Cut the Fluff for More Powerful Communications

The other day a client sent me a presentation to review. It was developed by a firm they had worked with on issues that were relevant to the project at hand, so they passed along the deck in the hopes that it would add value to our discussion.

No problem there, until I opened the deck to discover that contained more than 90 (yes, ninety!) slides. The true meaning of “brain dump” was staring me in the face and I was somewhat less than enthusiastic to dig in.


My first thought: “No presentation should ever be 90+ pages!”

Let’s skip the jokes about death by PowerPoint® and do a reality check. Outside of detailed research and required  supporting data, who is really going to sit through all those slides? Even in the most efficiently run one hour meeting, you won’t get to more than half of them, let alone remember what’s on them.

If you need that much information to make your point, you should write a book.

In this instance, the topic of the deck was strategy, which can be summarized on one slide if done well. Add a few more slides to expound on a few key concepts, and you have a deck that’s probably 12-15 slides. That’s it. Short and to the point.

How does a presentation swell from 15 slides to 95? The gap is this: fluff.

Lots and lots and lots of fluff…

  • Fluff intended to wow audiences with the amazing breadth and depth of knowledge before them.
  • Or fluff designed to disguise insecurities and distract gaps in the quality of the content.
  • Maybe even fluff for the sake of fluff: pretty designs, eye-catching charts, fancy photos, just because.

More is not more. More is boring and undermines your message.

Whether you’re selling something, pitching an idea or reporting results, if you want to make an impression, be concise. Twitter and Vine have shown how elegant simple communications can be.

If you feel compelled to load up your presentations with every possible detail, piling on endless research and supporting data, you are not proving your worth. Instead, this approach comes across as insecure, as if you’re trying to prove your expertise because you’re not confident your audience believes in it.

Consider this: if they are listening to you, they have already bought in to some degree, so get over the fear and own it. You know what you know. You audience, most likely, doesn’t.

Real experts don’t tell you everything they know, they show you what you need to know. 

For more powerful communications, cut to the chase with key points and keen observations. Then add value in real time by answering any inquiries that arise, not trying to anticipate every question that could ever be asked. I can guarantee you’ll miss some.

I’ve often found that agencies and many consultants bulk up on the slides to validate their fees. “See how much we did for you,” seems to be the message.

Don’t fall for it.

True value is delivered with an insightful take on the issues and a creative approach to problems. The most valuable ideas can be shared on the back of a napkin. Dramatic value can be created during a hallway conversation. I’ve personally saved clients thousands of dollars in a phone call, with no PowerPoint in sight.

If you want to increase efficiency or improve results, cut the fluff and insist that others do the same. When someone shows up in your office and heads for the projector, ask them to summarize their message in 10 words or less. If the answer piques your interest, spend a few minutes learning more.

Otherwise, ask them rethink their approach and try again.

(PowerPoint® is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corp.)

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