I spent 10 years in Product Marketing at Apple and I was making in average 1 slide deck every 10 days.
This is not an Apple thing: every PM will tell you, Keynote/PowerPoint is a key tool in their arsenal. But it’s broader than PM. In fact, in any job where you need to share results, onboard people on a project/pitch a feature, etc. you will likely “present a deck” at some point.
But Apple is quite “specific” about the slide deck exercise. It came from the top of course — Steve Jobs’ keynotes are widely considered the best presentations in the industry — and it distilled into the organization as a set of expectations and techniques.
So I often get the question: “how do you do decks at Apple?”. Here are a few simple tips.
Setting the scene: the quality of your deck matters.
And I can hear a lot of you thinking: wait a minute, I am just sharing a few bullet points here for discussion. It’s fine if it’s messy or ugly.
Sure. But this is what I immediately conclude in my head when I am presented a messy deck:
- if your slides are not clear, it means your ideas are not clear in your own mind. As Boileau said:
Whatever is well conceived is clearly said… and the words to say it flow with ease.
- you did not “care”, and it suggests attention to detail is not your thing.
These are big no-nos at Apple, and in many other companies I am sure. Because if you think about it, what does it tell me, on the receiving end of the presentation, about you, my interlocutor? This person is asking me to pay attention and put some brain cycles into what they are presenting, but they did not bother putting in the work themselves**.
With this in mind, onto the tips.
1. Clearly define how the deck will be distributed.
I see this mistake being made again and again. People tend to “distribute” presentation decks in two different ways:
- as a support to a presenter. YOU are doing the talk. Not the slides
- as a document that you mean to circulate by email, Slack or whatever WITHOUT the oral part
If what you need to do is the latter, then you are not doing a presentation. You are writing a memo and you may want to ask yourself whether slides are really the best way to convey your ideas.
But do NOT expect a memo to be used as a presentation deck. And do NOT expect a presentation deck to be used as a memo. It JUST. WON’T. WORK. Read on.
2. One idea, one slide.
Now that we’ve established the document we are talking about here is meant to be presented live, remember this: people are here to listen to you. They are not here to read on a big screen with background noise (you, talking).
The “one idea one slide” is one of the most important thing to remember. If you are writing a slide and you are starting to pack too many things into it, then ask yourself: is everything here really important?
No. Get rid of the secondary stuff and talk about them instead. And the few things that are left: split them into multiple slides.
Cue in the infamous: “Oh but I was asked to do 10 slides maximum”.
How many times have we heard this? IGNORE this. It does not make sense. When you are talking over slides, whether it’s 20 slides with one word per slide, or 10 slides packed with content, trust me: the former will feel a LOT less heavy to your listeners, don’t worry.
3. Death of the bullet points.
This has been a famous thing within Apple for the longest time, but frankly it’s important: bullet points are you last resort. Honest. Bullet points are the plague of the one idea one slide idea. They are too easy. Gosh they even automatically shrink in size as you cram more of them on the slide — too tempting.
Same cure as above: if you feel like you need bullet points, pause for a sec, and think.
If what you are describing through bullet points is “sequential” (idea 1, then idea 2…), split the slide.
If the bullet points are “additive” (we did x by combining a, b, c) then find a way to represent it. Make circles (a, b, c) that overlap in one place (x). Or use a “jigsaw puzzle” representation with pieces that inter connect.
The slides are here to help people “visualise” what you are articulating. In my experience, real world metaphors can help.
4. Thirty or above. That’s the font size.
As you have seen, the overarching theme here is, how do we simplify and reduce the amount of content to display.
Guy Kawasaki came up with this simple rule that will help you:
font size < 30 are forbidden on a deck.
Simple. Go take a look at presentations you made before. See where you went below 30. And think how you could fix it.
Animations is the devilish twin of bullet points. They hide the misery: “I have these 20 sentences I am trying to cram into one slide. Let me do a build up so it does not make the eyes of the audience bleed”.
Animations need to serve a narrative purpose.
Are you showing a timeline and it’s too long for a slide? Make it slide from the right.
Are you recapping a list of action items that lead to a new milestone? Maybe you can Anvil that milestone slide.
I hope these tips will help you build presentations that are enjoyable to see, but more importantly: that your audience really listens to. And if you could take one thing away from this blog post, it should be this quote from Blaise Pascal (that Mark Twain used as well):
I am sorry I wrote a long letter. I did not have time to write a short one.
This centuries old quote was not about presentations nor was it restricted to them. But it applies to them EVEN MORE and I saw this quoted within Apple many, many times. Simplify, reduce. Then do it again.
* I know we all have a zillion things to do. Does polishing a presentation REALLY need to be one of them? Well, as the Apple ethos goes: do less, but do it well.
I am the CTO and co-founder (with Marie Outtier) of Aiden.ai where we are building a virtual colleague for marketers. If you think this article is interesting, please don’t hesitate to recommend it by clicking the 👏 button below.