one thing on stage

There's a question that's been asked of me a few times recently: should I only have one main point per slide? This morning, in response to this question at a CFO Summit in Atlanta, I gave a perhaps overly meandering answer in the affirmative. As I write this now (past 9pm and jet-lagged from a very early morning start) I'm going to be much more direct:


I was chatting with an audience member after my presentation who came up with what I thought was an awesome analogy. He said he used to work at Nordstrom. There, when it came to dressing, he was taught that there should only be "one thing on stage*" at a time. Meaning, if he wore a patterned tie, it would be the one thing on stage (attracting attention) and he should wear a solid shirt and jacket. Or if the shirt was grabbing attention (bright or patterned), the tie should be solid, so again, only "one thing on stage."

This concept applies beautifully to slides in a live presentation. You can only talk about one thing at a time, so make that the "one thing on stage" on your slide. Not the only thing on your slide, necessarily, but the only thing that's speaking out loudly and drawing attention. Using contrast in this way focuses your audience and can make what you're showing and saying easier to process.

Another comment today was about my use of action titles. I try to default to having the title be the main point or takeaway of the slide (rather than the more common and typically less useful descriptive title). Combining the action title with the one thing on stage concept can work well: the one thing on stage catches your audience's attention and the words in the title tell your audience why.

This is actually some of the lowest-hanging fruit when it comes to taking slides from ok to effective. I've found myself giving similar advice repeatedly lately: use strategic contrast (especially through sparing and intentional use of color) to indicate to your audience where they should pay attention and words (either via your voiceover or text physically written down or a combination of the two) to tell your audience why you want them to look there. Follow this simple advice to greatly improve your slides and your overall presentation.

That's all for tonight. Next comes workshop prep for tomorrow—what do you think—should I wear a patterned shirt or tie?!?

*My search of the Nordstrom handbook didn't locate the "one thing on stage" phrase, so it's either been abandoned or I have the wording wrong, but I think the idea still holds true!