Un-compelling presentations: What a shame!

I was there at the beginning. It was exciting: a new technology – computer-generated presentation graphics that could unleash people’s potential to present more effectively. It could empower smaller companies whose ideas and expertise deserved to win competitions to do so, against much larger established organizations who had greater resources to produce their presentations. Democracy at work.

Now, decades later, I read/see/hear so many un-compelling presentations. Deal pitches that could have been powerful are taking forever to close, often with poorer than expected results. All too often, deals close despite the presentation! What a shame! It doesn’t have to be so.

Decades ago, my soon-to-be business partner complained how hard it was for a bank VP to do the kind of first-class presentation that C-Suite members use to wins deals, because they had a graphics department and staff to support them, while he did not. We launched Brilliant Image, a micro-computer based presentation graphics firm to produce virtually the same quality presentations for a fraction of the cost and often faster turn-around. Over 15 years, we served 5000+ investment bankers, Private Equity, Venture Capitalists, Fortune 500 firm, mid-size firms and start-up executives, for whom winning mattered. Our mission: to produce compelling presentations crafted with focused content, excellent graphic design and an audience-driven structure to drive decision-making. Then, we would help the presenter to deliver it persuasively.

We sold the company to a roll-up as we saw the future – anyone could design presentations using PowerPoint and project them on screens. Democratizing the presentation process was our dream; our nightmare was watching the quality standards underlying presentation excellence destroyed.

For many people, especially financial deal makers, Powerpoint has become a templated system for providing text and number-oriented pitch-books. It is being used like a word processor – to write out the whole “speech,” when it should complement the speaker’s points with bulleted concepts and meaningful graphics. These decks become documents the audience is supposed to read in its entirety. Too much text on each page with no graphically appealing design makes it boring to follow. Bulleted phrases and powerful graphics are used far too infrequently.

I just finished reading one pitch book (41st version!); instead of a sleek race horse, it felt like a three-humped camel. It wasn’t surprising that the CEO commented that the road show was taking longer than expected and producing fewer prospects interested in smaller investments. A more compelling presentation would have produced a far faster, richer and better investment. It no longer surprises me when I ask for a sample presentation, and head of the firm pushes the book away and says “I don’t use this; this for other people!” and then wants to present to me!

It doesn’t have to be this way. A presentation with lots of details can be broken into meaningful components. A compelling, powerful, succinct  presentation can be delivered through a passionate speaker by keeping it succinct and graphically attractive. It is complemented by a takeaway “booklet” with reference material with full details which can be read to support the presentation.

Ultimately, I encourage you to use PowerPoint as a tool to design compelling presentations which are succinct, focused, easy to understand and remember, and which can be delivered powerfully and persuasively. For the “booklet” you can write full sentences and insert tables instead of charts and graphics – and use whatever publishing tools you wish – Word, Excel or PowerPoint. But, understand that this “booklet” is not the compelling part of the presentation. Remember, start with the goal: is it to keep people busy producing documents or to win a deal efficiently and effectively.  The choice is yours.

Jerry Cahn, Ph.D., J.D., is the CEO of Presentation Excellence and a NYC Vistage Chair. He’s worked with over 5000 of the most demanding clients to help them deliver winning presentations, often worth $100M+ He provide individual and corporate training; see He’s also a speaker on creativity/innovation models for growth (including “Are You Ready for Exponential (10X) – Growth?”). He teaches for CUNY and University of Shanghai, and blogs for the Presentation Excellence Group. He can be reached at 646-290-7664 or

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About the Author: Jerry Cahn

Jerry Cahn, Ph.D. J.D.  chairs Vistage CEO and Trusted Advisor groups in New York, is a Vistage Workshop Speaker on a number of topics, including a new one for Vistage groups and corporate clients called “Job #1: Build a Culture that Unleash…

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