Posts Tagged ‘Powerpoint’

One message is better than five

June 8, 2012

Ken Segall, a creative ad man who worked with Steve Jobs through the heyday of building the Apple brand, has an idea worth considering in investor relations:

Minimize your messaging.

Segall came up with the “i” in the iMac brand (which led to iPod, iPhone, iPad …) and worked on memorable campaigns for Apple and other leading companies. Segall’s book Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drives Apple’s Success came out this spring and is a good read for people involved in telling their companies’ story.

“Think minimal” is an idea at the core of Apple’s simplicity, Segall says. For example, Apple offers five choices of computers rather than dozens of variations sold by HP or Dell. Segall spoke Thursday at the Mid-America Corporate Growth Conference hosted by Association for Corporate Growth in Kansas City.

Minimalism works in getting your message across, too, he says. From the book:

Human beings are a funny lot. Give them one idea and they nod their heads. Give them five and they simply scratch their heads. Or even worse, they foreget you mentioned all those ideas in the first place.

Minimizing is the key to making a point stick. … Your point will be more quickly understood, and more easily remembered, if you don’t clutter it up with other points.

When talking to investors, our temptation in IR is to unleash a tsunami of facts. More details in the earnings release, more slides, more bullet points, more pages. We want to overwhelm doubts by flooding people with every piece of information.

Though Segall’s expertise is in marketing consumer goods, he’s right when he urges us “Don’t bury your fact in facts.”

Segall tells a story of discussing an ad with Steve Jobs for an iMac computer. Jobs considered four or five major facts critical to the ad – and thought 30 seconds was plenty of time to make these key points. Segall’s ad-agency boss, Lee Clow, tore off several sheets of paper and wadded them up into little balls.

Taking one ball, Clow said “Here, Steve, catch,” and tossed the ball to the client – who caught it. “That’s a good ad,” Clow said.

“Now catch this,” the ad man said – tossing five balls at once across the table. Jobs couldn’t prevent paper balls from bouncing all over the place – and caught none. “That’s a bad ad,” Clow said. And Jobs was convinced.

So next time we’re working on the quarterly release, or slide deck for the road show, let’s try to remember. As Segall says:

People will always respond better to a single idea expressed clearly. They tune out when Complexity begins to speak instead.

Yeah, yeah, I know. In investor relations, we have a lot of information we must get across to the audience. A lot, even, that we’re required to communicate. But the principle of simplicity holds true. Advice we should heed: Less is more.

© 2012 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

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PowerPoint goes berserk

April 30, 2010

As investor relations professionals, we’ve all seen PowerPoint slides that get just a little bit out of control. Too many bullets, too many words, too many pictures – the CEO makes one more addition – and a visual aid turns into a visual Frankenstein.

For your weekend enjoyment, I thought I’d share this slide – from a consultant’s presentation to a group of US generals – as reported by the UK’s Daily Mail:

Yes, someone got a little carried away. “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” quipped Gen. Stanley McChrystal, US and NATO force commander.

This slide has nothing to do with IR – as far as I can tell – but I have seen graphic concoctions at brokerage conferences that come close to this level of complexity. The spaghetti bowl above reminds me of one “business model” slide I saw.

In our eagerness to tell everyone everything, we can become indecipherable. We must remember that IR is about getting people to quickly grasp our story – to understand, not to be wowed by management’s quantum mechanics-style thinking.

Some quick tips on PowerPoint slides:

  • Consider doing without. Some CEOs tell a more compelling story by simply talking. Depending on the setting, no slides can be very effective.
  • Limit the overall number. Fifty is settle-in-for-a-nap time (sorry if I offend). Twenty is a more palatable presentation for already distracted investors. The marathon analysts’ day is a different story – but, still, don’t get carried away, and build in some breaks from the daylong visual bombardment.
  • Each slide should make a point. It should have a single purpose. The point may be “Our 5-point strategy aims to drive EBITDA,” but the takeaway for an investor is the outcome, more than the 5 individual priorities.
  • Use the 6 by 6 rule. That is, 6 bullets of 6 words each – as a maximum per slide. Even that’s a lot of words.
  • Consider the magic of 3. Some experts swear by the psychological appeal of 3 things – 3 points, 3 bullets, 3 whatever – to make a memorable impression.
  • Graphics or pictures must serve the content. It’s not about eye candy. Visuals must help the listener understand – your finances, customers, markets, strategies or science. Illustrate for clarity.

I recognize the culture in some countries – hello, European IR folks – favors more complex slides. Mine is a US-centric view. But the core message still applies.

Take two steps back and look at your slides. Use that “View Slide Show” command in PP and imagine you’re a member of the audience watching and trying to listen.

Bottom line: Clear and simple tell the story.

Here are a few previous ideas on good slides, bad slides and surprises in presentations. What’s your pet peeve or best practice for slides?