October 30, 2014

How to start a presentation

I see many slide decks, a large fraction of which are screwed up right at the beginning. Here are some thoughts on doing better. This post goes together with others that relate to presentations or press releases, including:

In the first post linked above, I wrote:

The most generic and reusable part of a slide deck is its beginning — the “setting the table” part. A natural sequence is:

  • Whatever seems necessary to introduce and identify you.
  • Some validation as part of the introduction — company size, customer logos, whatever.
  • The big business problem/need you’re helping with.
  • A little validation about the problem/need.
  • Some common difficulties in satisfying the need, which are happily absent in your solution.
  • Specifically how you meet the need.

Let’s drill into some of those points.

Tips for company validation include:

And you might as well disclose headcount. You can keep revenue secret, but not headcount.

Expanding on the last four points and the distinctions among them:

The big business problem/need is something like “making the right offer to the right customer at the right time, exploiting the kinds of data that are now available to support the decision.” I.e., it’s something everybody has heard of, and has probably deployed some kind of technology to try to at least partially meet. Of course, there may be many application areas for your technology; then recite some of them, either right before or right after you state some unifying theme.

Truth be told, this is a short part of the presentation companies usually get right, so let’s move on.

If the need is obvious, how and why should you validate it? I can answer the “how” part of the question in one word — “quickly”. 🙂 As for why validate — speaking strictly logically, you don’t have to. But it can help with emotional buy-in, and also gives an excuse to get a little more specific than, for example “know your customer by leveraging big data”.

Where things commonly go wrong is … well, in discussions of where things commonly go wrong. 🙂 Vendors much too often paint a picture of life without them that is inaccurately bleak. If you say that enterprises who don’t have your technology “sometimes” or “often” are mired in long turnaround times, high costs, bad performance, etc., that’s fine. If you say or imply it always happens, you’re digging yourself into an early credibility hole.

That such exaggeration is commonly part-sincere doesn’t help. Kidding yourself into actually believing the weak-competition nonsense is one of the major pitfalls for Pollyannas. Your optimistic and future-oriented sales pitch needs to be compared to other vendors’ optimistic and future-oriented sales pitches, not to proven reality in the few well-established (and hence not the newest) production implementations you have detailed insight into.

Finally, let’s suppose you’ve navigated all those shoals, and want to summarize how you avoid common problems, before diving into the true technical meat of the presentation. This is a great time to draw on the layered messaging model:

And with that the introduction is finally over, and you have at least three good choices about how to proceed:


One Response to “How to start a presentation”

  1. Elevator pitches and other self-introductions | Strategic Messaging on August 31st, 2015 3:23 am

    […] closest I’ve come to posting about this template in the past was perhaps when I wrote about how to start a presentation. I recommend that post as a companion to this […]

Leave a Reply

Feed including blog about strategic marketing and messaging in technology and politics Subscribe to the Monash Research feed via RSS or email:


Search our blogs and white papers

Monash Research blogs

User consulting

Building a short list? Refining your strategic plan? We can help.

Vendor advisory

We tell vendors what's happening -- and, more important, what they should do about it.

Monash Research highlights

Learn about white papers, webcasts, and blog highlights, by RSS or email.