How to plan a presentation

Blog #1 of a 5-part series guiding you to presentation planning success.

Steve Earl, Executive Director, Product Marketing Practice

Steve Earl

Aug 30, 2023


Eliud Kipchoge, the world’s best marathon runner, is the only person to have run under 2 hours for 26.2 miles (the marathon distance). Kipchoge prepares for months to run a marathon, training up to 120 miles per week. That means he runs almost 99% of his miles before he even reaches the start line of the marathon, just so he can run that 1% as fast as possible.

Creating a winning presentation is just like running a marathon, because the hardest work happens before you toe-the-line. Hitting the wall in a marathon, known as "bonking," can occur if you haven't adequately prepared. This is what can happen if you don’t put in the work up front in building your presentation. This work must happen before you even begin slide #1. 

Powerpoint, love it or hate it, is the go-to for B2B selling. In fact, over 35 million PowerPoint presentations are given every day to over 500 million audiences. However, something is not working. According to a recent Corporate Visions survey, 87 percent of B2B marketers said that they’re unsure or don’t believe that their audience acts on their content.

I’ve been a product marketer for 20+ years and I know the feeling when your deadline is approaching and your slide presentation is just not where it needs to be. Something is not right. There’s too many slides that say the same thing. Your messaging is not clear. The key points sound the same as your top competitors. The goalposts (perhaps “finish line” to keep with the marathon analogy) feel like they’ve moved several times or are in different locations depending on which stakeholder you talk to. Worst of all, your presentation is missing something as it just doesn’t sound believable. These issues arise due to some common mistakes that I’ve seen many times from my product marketing teams over the years. 

This blog is the first in a series of blogs on how to plan a presentation where I outline a framework for presentation planning called, “Slide Zero”. I chose the name Slide Zero because it represents the work that needs to be done before you even start writing slide #1 of your presentation. Slide Zero focuses on capturing the WHO, WHY, WHAT, and HOW of your presentation—the essential starting line prerequisites that are often overlooked. By addressing these aspects upfront, many mistakes in presentation creation can be avoided. This upfront work is particularly valuable for product marketers who collaborate with a separate design team to build their slide deck. It's important to remember that design teams and product marketers speak different languages, so it's crucial for product marketers to provide the necessary information to guide the design team in the right direction.

Slide Zero shifts the focus of your presentation from being centered on your product to being centered on your audience, highlighting how your unique superpower can solve their problems. The framework consists of four essential elements:

The WHO:

Know your audience. This is the fundamental rule of marketing and is equally crucial when creating a presentation. It may seem obvious, but it's vital to have a crystal-clear understanding of who your presentation is aimed at. Tailoring your message to resonate with your specific audience will greatly enhance its effectiveness

The WHY:

Begin with the desired outcome. Know what you want to achieve before you start and then work backward from there. Having clarity about the finish line and what success looks like will increase the likelihood of your presentation achieving its goals


Keep it simple. As a product marketer, it's your responsibility to own the market messaging and be exceptionally clear about the key messages you need to deliver to your audience. However, the desire to sound clever often hinders message clarity. While it's tempting to use buzzwords to explain a point, there is real power in simplicity. Strive to make your message straightforward and easily understandable

The HOW:

Be a problem solver and leverage your superpower. Companies seek your expertise because they have problems to solve. Center your message around the problems you can actually address and solve. Demonstrating how you can solve those problems more effectively than anyone else will captivate and engage your audience, leaving them eager to learn more 

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

–Abraham Lincoln

By following the Slide Zero framework, you can transform your presentation into an audience-centric story that showcases how your unique capabilities can address customer challenges and deliver value.

In the coming weeks, I will be releasing a series of blogs that delve deeper into each of the four elements of the Slide Zero framework, providing more detailed insights into the WHO, WHY, WHAT, and HOW. It's important to note that the framework can be adapted to suit your specific situation, and you may even feel the need to add elements to it if something is missing. The key is to invest time upfront in discussing, debating, and agreeing upon fundamental questions before diving into building the slides.

I'm thrilled to have collaborated with the team at Ghostranch Communications to develop practical tools that put the Slide Zero framework into action. Ghostranch is renowned for their expertise in presentation design and has introduced Pitch Planner, a presentation planning tool. Pitch Planner offers product marketers an easy-to-use workbook that assists in planning a presentation, along with a templated executive summary slide (the slide #0) for the presentation review process.

Product marketers benefit greatly from Pitch Planner as it guides their presentation planning, ensuring they consider the essential information required for the final deck to hit the mark. Product marketing leaders gain a repeatable method for reviewing their team's presentations, keeping them on the right track and securing buy-in from key stakeholders throughout the process. Creative design teams also benefit as the foundational information is effectively transferred from the product marketing team. The Slide Zero framework and the Pitch Planner presentation planning tool provide product marketers with a strategic approach to constructing their presentations while establishing their credibility across the organization. This valuable tool is available for download today from the Pitch Planner webpage. Make sure to check it out.

One of my favorite sayings about endurance running that can easily be applied to building your next presentation was by Haruki Murakami that says, “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice.”

Regardless of how well-prepared you are for a marathon, it's going to become really challenging around mile 20. However, if you have done the necessary training and preparation, you will reach the finish line. Similarly, building a winning presentation is not an easy task. Thoughtful preparation and planning will ensure you stay on track, effectively communicate a message that aligns with your stakeholders, and ultimately deliver a final presentation that resonates with your audience.

Check out the Pitch Planner tool HERE and keep reading to find your WHO here

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About The Author

Steve Earl, Executive Director, Product Marketing Practice

Steve Earl is a B2B marketing leader with a thirty+ year career in the technology industry, including over 20 years leading strategy and product marketing teams in developing and executing go-to-market strategies. Steve has held product marketing leadership positions at leading technology companies including Oracle, Kronos, Webtrends and Peoplesoft. His was most recently the VP of Product Marketing at Oracle, leading teams responsible for Oracle Marketing Cloud and their entire Oracle Customer Experience application business. As a product marketing leader, Steve believes in the value of storytelling to engage B2B audiences and has developed and delivered presentations for many different audiences in 14 countries. A strong proponent of frameworks, Steve leads his teams to always make the complex sound simple and to work collaboratively across marketing, product, and sales teams to ensure alignment and consistency in how a business goes to market.

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