Cut Your Own Arm Off: A Lesson In Developing a Good PowerPoint Deck

Three years ago, I was drafted for a project for a high-profile client in my firm. This client was the bees-knees: huge, hundreds of employees, and so on. Our team was asked to draft a specific strategy for this client. Of course, I can’t tell you who that client is or what it is they asked for, but I can tell you about the time I was asked to cut my own arm off to develop a good PowerPoint deck.

We were about three months into the project, the main PowerPoint deck consisted of about 240 slides. It was so big that it would take around 20 seconds to load each time we wanted to make more edits to it.

We were finally done with the first draft. I was asked to present it to the project manager. So I printed it out, went into his office, and sat there for two hours, going over slide by slide (or, really, page by page since it was printed).

The project manager didn’t say a word during the process. Not one.

I finished with the last page’s review, and looked at the project manager with a smug grin on my face. The kind of grin that showed I was super proud of the work we achieved.

He looked at me and grabbed his red marker, flipped over the deck to start from the beginning and looked at me.

“Are you familiar with the phrase “cutting your own arm off?”

I was confused. What the hell was he talking about?

“No.” I replied

“Well then.” he looked at me with a bit of a smile now. “Let me tell you.”

“O-okay.” I stuttered.

“There will be times when you have to cut your own arm off in business to ensure the best possible outcome for the client.”

I looked at him confused. “Um, could you clarify what you said because I’m a little uncertain on how to proceed.”

He looked at me, smiling ear-to-ear. “Certainly.”

With the red marker in hand, he took off the cap, went to the 3rd page of the deck and put a big red “X” all over the page. He went to page 5, and did the same thing. Page 7, 8, 11, 13 were gone as well. He kept going until 40 pages were removed from the deck.

I felt my heart sink with every single page he drew a big red “X” on. This guy wanted to remove 40 pages from the deck. That’s 16% of the deck! All those hours late in the office, all that hard work, just gone.

“I know you feel like crap right now, but here’s a key lesson when you’re developing valuable content – it’s not about you, it’s about the client. The pages I want eliminated were not necessary in the deck. They were pages that were too confusing, or did not hold enough value. We only deliver what is best for our clients, and that sometimes means taking away what we put in. In the end, it isn’t about you, or me, or the team. It’s about them, and solving their problems.”

He looked at me again, chuckled a bit, and said “It feels like you cut your own arm off, doesn’t it?”

I looked at him. I didn’t say a word. But he can tell I was deeply wounded from what just happened.

“Welcome to real life.”

Obviously there are countless tips to enhance your PowerPoint deck. I’ve even described a case where Donald Trump gave us a valuable lesson in PowerPoint design. But just remember the key quote my project manager said.

“In the end, it isn’t about you, or me, or the team. It’s about the client, and solving their problems.”

The key to developing a perfect PowerPoint deck is to make content specifically for your client (or, in many cases, your audience) in a way that adds value to their practices. If you find segments of your deck do not deliver value, you have to eliminate them, despite all the hard work you put into them. I know the feeling sucks, but if you really look at it, everyone wins. You win for developing content that only adds value, and your client (or audience) wins by having value added to them.

Be ready to cut your own arm off when you have to.

Yousef "Yoyo" Abu Ghaidah

Yousef "Yoyo" Abu Ghaidah

Yousef "Yoyo" Abu Ghaidah is a PowerPoint ninja that founded Slide Cow, a learning platform for all things PowerPoint, presentations and public speaking. When he's not designing slides or giving presentations, he's on another coffee run.
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