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The Tale of “FrankenDeck”

The Tale of “FrankenDeck”

John Colaruotolo's picture
John Colaruotolo
April 4th, 2011

We’ve all seen it before. You can’t quite put your finger on what the point of the presentation is. It looks like it was pieced together from many other presentations. It’s possible that the presenter has spent a lot of time (or not much time at all) putting together this presentation. In the end, it turns out to be a really long-winded, un-focused presentation, and we’re all glad when it gets to the end so we can move on.

You know what I’m talking about. It’s that strange beast of a presentation: the FrankenDeck.

Why does no one love thy Frankendeck? Let me count the ways:

Slides are not inter-related. Because the presentation was made by copying and pasting entire slides from various different presentations, the concepts and information that you’re seeing are often at different levels of thinking. Also, the graphics, design elements, and overall aesthetic of the FrankenDeck will reflect each of the presentations that it came from.

A false sense of confidence and familiarity for the presenter. The speaker may feel like he knows the material, and may have saved time by cobbling together his slides. But in reality, he’s just not prepared. The first give-away of a FrankenDeck is a presenter that is unsure of “what comes next.”

No ownership. Because he did not create the presentation slides, the presenter has no real ownership of the information that he’s presenting. This will have consequences such as not appearing polished in his delivery, and not prepared for those tricky questions that should have been thought of ahead of time.

The presentation is visually inconsistent. When someone copies and pastes entire slides from a variety of sources, you can bet that you’ll end up with just that: a product that looks like it was copied and pasted from a variety of sources.

The slides are not usually designed for projection. There is a lot of PowerPoint fatigue in the world, and part of it comes from slides with far too much information for projection. Slides with detailed charts and graphs, dozens of bullet-point sentences in a tiny font, and dense tables of data are best suited for the higher-resolution medium of paper, not a projection. (That’s another entire issue altogether. See the great information architect Edward Tufte’s great article on the subject.)

The presenter is telling someone else’s story(ies).

Bottom line: there is no story. The FrankenDeck will certainly have the appearance of a story. But with all of those different slides from many different sources, what are the chances that it tells a discreet story? In the end, you know it is just a series of slides stitched together.

How can you overcome the pitfalls of the Frankendeck? There are a few simple principles to follow.

Start with your story. Don’t even sit with your laptop. Spend 30 minutes and map out the main messages of your presentation with pencil and paper. You’ll be surprised how clear and concise a message you can create when you stick to the simple rules of writing a paper in 8th grade English class. Only after you’ve created your pencil and paper draft should you begin to make slides to support each piece of the message.

Less is more. We hear this phrase a lot. Many believe in it, yet few practice it. Business people often feel the need for lots of slides… lots of content… lots of information…. However, when you stick to the messages of your pencil-and-paper draft, you only create slides that are related to those messages. You don’t need those extra 10 slides that tell the entire history of how you got up in the morning to put together the presentation you’re giving.

Leverage material instead of copying material. If you want to leverage material from your colleagues, there is nothing wrong with that. But do just that: leverage the material; use it as input for developing your own message. Avoid the blatant copy and paste, just dropping their slides in to your deck. Create something truly new. As a result, you enable yourself to be that much more familiar with the material, and in the end you’ll truly own your presentation.

Special thanks to Kathy, Annie, Jen, and Brett for their inspiration and collaboration on this post.

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