The slides were dazzling. The message sizzled. The storyline was compelling. The audience was enthralled. The success of the company’s new corporate presentation seemed guaranteed after the company’s CEO presented it during an important sales call.

There was just one problem. No one else could deliver the presentation.

Sure, they tried. But no matter how hard they tried, everyone else got tangled up in the complicated flow of the presentation. Even worse, their audiences were confused as well, and the presentation landed with a thud whenever it was presented by anyone other than the CEO.

Everyone was puzzled.

The presentation was created by a design firm that specialized in high-end presentations. They did beautiful work. And they were the go-to firm of choice for countless executives. And yet, it seemed like the $75,000 project was a total waste.

I’ve seen variations of this story many times. Recently, Peter Mahoney, CEO of Plannuh, and Davide Cis, a VP of Product Management at Charles River Development shared similar stories with me – thank you Peter and Davide.

Getting back to our story… what was wrong?  Was it a waste of money?

If the project was created just for the use of the CEO, then it would be fine. But if the company paid $75,000 to get an amazing presentation that could be used by everyone in the company, then it was a complete and total failure. Here’s why…

Who will deliver the presentation?

It turns out that the presentation was designed specifically for the CEO. The design firm spent hours in workshops with the CEO synthesizing the CEO’s vision into a new pitch. No change was made without the CEO’s approval. And of course, the CEO loved the completed presentation.

But the high-priced presentation consultants didn’t spend any time speaking with sales people or the VP of sales. Nor did they speak with customers or other folks in the company. So, they had no idea how the sales people presented, how well they presented, or what resonated with their audiences. There’s an important lesson here:

The best presentations are designed as much for the presenter as for the audience.

Sooner or later, a company presentation will need to be delivered by most sales people and most senior leaders in a company or organization – so the presentation needs to be presentable by each of them. Each of these people need to be able to able to successfully present it.

Sure, some people are already great presenters. And others can be trained. But training is only part of the problem. When it comes to presenting, no amount of training will turn some frogs into presenter princes. The presentation itself needs to change.

Design for Presentability

Is it really possible to make a presentation presentable by many different people? Yes.  Here’s how:

Design the presentation to meet the needs of specific presenter personas

Identify the major categories of presenters and create personas for the most important ones. Personas may be based on function (sales, marketing etc.), seniority (executive, manager, new employee), presentation experience level (master, solid presenter, inexperienced, needs work etc.) and more. 

Document each persona’s typical key characteristics such as strengths and weaknesses at presenting, attention span, experience, trainability, product and industry knowledge, gravitas, and believability. Also document the situations where they are likely to use the presentation and what they will need to accomplish as a result of it: their target audience, where the presentation is likely to be delivered (online, in-person, small group, large auditorium) etc.

Listen to presenters

Get input from presenters before, during and after message development and presentation construction. Listen and incorporate their ideas into the actual presentation. At the same time, don’t be afraid to challenge them – just don’t go too far or the presentation will become unpresentable.

Keep it simple and make it flow

Sure, you need to create a compelling message. But it’s just easier for people to present a simpler message or story. Concepts should easily flow together. The conclusion should feel like a natural ending to the story.

Use stories

Stories are easy to tell and hear because we humans are natural storytellers. A story can carry the message and maintain a high degree of interest. Presenters can even skip over some details without damaging the story. The story should be simple so that each presenter can deliver it effectively.

Make it believable

 Oftentimes presentations create a vision of the future. But if the presentation isn’t grounded in reality, it will sink. If possible, back up your presentation content decisions with qualitative or quantitative data such as customer interviews and third-party research – and share that data with presenters if it’s not already in the presentation. In other words, help presenters to buy into the presentation. Otherwise, presenters won’t be convincing in their delivery or they’ll ignore the presentation altogether.

Provide cues

Each slide should provide cues so the presenter knows what to say. We all know that you should limit the text on a slide. And yet, you still need to provide enough text so the presenter has an idea of what to say without having to memorize every single word. As a skilled presenter, even I like to use slide cues.

Use simple talking points

Davide Cis recommends including a written narrative to accompany the slide deck. This can be a separate document or can be included directly in the slide deck notes. 

You can use the PowerPoint/Keynote/Google Slides notes/presenter notes/speaker notes view to create talking points for each slide. And keep them simple. Unless they are paid professionals or master presenters , you can’t expect most presenters to memorize specific talking points for each slide. Rather, provide outlines and notes that they can deliver naturally for each slide. Break different concepts into individual slides so it’s obvious what should be covered in each.

Go modular

It’s easier than you may think to design a presentation that can be used by many audiences. One great approach is to use modular presentations which Peter Mahoney has used in the past. For example, you might create a generic overview followed by components that can be swapped in or out depending on the situation such as the customer’s vertical, business challenges, etc.

Avoid complicated slide builds & animations

Builds can be a great way to focus the audience’s attention on a part of a slide. If you have too many builds on a slide, presenters may be challenged to properly deliver the presentation. Instead, limit the number of builds, group multiple objects into the same build, and/or automate builds so that presenters don’t need to work too hard to synch the talking points to builds.

Conduct training & certification

Conduct large and small group training, 1:1 training and create online training so presenters know how to use the slide deck (e.g. when to use a specific module). Record a top salesperson delivering the slide deck as well. Depending on how broadly the deck is being used, consider certifying presenters by having them present in front of a panel of senior managers who can evaluate their quality.


When you design simplicity and flexibility into your presentations, you’ll be able to ensure that each person can present as well as your best presenter.


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