The Evolution of My Public Presentations

This week at Distilled’s Searchlove conference in Boston (which, BTW, is probably the best marketing content I’ve seen at an event, period, including Mozcon – yes, I’m a little jealous), I presented the slide deck below on earning marketing love:

For those of you who’ve seen me present this year, or who’ve followed my decks on Slideshare, you can probably tell that this one’s a significant upgrade from the past, and an obvious amalgamation of prior content. This is also the very first deck I outsourced – I didn’t actually create most of the graphics, the transitions, or the visuals. Instead, I used a design firm in Seattle, Zum Communications, to do the bulk of the work.

Over the last 4 years, creating slide decks for presentations has consumed ~15% of my working hours over the course of a year. I typically make 15-20 unique decks each year, and re-use about half of those (usually no more than 2-3 times). But times are changing, my job is becoming more demanding in other ways, and my obligations are shifting, too. Thus, my process is evolving in a lot of ways.

I’d like to share some of my experiences around creating and presenting slidedecks, and hopefully get some feedback and ideas from you, too. Here’s what I’ve learned and what I’m changing:

  • Fewer Decks of Better Quality
    Next year, my goal is to create 6 decks or fewer, and re-use them more (possibly with a bit of customization based on the geography/audience I’m speaking to). It’s become clear to me that while lots of unique decks are fun to make, I can never put the time and effort into polishing them that the audience deserves. Doubling quality is worth having a few folks in a given audience see a deck they’ve potentially seen before.
  • Narratives + Actionable Tips
    This year, I did a few decks that were exclusively focused on a high-level, strategic vision accompanied by a narrative, e.g. the Content Marketing Manifesto. I also did a few that were almost exclusively lists of tactical tips, e.g. Link Building with Open Site Explorer. But the ones that performed best carried a memorable narrative along with practical, actionable to-dos, e.g. Choose Short Men and Big Picture CRO. For the future, I want to find that storytelling hook first, then layer in unique recommendations that will give marketers who see the presentation something to do on their return to work.
  • Fewer Raw Headlines w/ an Image
    At times, I make a lot of slides like this:

    In the future, I want to make slides more like this:

    A headline and a semi-relevant image are fine, but they don’t capture imagination and attention the way actionable callouts, screenshots, and custom-made visuals can. I think it’s worth the effort to do this in the future.
  • More Meaningful Slides
    I want to work on building a few slides and images that can be canonical, reference resources of their own. Some graphics and visuals are inherently viral (e.g. this one), and I think with the right effort, that an be achieved.
  • URL for Download at Start & End
    On occasion, if I know I’m re-using a slide deck later for a larger audience and don’t want it to become public just yet, I’ll use Slideshare’s “private URL” feature to share the deck with the attending audience. But the days of making slide decks unavailable online are over. There’s just too much value to be had from the spread of those decks and the social and referral traffic that accompanies the good ones. Half the value of making a slide deck and presenting to an audience is the spread of that content the web now encourages. Shutting that down is a terrible thing. Slideshare was SEOmoz’s 43rd top referring domain, and sent almost a thousand visits in the last 30 days.
  • I Architect; Designers Build
    While I love crafting presentations, I’m not nearly as good at it as a true professional. The deck at the start of this blog post is a testament to that. It’s leaps and bounds above what I’ve ever built on my own and it saved me 15+ hours of work, which on its own is invaluable. For those wondering about the cost, this first one was ~$3,500. Future ones may be more or less depending on the customization of existing elements vs. creation of whole new visuals (which is obviously more expensive, but can lead to very cool results).
  • Less Travel; High-Capacity Events Only
    With the exception of Searchlove (which usually has 2-400 attendees), next year I’m probably going to say no to anything with less than 500 people in the audience for a session. That makes me feel like an asshole, but it’s a necessity if I’m going to survive. The last 9 weeks on the road have taken an immense toll on my immune system (I’ve been sick on and off since early September) and my back problems. I hate saying no, but I also can’t realistically function like this. If my health keeps coming last, that’s going to negatively impact everything I touch (including all those hands I’m shaking around the world).

I’d love to hear from everyone reading this post about your tactics, suggestions, successes and failures with slide decks and public presentations. There’s no one right way to do this stuff, and I know I’ve still got a lot to learn.