The Presentation Dashboard

Would you be willing to let go of the steering wheel of your PowerPoint vehicle for a minute, if it meant you could get to where you’re going faster and more efficiently? And to raise the stakes a little, what if the funding of your new business were riding on your decision?

Let’s say you had a great idea for a new wireless product, and you had the team, technology and business plan to launch it. All you needed was the money to get it started. You decide to pitch the idea to a venture capitalist, to persuade her to invest in your idea.

You’d like to use PowerPoint because you are convinced of the power of visuals to communicate, but you recently read a venture capitalist’s post titled "The Torturous World of PowerPoint," where he said that he had probably seen tens of thousands of PowerPoints, and "the vast majority of them suck." What do you do, when you have a clear case to make, but your audiences have such a strong negative opinion of your medium that they call it "torture"? Maybe it’s possible you can transform the torture into an effective tactic, if you simply turn your PowerPoint approach in a new direction.

For many reasons, we often feel the need to keep absolute control of PowerPoint at all times. We might fear chaos, we might be nervous of public speaking, we might lack confidence in our topic, or we might want to make sure we’ve covered all the bullet-point bases by showing every idea we have, in a pre-ordained sequence of events. But whatever the reasons, this need for control comes at a very high price, in the form of unhappy audiences who increasingly complain that PowerPoint sets up a dominant, one-way power relationship between us and them.

There is no venture capitalist, or any other type of person, who enjoys feeling like they are the "victim" of someone else’s "torturous" PowerPoint — we all like to have a degree of input into the directions any of us are headed, especially when it comes to presentations. Yet we as PowerPoint presenters never give up an ounce of control to let anyone else decide anything. That can easily change if we give audiences, and ourselves, more freedom to choose with a "presentation dashboard" approach. Here’s how we can apply it to your presentation about your wireless idea:

After you’ve met your potential investor, and have shaken hands and made introductions, open your laptop to display a simple, elegant image of a wireless product in your PowerPoint, as in this example. wirelessInstead of jumping right in to your "pitch" without any feedback from your audience, ask some questions like: "What do you see is the potential profitability of the wireless market? Why hasn’t any company been able to fully realize the potential?" Listen carefully to her responses, and repeat back what you hear — "OK, you say the problem is that the technological innovations have dried up, and that the numbers don’t add up anymore."

Now, click the "Esc" key on your keyboard, then choose View –> Slide Sorter (or, click on the Slide Sorter icon in the lower left of the PowerPoint window). Welcome to your "presentation dashboard."

If you’ve set up your PowerPoint using a unified design approach, each slide will contain a single main idea and will feature a visual that is easily recognizable from Slide Sorter view. In this simple mockup, there are visual placeholders for "retail channels", "financials", "our team", and "technology". dashboardNow that you know that your audience’s main concerns relate to the technology and your financials, click first on the computer chip, choose View –> Slide Show (or click the F5 key) and discuss the following series of slides. Then click "Esc" again, and click on the chart to show and discuss the finance-related slides.

If you’ve organized your content with a modular approach, you might have a series of 5-10 slides for each of the topics that are important to your investor audience. There’s no way you would ever be able to cover everything on the list because you’re limited in time. But if you let your audience do the driving, you can go directly to the slides that are relevant to their interests, producing a much more targeted, tailored, meaningful, and profitable journey for everyone.

Tip: Try out your own "presentation dashboard" approach. Select and place a visual on each slide that introduces the main sections of your presentation. Choose –> Slide Sorter often to make sure you can easily identify the slides from this view. Now, select an evocative image to kick off the presentation. Ask questions to get information about what your audience wants to hear, then repeat back their responses. Click the "Esc" key to access your presentation dashboard, then choose the appropriate slides that allow your dialogue to follow a much more flexible, adaptable, and ultimately freer path. Enjoy the ride.

This entry was posted in Business Strategy, Communications, Media, PowerPoint, Presentations, Web/Tech, Weblogs. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to “The Presentation Dashboard”

  1. Cliff, I usually use a wireless control when I present (to get away from behind a laptop). Is there a wireless remote you have seen that can bind buttons to the slide sorter, etc… ?

  2. Cliff says:

    Hi Jason – I haven’t used them myself, but it looks like a company called Gyration has a line of remotes that might work — they offer in-air cursor control, as well as the ability to assign button clicks:

  3. San says:

    Keyspan products provide “Connections for Your Computer”. Look at ““.
    The keys on the Digital Media Remote are programmable by application.
    Excellent tool.

  4. Brett says:


    A trick I’ve used in the past to accomplish something similar is to set up the slide template to include hyperlinks to the first slide in each of the modules of the presentation. That way you don’t need to go in and out of the slide show into slide sorter view and back again, but can get to any module directly from any page you happen to be looking at.

    I did this originally for presentations meant to be viewed without a presenter, but found that it worked very well in scenarios such as you describe as well.

  5. steve says:

    I like the idea, I have done something simillar. I have talked about some of my ideas in my own blog here

  6. cliff says:

    Hi Brett and Steve — good comments about more things you can do to navigate a presentation. Yet another trick is while you’re in “Slide Show”, type a number on the keyboard – say “22” – and you go straight to slide 22 in the presentation. Whatever techniques you choose, they need to be balanced against the level of “PowerPoint polish” that will help you meet your goals with your audience – see the June 29 post: “The Unpolished PowerPoint” at

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