Presentation Renovation: Dressing up and dressing down someone elses work.

  • SumoMe

Have you ever inherited a project and were asked to dress it up? I recently took a crack at a presentation that needed some work.  There were several challenges right out of the gates. 1. Ambiguous objectives. 2. ‘Info Dump’ style slides. And 3.Time constraint (crazy, right?).

At this point I’d like to say that I’m not doing this to dump on someone elses work.  Nope, not what I’m going for.  This presentation was put together with the best of intentions and had a lot of great information. The things that needed adjusting on this deck are the same thing that need to be adjusted everywhere, it just needed a little bit of TLC, some content shuffling and a few essential elements for retention.

It came with a couple of vaguely worded preloaded objectives for duration of the 88 slide presentation brought out at the front end but didn’t get reviewed.  So I reviewed the  presentation and made an educated guess on the objectives, given what I know of the content and the learners. Boom!  Four new A-B-C-D style objectives that I slapped onto the front and tail end of the presentation. Once I started to look at the deck a little more in depth, I created a second document with any other objectives and different possibilities for how I would achieve them. I consulted with a couple subject matter experts to make sure that I was in line with intent of the presentation.

I ended up with a nice looking document that contained all of the objectives by module and at least one way to accomplish each.  Some learning check-ins were simply written as ‘confirm learning when reviewing objective’. With time constraints I wasn’t able to make it an action packed and interactive session.  When reviewing the objectives we would discuss the topic briefly which served as confirmation for me.

Some of the segment lengths were lopsided. Some had four slides and others had twenty. Being moderately interested in movies I’m a bit familiar with pacing as an issue but I’ve never really considered it for training.  In both you’re trying to keep someone engaged and bring them along for a journey, so I suppose it makes sense.  I smoothed out the different sections and tried to make them a little less varied in duration but in hindsight I don’t know if I should have.  Action movies have a lot of quick cuts and editing.  How often do you see a shot that’s more than 15 seconds long?

Once I had my module objectives figured out I had a look at the actual slides.  Much of the content was cut and pasted from manuals or product guidelines, which is great for accuracy and getting real specific content. But this was 5000 mile high presentation. I got my scissors out and went to town.  I think politicians would make awful trainers because they talk all day and never say anything.  We need to do the opposite.  Every word that is not essential (essential) must go.  Once you use that as a rule it becomes much easier to edit something. This same rule should guide our hand as we create from scratch.  This gives you a lot more room on the slide for white space.  White space is great for giving your learners focus.  Like those black and white photos that has the rose coloured red.  The eye is drawn to the message and the noise around the message is reduced or eliminated.

I broke up paragraphs into points or key words.  I stretched ideas out over a few slides that were jammed into one.  I added some visual elements to reinforce the message through another channel.  I spent a bit of time formatting the slides so they looked the same and didn’t have a ton of animations.

Once I had the content and the slide appearance sorted I went back to my objectives and looked at how I was going to accomplish them.  I added in a few activities, made notes on where to discuss things and that was the end of it. Project over.

The Post-Mortem

I was worried that by having so many objectives it might seem overwhelming for the learners.  I had about twenty-one different objectives for a four hour presentation. I didn’t take any of them out.  If they needed to learn it, I needed an objective and during the presentation it didn’t feel overloaded.  Each objective was based on something of importance.  By making this clear at the beginning and reviewing the content afterward, I found that it helped bring the ideas home with the learners.  I was guaranteed to not miss anything.  I think there was only one or two objectives that I did not have overt proof that learners hadn’t retained the info, that was ok with me.

The document that laid out my objectives did give me a bit of trouble later on when I was editing my slides.  I’d have to make sure both documents were updated.  This gave me some good insight into creating something from scratch and making sure that your ducks are in a row with the content so you can simply build off of your foundation, instead of reworking it later.


  • Build off of your objectives.  Everything else goes.
  • Only essential words on the slides stay.  Everything else goes.
  • Stretch out concepts to the space they need, not the space you have.
  • Consult with SME’s to make sure you’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
  • White space is your friend.

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