How a clear goal makes a better slide deck

Today we are going to discuss why not having a clear goal is a reason a slide deck might fail. But why do our slide decks need a goal in the first place? Think about it!

The success of your final slide deck is based on all the little decisions you made along the way.

What content should be included? Which visual should I use? What colors? Which font? Without a clear goal guiding you, you might end up making these decisions based on your mood at the time or a tip you read on the internet. The result? A jumbled slide deck that’s trying to do too much at once. As the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote nearly 2000 years ago, “if a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.”

A clear goal provides the basis for these small decisions. And it will result in a professional slide deck that achieves its purpose.

What does it mean to have a goal for a slide deck? Here are a few goals we’ve heard from clients recently:

We want to help our MSLs explain this complicated pharmacodynamic model to health care professionals in detailing appointments.

We need an engaging slide deck to teach our workforce the basics of a new therapeutic area.

We want to report back to our internal stakeholders from a conference about changes in the competitive landscape.

We want to share preliminary pivotal study results with our global medical affairs team.

These goals all have three parts:

  1. A target audience—who is going to see the slide deck?
  2. A purpose—what do I want to achieve with the slide deck?
  3. A setting—where, when, and how will my audience see this slide deck?

Answering these three questions helps us decide:

  • what content should be included,
  • how the content should be organized, and
  • how the content should be presented.

Our goal for today is to learn how to build better slide decks. In order to do this, we first need to understand what makes a slide deck good or bad and the impact this has.

What are we going to do?

In this article we are going to focus on the implications of having a clear goal for our slide deck.

We will start by looking at some typical scenarios for slide decks. Then we will take a closer look at our three parts of a goal—audience, purpose, and setting. Finally, we will share a handy tool you can use to collect the info needed to set a clear goal.

How are slide decks typically used?

In the pharma and biotech industries, slide decks can have a variety of uses:

  • Training materials
  • References or information repositories
  • Discussion aids for meetings
  • Detail aids
  • Scientific communication platforms
  • Conference presentations

Each of these uses requires something different from the slide deck. For example, a slide deck designed to support a live KOL presentation, with someone explaining the content, would probably not function well as a training tool without a presenter.

What do I need to know about my target audience?

Understanding the target audience helps us to understand what information to include as well as the appropriate level of complexity. That’s why we should consider two aspects of our audience: their background, specifically their level of scientific knowledge and their relationship to the information.

Your audience’s level of scientific knowledge

When it comes to their background, it is important to know their level of scientific or medical understanding. For example, your audience might have:

  • a scientific background with experience in the therapeutic area,
  • a scientific background, without experience in the therapeutic area, or
  • company knowledge but limited scientific or medical knowledge.

Of course, you may also have a mixed audience. Or you might not know the exact makeup of the audience. In those cases, you need to make an educated guess about the most common backgrounds and what’s sometimes called the lowest common denominator.

Tip! When we are not sure about the target group or their level of background knowledge, we like to assume the audience will be “National Geographic readers.” This is our shorthand for a scientifically interested lay audience. And we find it to be an appropriate generalization for many different audiences. They want to learn, and they’re up for a challenge, but they may need some help.

Your audience’s relationship to the information

It is also important to consider the relationship of your audience to the information you plan on sharing. This includes thinking about their relationship to the company, as well as how they are likely to use the information. For example, it would be important to know if your audience includes:

  • internal stakeholders, with whom you can share confidential information, and/or
  • external stakeholders, with whom you may need to consider confidentiality and regulatory guidelines.

Remember! Information about your target audience helps you choose content and helps you present that content in a way that meets their needs.

Why does a purpose matter?

Defining the “purpose” of your slide deck is critical to determining how your content should be organized and structured.

As we saw, slide decks can serve many purposes. A slide deck can be a learning tool or a scientific platform. It can help educate, or change behavior, give updates or share study results, support approvals, or store information. The list goes on and on. And scientific slide decks often need to be used in different settings. They may be designed for one purpose and then repurposed so many times the original purpose gets lost. No wonder finding the purpose of your slide deck can seem overwhelming!

There are indeed a huge number of purposes for a slide deck. But thankfully, there is only one, fundamental distinction that matters for your work. You just have to decide if you want to inform your audience or persuade your audience.

  1. Inform: Here the purpose of the slide deck is to provide a complete overview of a specific topic—for example, a single study. These decks are factual and objective.
  2. Persuade: The purpose of these slide decks is to make an argument and convince your audience of your point of view or key message. Generally, the goal here is to motivate the viewer to change their mind or behavior.

