search on Google anyway.


So, why are we trusting this method with most of our business communications?


Sure, facts and figures are deemed to be indisputable, and information is king when empowering decisions, but the simplest, most concise pitches usually win the day.


Think about the last Apple ad you saw. Did it list the entire featureset of that item? No. It demonstrated, in a way that even your grandmother could understand, the basics of what that item could do and it let your brain fill in the rest.


Just as Apple sells a lifestyle, your decks should tell a short story of what you hope to achieve with your pitch or business.


There’s a phrase which is used equally by newspaper writers and advertising agencies: “If it can be said in 3 words, say it in 2.” Obviously, the major concern for these content creators is the physical size of what they are fitting their words onto, but there is an essential takeaway for all writing: tighten it up, and your audience will appreciate it.


What I propose is that you look at every piece of collateral, pitch deck, or major communication piece.  Read it, hand it to others to read and perform the PowerPoint Test.


What is the PowerPoint test? How do you know if your work passes the PowerPoint test?


  • •The PowerPoint test is simple: As you tell your story, or pitch your strategy, are you keeping your points to 1-2 lines per slide? (You should.)


  • •Are you using jargon, regional language, or superfluous, flowery language? (You shouldn’t.)


  • •Are you explaining what you need in a way which honours the listener’s time and attention? (You absolutely should.)


The best indicator of whether you’ve cut to the chase is if you haven’t had to use autoshrink.



You probably know most of these best practices, but what if your company or clients expect a deluge of data?


Provide a leave-behind one pager which explains more information, or arrange another meeting. No one is served by going over time in a pitch, or overexplaining a concept.


It’s better to get initial buy-in by explaining the simple concepts, and leave behind the deeper details for when your client is further down the buying process. Remember the last time you fell in love with a restaurant’s atmosphere before you ever ate a bite of their food? It’s just like that.


What to do next


If you really think you might have an uphill battle with clients or internally, you should consider putting together a pitch deck to make your point about making communications brief. Try getting your point across in 10 slides.




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