What I did this summer, the PowerPoint
You should probably cut the first five slides of your deck
Cut the “what I did this summer” slides
Flick through a typical strategy document, and you will often be impressed – awed, even – by the intricacies of logic and articulacy of argument within. Yet on reaching the end, you may feel a sense of emptiness. You go back through the document; there are justifications, targets, sweeping conclusions. Something is missing. ‘That all sounds splendid,’ you think, ‘but what are you actually going to do?’ We have seen – on several occasions – government strategies on topics from energy to healthcare where hundreds of pages of prose have been finished before, at the very end of the process, a few random actions or a half-hearted delivery plan are squeezed in at the last minute. The chapter structure of these documents is revealing. Usually, they are organised by topic or policy area. These exercises are about what we are, not what we do. Digital Transformation at Scale.
I’ve see a lot of presentations over the years on strategy, going over software, conference talks, etc. A very common, to my taste, problem is when the authors spend a lot of time defining terms, outlining the context, discussing problems and opportunities. For example, “what is a ‘platform,’” surveys on CIO spend and priorities, why a software supply chain is needed and its benefits, and so on.
That part of presentation, in general, should be extremely short. Most people will go into the meeting knowing those things. What you need to go over is what to actually do about it, actions to take, plans to start doing, and making a decision to act.
I see this big front-matter problem a lot in the annual revision of marketing decks for software. I’ve been involved in many of these, and consumed many more. You get a new team in, a new strategy, new products, and so on. It takes a lot of time for the team to understand and learn all of that - many of them won’t be subject matter experts, but they’re good learners. After all of that work, you want to do something with all that effort and you’ll spend a lot of slides going over what you’ve learned. That’s not exactly the concious thinking, of course, but it feels like that when you’re consuming the content.
In our cloud native industry, chances are if open the last few presentations you made or watched you’ll see 3 to 5 of these slides at the start of the presentations. This is especially true when all the “macro economic headwinds” suddenly show up.
I think of these slides as the “what I did this summer” slides and I try to minimize if not skip them entirely when I consume and make presentations. I mess up a lot, though. For example, when I presented my platform talk at configuration management camp this year, I did a whole lot of what I did this summer’ing.
I was so excited to explain my “good job making kubernetes a de facto standard, now let’s get back to the helpful stuff” bit, so I ran out of time to go over the actual good, what to do about it stuff. Thankfully, they don’t seem to have made/posted a recording!
Apply the working backwards pattern here: start with the list of actions you’re going to recommend and then only add in as much context as needed.
Obviously, if you need to educate and explain, you do all that context and front-matter. If you task was to go research and teach, that’s the good stuff! That’s often the case in conference talks. But even then you need to make sure to get to fixes, tactics, things to do. Just pointing out a problem is…a problem.
Most of the corporate meetings and presentations I’ve been involved in aren’t really about educating. Most in the room will know what’s going on: “we’re all smart, Jeremy.” Good meetings are usually about deciding what to do and figuring out how to start doing it.
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Here’s what the book covers:
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Tell me how it goes!
I don’t believe in the future until it’s happened.
“the check’s in the mail.”
“A second issue to consider is what a digital team excludes from standards in order to keep them as light as possible. Again, the wider organisation is likely to push in the direction of comprehensiveness without necessarily valuing the pace that this sacrifices. This is part of the reason that so many rules in a large organisation cut across each other; officials would rather risk confusing people by asking for three versions of the same form than risk not having one filled in at all.” Digital Transformation at Scale.
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The Typical Startup Saw a 24% Increase in Sales Cycle in 2023 - “The average startup saw a 24% increase in sales cycle from early 2022 to 2023. 60 day sales cycles are now 75 days.”
Go find a fresh, crisp apple. Not one of those that’s been sitting in your kitchen for a week or two. Sure, those look good and will be. But you get yourself a new crisp apple, and it’s like a whole other thing. We have books about coffee, booze, guns, steel, and whatnot, but are there books about apples? They keep so well I imagine there were many sailors who sustained themselves on apples until they had to switch over to crackers.