The First Five Slides

If you don’t fully engage your audience within the first five slides of your presentation, you might as well pack up your projector and go home.  No matter what your topic, every audience has a set of questions they are silently asking, and it’s up to you to answer them quickly or risk losing the privilege of their attention.

5_1Beyond Bullet Points reader Jim Rait ran into this challenge recently when he began his presentation makeover, but he deftly found a way to answer his audience’s questions quickly within the first five scenes of Act I of his story template.  Here are the statements which will form the headlines for Jim’s first five slides based on our discussion – the purpose of the presentation is to persuade other people in the product packaging industry to adopt a Japanese approach called Kansei engineering:

  1. Consumer brands today are under siege by store brands

  2. Brand innovation teams must find ways to defend their turf

  3. Lack of consumer knowledge limits innovative opportunities

  4. Successful innovation can flourish with a new approach

  5. Adopt Kansei to discover new packaging opportunities

By presenting these five brief statements in sequence, Jim has set in motion the power of a persuasive story. Importantly, before we even think about visuals, we already see the backbone of a strong story emerging that will give those visuals structure. Here’s how Jim’s statements work:

  1. The first statement establishes the setting for the presentation so that everyone is on the same page – in this case, the packaging industry where consumer-branded products are under threat from store-branded products. (Answers the questions: where are we, and when is it?)
  2. The second statement establishes the protagonist, which in a live presentation should always be the audience. In this case, the audience/protagonist is "brand innovation teams". (Answers the question: who are we in this setting?)
  3. The third statement establishes the imbalance, which in screenwriting terms is the inciting incident. This is the change that has occurred in the environment, otherwise called the problem, which spurs the protagonist into action. In this case it is the "lack of consumer knowledge." (Answers the question: why are we here?)
  4. The fourth statement establishes the balance, or the place the audience wants to be rather than the imbalance they are in now. Another way of looking at this is that the imbalance in the previous statement is "Point A" and the balance in the current statement is "Point B".  In this case, Point B is "successful innovation". (Answers the question: What do we want to see happen?)
  5. The fifth statement establishes the solution, which is what you propose that the audience do or think differently at the end of the presentation. This is how you propose the audience will get from Point A to Point B – in this case, "adopt Kansei." It’s important that you are direct and clear about this, as Jim is in this case. (Answers the question: How do we get there from here?)

In the process of answering his audience’s questions, Jim has also engaged them, focused the information around their interests, and created a pivot point that will spin the action in the direction of Act II.  What will happen next?  Stay tuned to Jim’s story to find out.

Tip: Consider the first five slides of your next presentation. Are they a series of lists of bullet points?  Or are they the foundation for an engaging and persuasive story? Try your own hand at completing Act I of a story template, and see how the story unfolds for you.

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