I just finished an engagement to develop a presentation that will introduce an online career-mapping portal to the work force of a global company. When I arrived, the client had close to 50 bullet-point slides. When I left, this had been reduced to 11 slides, the presentation was more persuasive, and there was not one bullet point in sight.

What made the difference? We moved away from an "information" presentation--one that informed the audience about the details of the initiative. Instead, we expressed a point of view. We made the claim that the old system was inadequate for several reasons, and then demonstrated the benefits of the new system.

In great detail, the original presentation answered the question "What's in the HR program?" The presentation now answers the question "How does the new HR career-mapping portal help you take charge of your career?"

This may seem like a trivial difference, but those who have spent an entire year researching and developing a globally useful HR program tend to be blinded by their newly acquired expertise. They've developed a new abstract vocabulary ("behavioral competency matrix"), and are knee-deep in the complexity and sophistication of the thinking behind the program. To do it justice, they feel the need to give the audience a sense of its richness.

Meanwhile, back in the minds of the audience, there's one persistent question: "What's in it for me?"

We built the presentation around images of "The Journey," a metaphor that everyone can understand. We started the talk with the moment a new employee enters the company, and as the presentation progressed, we mapped her career through many permutations. In other words, we gave the talk a new presentation format--one that worked better for the listeners.

We used the visual element of a beaming young woman being handed the keys to a new car, with the headline saying, "Program X gives you the keys to your career."

People could track where they were on the career map, look at the requirements for various lateral or vertical moves, and keep themselves moving in the right direction.

The presentation of the portal was important because the roll-out had a few bugs, and the program needed to be sold to the global organization. We knew that success could save the company hundreds of thousands of dollars, but if employees didn't buy into it, it would cost the company a bundle.

Here's what we did to complete the makeover of this important presentation.

  1. Use the problem/solution format. Instead of giving people lots of information about your project or program, define the problem that it solves, and then make three or four points describing how your program delivers the solution.
  2. Limit PowerPoint. Be very careful with the number of bullet-point slides you show. In fact, before you even think about slides, it's a good idea to write a script that explains the benefits of the program and how it delivers those benefits. Then, if you really feel the need to have some slides, limit the number.
  3. Develop a theme. Finally, develop a theme or metaphor, such as the theme of a journey, a battle, or a magical mystery tour. It may be more up-front work, but the pay out is big. A theme can help your listeners retain the information, and, in the long run, adopt your idea.