Decks: what to do instead

This is the last email in a series on ‘decks’ – reports written in PowerPoint, then emailed to people for them to read. Previous emails talked through decks' faults - I won't repeat them here. But how to avoid these faults? The answer is beguilingly simple: don’t do the faults. Easy, really. It's like the chat with a doctor:

Patient: “How can I stop this pain in my head?”

Doctor: “When does it occur?”

Patient: “When I hit my head with an iron bar.”

Doctor: “Stop hitting your head with an iron bar.”

Which is why the previous emails were negative and necessary - unless someone realises a particular action is bad for them, they’ll prevail with that action, be it smoking ciggies, eating rubbish, hitting their head with iron bars… or doing bad stuff in decks.

But what's the best way to avoid the faults? The answer is (cue drum roll) use MS Word. It’s great if we have ‘words’ (hence its name…). But most importantly, MS Word tempts us less with frippery - we don't frip (it's a verb I've just invented). Also, with MS Word, we avoid the 'identity crisis' problem I mentioned in previous emails - we don't mistakenly think we're doing slides for a talk.

There's more - MS Word helps us avoid 'deck' faults in several other ways - but let's stop there. 

At this point, deck-lovers cry foul. They raise objections, I've heard dozens over the years. Most are disingenuous or flawed - and some are downright fibs (Chapter 23 of my book mentions the biggest porkie someone's spouted). And if enough people email me and ask that I address deck-lovers' objections, I will (albeit maybe next year). Today, I'll address one objection, and it's a big one: the boss.

"But I must do PowerPoint decks." Some bosses insist on them. (I know one CEO who hates the decks he receives, but won’t countenance the idea of banning decks… go figure).

In which case, do PowerPoint decks. As I always say, it is possible to do a decent report in PowerPoint. But I add: “But it takes immense self-discipline”. Which means: don’t frip (there's that verb again).

And avoid all the other faults I've previously mentioned - truncated English, fragmented information, silo thinking, random font sizes, etc, blah, etc, blah.  

Also, try this, it's a WiT-based PowerPoint 'deck' template for you to use (it's the one I sent out at the start of this year). The layout of its headline is a bit different too - check it out. To access the template, click on the link, enter details, then scroll down to '215: Figure 23.10.1'. 

Finally on decks, we've a reminder, three 'deck' tips, and a confession:

The reminder: if you email your document sufficiently in advance of a meeting so people can read it before the meeting if they so wish, then it’s a report. One with pages, not slides.

Tip (1): use font sizes appropriate to reports. Use, say, font size 10, not 15 or 18. After all, when you read books or papers, are they font size 15?!

Tip (2): it's a report, so it has paragraphs. Words. Often on Courses, a delegate looks at a page of a deck - one with just a couple of brief paragraphs on it - and says: "It's got too many words on it". NO, IT HASN'T. It has too few words. It's a report, not a slide for a talk.

Tip (3): when you redo decks – either as a better deck or a ‘normal’ report - please slash and burn: really go for it. Most decks have too much in them – too much content and too many pages (previous emails explained why). Yet people often just tweak the deck slightly. They merge pages 16 and 17. They remove a row of a table on page 27. Etc.

No. Don't rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. Instead, slash and burn. Your report will be so much better for it. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery said: “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”.

The confession: I sometimes did decks in corporate life. For nefarious reasons. For box-ticking exercises that bosses didn’t care for. I’d quickly blast out ten pages of brief, inconclusive lists (including a cover page, an index page, an ‘Any Questions?’ page, etc… “Look how much work I’ve done! Ten pages!!”).

And if a boss levelled criticism, I’d reply: “But it’s just a discussion document” (in other words, something half-thought through).

Also, I’d do decks for one particular boss who had an unhealthy admiration for consultants and bankers. My decks made me look like one, and fooled him into thinking I’d done a good report. Sometimes, decks can serve a purpose.

Til next month.


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