What is a strawman and why do you need to know how to think about it? Whether you’re a novice presentation creator or have more experience creating decks, if you need to produce presentations and value your time, you’re going to want to know how to use a strawman optimally.
In this article we’re going to cover exactly what a strawman is, why it must be a part of your presentation creation process and how to use strawmen most effectively. And if you still have any questions after reading, be sure to leave comments below and we’ll be happy to respond.
So, What Exactly Is A Strawman?
The strawman is a tool that helps you distill your presentation thoughts easily. It can be created in an empty set of PowerPoint slides, or in a Word document (or even written on a piece of paper). The main goal of the strawman is to focus on the story and contents of the slide without having to design or polish anything. Think of the strawman as a very ugly, black and white storyline and planning document for your presentation.
The primary point of a strawman is getting ‘pen to paper.’ By not paying attention to design detail, you’re able to focus more of your attention on what you want to convey and how you want to convey it. Further, by using only text, you’re able to rapidly write down your thoughts without losing anything (this is particularly important when you get into your story writing ‘flow’). Your strawman is judgment-free and kind, enabling you to be imperfect and stylistically ‘unconcerned’ while, funny enough, helping you subconsciously start to think through design implications without you even knowing it.
Benefits Of A Strawman
Starting with a strawman has several key benefits when creating presentations:
- Immediate start: No pretense, no worrying about style or perfection. Open document, first word on page, go.
- Rapid thought distillation: Given the limited-expectations start, you’re able to go beyond just the start and get all of your thoughts onto paper, faster than you can click Command/Ctrl + S.
- Story trajectory and excitement cadence ‘mapping’: Given the rapid ‘implementation’ (writing) at the strawman phase, you’re able to understand your presentation structure in high-level terms, enabling you to map out presentation emotional trajectory and cadence easily.
- Time savings: Starting with a strawman ensures you don’t spend unnecessary time and iterations on design and polishing.
- Focused feedback: All of your initial feedback source’s attention will be on the story and contents, nothing else. Which enables…
- Agile process: Ensuring your (internal) audience is bought into the presentation structure along the way, so that you have no surprises by the end, saving you even more time.
How To Create An Excellent Strawman
Now that we know the benefits, how exactly do you create an excellent strawman to maximize the benefits?
Here is a multi-step process you can take to create an excellent strawman:
- Use your program of choice: Powerpoint, Word, or paper; be consistent if possible so you can improve your process over time.
- Start with the cover – how should it feel, what should it convey, what positioning do you want?
- Think through the most powerful elements of the team and story; you’ll want these in your mind later.
- Determine all elements you want to capture in the presentation (for pitch decks there are common lists out there depending upon your audience).
- (In 90% of cases) Start with situation and problem framing to help orient the reader and provide context on the opportunity magnitude.
- Continue to add slides based on the natural progression of the story (problems require solutions, solutions require products, products need to be marketed, marketing has economics, etc.).
- Inject creativity, show the uniqueness and spice of your brand, especially within slides.
- When you get more advanced with building strawmen, you can start changing the order of your presentations, creating intentional segues across presentations, use copy to subtly magnify differentiators, and structure slides to control the viewers’ attention.
- When you have your initial draft of the strawman together, make sure to read through from front to back to ensure the story is logical. Then ensure you read within slides to ensure the slide contents and proposed structure will amplify and focus the message how you want.
- Review with your team and iterate as needed.
Now that we’ve explored what a strawman is and how to create one, you should feel confident about the next time you have a presentation to create. Just remember that it’s not an exact science; art is certainly part of the process and something you will learn more over time. The most important goals are that you start your creation process mindfully and that your creation process leads you towards making an ultimately excellent end-product.