Take your talk beyond “pretty slides” – Secret #14 of star presenters, by Laura Foley

Box of 35-millimetre slides saying “Quality color slides”(Short of time? Jump to the tips)

How do you create your slide presentations? Allow me a few sentences to guess

If you’re like most speakers, you probably start in PowerPoint, where (to share your message, and to remind you what to say) it’s quite likely you write dozens of words on each slide. Then, to make your slides look more appealing, you might well “pretty them up” with graphics, a slide template, or even fancy fonts. And, to save time, you probably reuse whatever slides you can from previous talks.

If those steps sound familiar, you’ve likely found it hard to really engage your listeners. So you probably haven’t got the outcome you wanted from each talk.

Wordy slides make for a dull talk

That’s for a couple of reasons:

But, fear not. You can avoid those problems by using a different approach, as described by Laura Foley (presentation coach and blogger).

Laura says:

“Start with a strong foundation of ideas and
words before you get to the visuals”
Laura Foley

I think that’s great advice. And it’s an approach shared by other presentation coaches, such as by Scott Berkun in the US and by Emma Sutton in the UK.

Rather than starting in PowerPoint and writing text-based slides, Laura suggests you use these 5 steps instead:

  1. Set your goal
  2. Write your outline
  3. Write your script
  4. Time your speech
  5. Make your slides

In this post, I’ll share Laura’s approach, comment on it, and relate it to my own. I’ll also give you links to further information.

Let’s work through each of the 5 steps in turn


1: Set your goalScroll to Contents ↑

In Laura’s view, there are 3 main reasons for any talk:

  • To sell
  • To educate
  • To persuade

So, pick one of those as your high-level goal. Then, get more fine-grained about what you want your audience to take away from your talk.

As Laura puts it:

“Figure out what you believe will be the best-case-scenario
results of your presentation. These are your goals.”
Laura Foley

What an insightful way to picture a goal – as a best-case scenario.

Laura’s focus on your presentation’s results ties in with this 2-minute video I shared a while back. And starting your preparation by setting out your talk’s goal is very like starting with your key message, as speaker-coach Olivia Mitchell recommends.

So there’s broad consensus among presentation coaches about starting your preparation this way, rather than with slides. And I fully support it too.


2: Write your outlineScroll to Contents ↑

Setting your goal means you know what you’re trying to achieve. But how will you achieve it? That’s where your outline comes in.

Your outline… leads your audience…
to where you want them to be

Your outline’s a series of points that leads your audience from where they are now to where you want them to be. And to help your audience follow your argument, I recommend you use those points to title your slides.

But it can be tricky to go straight from your goal to an outline. So, after you write your goal, you might want to organise your thoughts using one of these 3 presentation structures:       (For details, click the link.)

  1. Conclusion, reasoning, action
  2. Problem(s), solution, action
  3. Promise, provision, action


3: Write your scriptScroll to Contents ↑

The idea of writing your script isn’t to memorise it word for word. Rather, it helps make sure you’ve properly thought through your ideas. And it lets you easily create speaker notes and/or handouts.

As Laura puts it:

“Having detailed speaker notes make it easy to
create handouts directly from PowerPoint.
They also make it easier for people to
understand your presentations on their own.”
Laura Foley

Laura’s 2nd point there comes into play if – like many business speakers, especially – you email people your slides.


4: Time your speechScroll to Contents ↑

Using your script, you can now quite accurately time how long it takes you to say aloud. That way, you can make sure your content fits the speaking time you’ve been given.

Factor in the time difference between rehearsal and your real talk

Just be sure to factor in the time difference between rehearsal and your real talk:


5: Make your slidesScroll to Contents ↑

You might be surprised that Laura puts making your slides as the last step. But as I wrote before, presentation coach Olivia Mitchell puts making your slides last, too. (And Olivia’s process has 7 steps.)

Laura explains:

“It’s a lot faster to design slides around a script because
the words describe what [your slides] should look like”
Laura Foley

And as Chantal Bossé (a Microsoft MVP) once put it – in brutal terms:

“Throwing away scribbled ideas
…is a lot less painful than tossing unnecessary slides”
Chantal Bossé

So, save yourself time, effort, and heartache – make your slides last!


Your turnScroll to Contents ↑

As a reminder, here are the 5 steps Laura recommends:

  1. Set your goal
  2. Write your outline
  3. Write your script
  4. Time your speech
  5. Make your slides

Now, I’d love to hear your viewpoint (especially if I wrongly assumed you start by opening PowerPoint!)


Also check outScroll to Contents ↑


2 thoughts on “Take your talk beyond “pretty slides” – Secret #14 of star presenters, by Laura Foley

  1. Ooo, “star presenter.” I like the way that sounds! Thanks, Craig, for highlighting my PowerPoint recommendations; I appreciate it!

    The other day I learned about a critical reflection model: “What?” “So what?” and “Now what?” Critical reflection is a reasoning process to make meaning of an experience, which is exactly what we as presenters strive to do for our audiences. Read more about that model.

    Liked by 1 person

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