How Product Managers Can Get Better At Creating Powerpoint Slides

by drjim on March 11, 2009

How Can Product Mangers Create Better Powerpoint Slides?

How Can Product Mangers Create Better Powerpoint Slides?

Yeah, yeah I know that everyone says that they hate Powerpoint – “death by Powerpoint” and all of that. However, the reality of modern Product Manger life is that we end up using Powerpoint to communicate a lot of information about our products and the current status of our projects. Thank goodness you took all of those Powerpoint classes back in college…

What? You’ve never had a Powerpoint class in your life? Hmm, can I at least assume that you know about the color wheel? Dang – struck out there also? Looks like we’re going to have to have a talk here.

There are some people out there that are really gifted artists. One that comes to mind is Garr Reynolds over at Presentation Zen. However, then there is the rest of us. Powerpoint has a bunch of flashy features that lots of people like to use; however, the key is to remember that it’s really a communication tool. This means that you’d like to get good enough at using it that you can get your point across in a clear way that will stick with your audience.

So how does a product manger go about doing this? It’s actually pretty simple – it will just take an investment in time. I would suggest that you find a Powerpoint presentation that you’ve seen that really worked for you – it communicated what it was trying to say in a concise, clear way. Then you need to sit down with a blank Powerpoint presentation and try to recreate it from scratch.

This is actually a lot harder than it might seem at first, getting all of the details of a presentation that someone else created (fonts, colors, line thicknesses, what goes on top of what else, etc.) can be a challenge. However, as you go through this copy / creation process you’ll discover how a really good presentation comes together.

I’m out of room this time, but we’ll chat about color wheels next time…

How did you orignally learn to use Powerpoint? Have you ever had any formal Powerpoint classes or has it been all on-the-job training? What was the best Powerpoint presentation that you’ve ever seen? Why? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Ed Cawthorne March 11, 2009 at 11:15 am

The difficulty I have with powerpoint is the eventual use of the slides.

If the slides are soley to be used as a framework for a presentation, (what powerpoint was designed to do in the first place) then I love nice simple slides with lots of pictures and keywords – just as Garr discusses on Presentation Zen.

However, Powerpoint is increasingly used as a format to distribute information in its own right – without the presenter providing the accompanying narrative of those slides.

In this case – pictures and few keywords are not enough for the viewer to get an understanding of the important points the presentation was trying to convey. As a result, very wordy slides are the norm so they can be understood by themselves.

Why are powerpoint slides used as an way of distributing information? – well I think it is much easier to read short chunks of information spread across different slides than a couple of pages of A4 full of text.

Ultimately Product Managers need to spend more time on creating compelling material that can used standalone. PodCasts and Videos are probably a good way to communicate with those with a short attention span – but of course, that is yet more work for the beleagured product manager!

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Dr. Jim Anderson March 12, 2009 at 9:31 am

Ed: you’ve hit the nail on the head. Where I see PowerPoint being used (incorrectly?) is for weekly status reports. It sure seems like we need a different way of communicating information – one that would allow the use of images but would also make it easy to embed additional detailed information. Hmm, looks like a product opportunity for someone!

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Kim March 11, 2009 at 12:31 pm

You might also want to look at what Nancy Duarte is doing (her team created the slides for Al Gore). She blogs at http://blog.duarte.com/.

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Dr. Jim Anderson March 12, 2009 at 9:35 am

Kim: good point. I love what the folks over at slide:ology do. My only struggle is that the slides that they produce look so good that it’s kinda hard to use them in internal planning meetings!

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Lou March 11, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Jim,

I have to disagree with your approach. The focus should be on the presentation as a whole, not the PowerPoint presentation. PowerPoint is but a tool, not the presentation. When designing PowerPoint slides make sure they do not become the presentation–your idea is the presentation. Otherwise, why do I need to listen to you or your presentation when all I have to do is read your PowerPoint slides?

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Dr. Jim Anderson March 12, 2009 at 9:38 am

Lou: you missed my point here (but don’t feel bad, it’s kinda subtle). Yes, of course, the focus should be on the entire presentation. However, with that being said, how do the individual slides look? Too few of us are artists and so often our individual slides take away from the overall message of the presentation. We all need to become better artists. The question that I was trying to answer was “how do we do that”.

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Lena March 12, 2009 at 11:19 am

Training: School 🙂

Personally I really like PPs which uses the new glossy buttons etc in the Drawing Tools section. It makes all the difference to the boring blue 90’s styled standard boxes.

PowerPoint is a great tool to use when visualizing early product ideas.
Some prefer to draw up ideas with pen and paper, some photoshop and some PowerPoint. I think it’s good to use PowerPoint when creating quick mockup if photoshop isn’t on your pc… not just for presentations and meetings.

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David Locke March 19, 2009 at 9:36 pm

A conceptualization is a collection of concepts, maybe a network of concept. Differentiation has us including some concepts and their networks, and excluding others.

Terminology management has to embody those concepts in keywords. Those keywords turn up on the UI as labels. And, they are all you say. The user is supposed to know what they mean without reading the manual, but then again, there may be too many users with different backgrounds.

Slides are the best place to put this stuff, share this stuff, and debate them. If you need more than one slide, then the word on the slide isn’t good enough. If you need a sequence, you still need to summarize that sequence. Boil it down to one word, maybe two, but boil it down.

These slides might not communicate with investors, but somehow we expect these same words to the the job on the interface. Maybe the problem is broader than Powerpoint.

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Dr. Jim Anderson March 21, 2009 at 1:15 pm

David: you bring up an interesting idea – should PowerPoint slides stand by themselves? I know that I’ve tried to create many “decks” that could be read through without actually seeing the presentation. I think that we like PowerPoint because it allows us to quickly draw a lot of pictures. However, if our audience is not sitting in a presentations it sure seems like it’s not the best way to get our message across. Perhaps this is why it has become so quick & easy to create videos – PowerPoint plus video may be the best answer to effective communications…

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Matt Kesler November 10, 2011 at 1:09 am

I’ve compiled some lessons learned using PowerPoint as a product manager for more years than I care to admit. Here is an article with some of those lessons: http://launch-your-product.com/effective-presentations/.

I would welcome additions. Please let me know if you have some experiences to share: matt@mattkesler.com.

Thanks!

Matt

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Dr. Jim Anderson November 11, 2011 at 9:57 am

Matt: Great article! I especially like the guidance “pictures, not words”! Thanks for sharing.

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