Once you know which of these two categories your slide deck falls into, you can start making the tough decisions about how you organize your content. For example, if a slide deck is primarily meant to inform, it doesn’t necessarily have to tell a story. The goal would be to make the information as clear and as quick to find as possible. Conversely, if a slide deck is meant to convince or motivate, having a compelling story that connects the information is vital.

Bottom line: if you take slides from a deck built to inform and try to use those slides to persuade, you’ll be struggling to get your message across.

We are sometimes asked to make slide kits, which do indeed have many different purposes. A slide kit is a resource, where someone can pull individual slides and put them in other presentations as needed. In a slide kit, each slide has to speak for itself and stand alone. In the end, though, the individual slides in a slide kit still have a primary purpose and audience, even if the deck as a whole is intended for broad use. It’s possible in a slide kit to have multiple slides with the same content but geared towards different purposes and different audiences.

In short, a slide will always resonate more strongly with one audience, and it will always fulfill one purpose better than any other.

Remember! Your purpose helps you decide if your slide deck should be structured based on the content it contains (quickly finding information) or the story you want to tell (following a convincing path of argumentation).

Why does setting matter?

One of the most common questions people ask us is “how much information should I put on a single slide?” This is also one of the most common topics addressed online. Though answers vary, most advice you will read will limit the information you include by using a large font size and including only a few bullet points. But then how do you get in all the information you need to communicate to your audience?

The fact is most tips you find online are not aimed at those of us creating slide decks covering scientific content for internal meetings. They are aimed at “ballroom” presentations, designed to inspire an audience of 500 after a long day of other presentations and probably a heavy buffet lunch. These are slides designed to be understood in a couple of seconds and crafted to support a live presenter. Think TED Talks or Steve Jobs giving a keynote address at a tech convention.

Working in pharma, we might need to give a ballroom presentation once in a while, but more often our slide decks are made for an office meeting or a conversation with an HCP. These situations are entirely different and come with their own unique set of demands. Here you might need all the information about a specific topic on a single slide to support a discussion. Or you might need to include a data-heavy chart, instead of just a summary, to satisfy an inquisitive physician’s need for evidence.

So how much information should you include on a slide anyway? We’ve created the table below which shows how different settings for slide decks have different needs in terms of the amount of information, visuals, and text on each slide. These are primarily determined by the pacing, or how much time the audience has to understand the information on each slide. Rather than including specific uses, as per the list we shared earlier in the article, these uses have been summarized as follows:

  • document slide decks—slides designed to read by the audience in their own time, either digitally or as a printed file;
  • boardroom presentations or 1-to-1 conversation aids—slides designed to be shared with a small audience, with the focus on discussion rather than presentation; and
  • ballroom presentations—slides designed to be shared with a large audience, without significant interaction.
Amount of information per slideHigh Medium Low
Slide deck settingDocument

  • Boardroom presentation (meetings)
  • 1-to-1 conversations, e.g., MSL-HCP

Ballroom presentation
Visual densityVisually denseBalanced visual-to-text ratioVisually sparse
Function of textTo provide facts, with all the contextual and supporting information To provide the key points, necessary to understand the bigger picture, with supporting information only as neededTo provide the main messages and orient the audience to where they are in the presentation
Main purpose Viewing and reading aloneSupporting a discussionSupporting a speech
PaceReader’s own paceQuestions and discussion determine time available for giving informationIn sync with the presenter with little or no interruption

Remember! Understanding how your audience will view our slide deck helps you decide how much information should be included on each slide and how that information should be presented.

How can a goal guide my work?

Now that we understand the three parts of a goal, we are going to look at how they all come together. Do you want to train a group of experienced MSLs for a product launch? Or do you want to share study results that create a paradigm shift in your disease area? The matrix below gives an overview of the different kinds of slide decks we mentioned earlier. It shows how much information should be on each slide based on how the slide deck is used. Do you see where your slide deck fits in?

In summary:

Putting your goal in the center of your work is a critical part of making your slide deck successful. So it’s always good to take a few minutes at the beginning of your project and make sure you are clear on how your audience, purpose, and setting will affect what you put into your slides and how they look.

As always, if you have questions about the content of this article, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Do you have any questions?

If you work in pharma or biotech, and you’re looking for a partner to support your communication objectives, we would love to hear from you. Whether you have a specific project in mind or you’re just looking for guidance, click below to get in touch and learn how the power of visual storytelling can work for you.

Contact us