Designing Effective Sales Presentations Requires a Center of Gravity

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The center of gravity (COG) framework is an innovative approach to presentation design and evaluation that focuses on the key message and purpose of a presentation. Moreover, COG ensures that both presenter and audience remain focused and engaged, while minimizing noise and distraction. 

The center of gravity framework works by analyzing each presentation from three vantage points and assessing how effectively the presentation delivers on various imperatives/tactics within each.

To help clarify the center of gravity approach, consider our solar system. All planets within the solar system orbit the sun. The sun acts as a dominant point that holds our solar system together. So too does every presentation need a main COG, a key objective and purpose. That COG must inform the data selection, narrative structure, and content curation of every slide within each presentation, as well as the presentation as a whole.

Separately, while each planet in our solar system has a gravitational pull towards the sun, it also has its own gravitational forces, where all things on or near that planet are subject to a gravitational pull within each planet. For instance, on Earth, all things, no matter how large or small, have a strong gravitational pull towards the center of the Earth. Similarly, in the presentation context, while each slide in a presentation must have a center of gravity that points toward the single dominant point of the deck, each slide must also have its own center of gravity, and so too must each object within each slide.

Below are some details on the imperatives/tactics for each of the three vantage points. Note that each bullet is a very brief description, and there is a great deal of depth that can be developed for each bullet. The idea is that over time we will expand on the list of imperatives/tactics within each vantage point

1. Macro. Your deck needs a vision.

On a macro level, does the presentation cohesively, succinctly, and compellingly work to deliver on its COG?

  • Process: Outline > storyboard > populate content > design.
  • The Big Idea: What is the COG? You should have one big idea or central theme.
  • Storytelling: The presentation must have an intentionally developed narrative structure, flow, and format.
  • Selling vs Sharing: The presenter must decide whether she is trying to move the audience to action (i.e., selling her work) or merely informing the audience (i.e., sharing her work).
  • Audience Segmentation: The presenter must consider the audience and evaluate their motivations/expectations
  • Cohesion: The presentation must be visually and structurally cohesive on a macro level. Below are some tactics/best practices to ensure cohesion is achieved.

                 -Limit animation/transitions; fade transitions preferred, if anything.

                 -Use 1-2 fonts throughout, with different font weights to create hierarchy/emphasis.

                 -Limit font colors.

                 -Use either white or very dark/black backgrounds.

2. Slide. Each slide is both independent and part of the whole.

Each slide within the presentation must be evaluated to determine if it (a) furthers the main COG of the presentation (i.e., the Sun) and (b) features its own center of gravity (just like each planet does) at every moment in time. It's part of the whole, yet independent as well.

Note: There should be only one COG at each moment in time. Conventional wisdom about presentation design is one idea per slide is optimal for slide design. While that is a nice goal to strive for, it’s not necessarily realistic or practical given the amount of information that most corporate presenters must deliver. In those instances where one idea per slide is not achievable (i.e., most cases) the better goal is one center of gravity at each moment in time. This technique is about controlling the audience’s attention at all times, and doing so with hierarchy, emphasis, words, and visuals. Never have more than one focus at any given point, and having more slides is better (in order to get there). Below are tactics to achieve this:

  • Don’t overstuff.
  • Use negative/white space.
  • Simplify—clean is cool in design.
  • The more slides the better.
  • Pay attention to margins and line spacing/leading.
  • Never center align text.
  • Avoid word wall slides; they make people choose between listening and reading subconsciously. Attention is the problem, and it’s impossible to have a center of gravity.

3. Content/Data Item. Nobody cares that much about your baby. When it comes to your data or content, stay focused on what matters most.

Each passage of text, each data chart or table, and every other item within each slide must both relate to the macro COG and also have its own COG at all times. From a macro COG perspective, the presenter must be able to justify the existence of each given chart/table/piece of content vis a vis the macro COG. How does it further the main COG? And if not, why is it needed? Separately, from the perspective of “having its own COG,” each item or chart within each slide should have its own COG in order to ensure visual hierarchy and focus, and to ensure that the viewer does not have multiple areas of focus at any point in time (just like each object contained within the Earth has its own COG).

  • Don’t be heavy handed with data; nobody cares about your baby.

                 -People think light data is either dishonest or incomplete; that’s a misguided perspective.

                 -If there is nothing interesting in the data, don’t show it.

  • Know what you really want to say with your data. What’s the story in the data, and how does it relate to the main COG?
  • Use hierarchies as different ways to emphasize (color, size, shape, etc.).
  • Great design is a balance between accuracy, readability, storytelling, granularity of data, and aesthetics.
  • Limit use of colors in any data tables/charts
  • Always ask, why should I not do a bar chart first? Horizontal bar graphs are always a good choice
  • Reduce extra stuff; make as minimalist as possible.
  • Limit label use as much as possible—the minimum amount of labels needed is a good rule of thumb.

The bottom line, the one thing that we would like to introduce with this framework is this: Whenever someone reviews a PPT deck, or a slide, or a chart, the most important single question to ask is, what is the center of gravity?

Kory Grushka is the founder of Stories Company, a creative agency that helps business leaders tell critical stories through presentations, video/animation, infographics, and dashboards, among other tools. Grushka is a creative director, strategist, business development executive, and former corporate lawyer. He has extensive experience in a variety of industries, having managed brand strategy, innovation, and design projects for Fortune 500 companies ranging from CPG to technology.

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