My Single-Slide Entrepreneurship Talk

A few months ago I gave a talk to the SUNY Albany Entrepreneurship class that my good friend teaches. We had been discussing previous talks, some of which went better than others. The best ones, we agreed, were interactive and conversational. I had the idea to cut my entire presentation down to one slide, the slide that I typically reserve for questions at the end.

So, somewhat nervously, I got up in front of a class of 45 students, briefly introduced myself and then put up this slide:

SUNY Albany Entrepreneurship Slide

I asked them what they wanted to hear me talk about. I was happy to talk about anything on that list or answer any question they had about what it’s been like for me to graduate, leave my job, and run our business.

What ensued was over an hour of discussion about every topic on that list and then some. Almost everyone in the class participated. Prof Wales acted as a moderator of sorts, asking questions, expanding upon answers, adding in information about what the latest research says about a topic. We stopped mid-conversation because we ran out of time. We probably could have kept going for another hour!

We’ve since chatted about why this worked so well. No one likes to sit through a 30 minute PowerPoint presentation. The topic has to be really interesting and the presenter has to be really good. Instead, I basically said, “I was in your shoes, I run a business now, ask me anything.” And they did. In part because that’s probably not an approach that they’ve encountered before. I try really hard to be authentic and answer every question honestly, and I think that also helped fuel the conversation because it (hopefully) made them even more comfortable to ask me things they typically don’t get a chance to ask.

The other aspect of this type of presentation that’s wonderful is that I have significantly less prep work. Instead of memorizing and practicing, I can just show up and be myself…which probably results in a better, more authentic talk anyway. I’m planning on updating the slide each time after the fact based upon the conversation, but otherwise there’s effectively no prep work.

4 comments on My Single-Slide Entrepreneurship Talk

  1. Dale says:

    What a neat concept… maybe a good way to moderate a panel discussion too!

    I’d like to hear a bit on how to grow for free!

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Thanks Dale!

      It’s funny, sometimes I forget what I meant by a bullet point, especially when it doesn’t come up in class and a few months pass. Case in point: I’m not entirely sure what my approach was going to be on that growing for free bullet lol. I *think* it was going to be about providing a great customer experience. For instance, big companies often take a long time to ship and reply slowly to emails with canned responses, so you can differentiate yourself without spending a penny by shipping quickly and sending fast email replies that address the customer’s concerns. At the start, you have the advantage of being able to craft a personal experience for every customer because there aren’t that many customers. That said, it just as easily could have been about tapping into your existing network to grow, or becoming an influencer in your field with videos/articles.

  2. Timothy W Coleman says:

    Great idea Adam! As someone who gives a lot of presentations and has seen more than I’d like to remember, the more conversational a presentation is the better. While that’s not always possible, and a 1-page deck is not the answer for many situations, in a case like this it kind of is perfect. You want to plant seeds to address their questions.

    Another invaluable lesson I’ve come to accept as the truth (in two related parts), saying the complex in a simple way is extremely hard, and when you know a topic inside and out, you don’t need a lot to guide you, just respond to the audience’s reaction. Your slide could simply say “Winning at Business” then you ask “what does this mean to all of you?” then build on whatever areas interest them.

    A simple trick I’ve developed for conversational focused presentations is I review them with my glasses off, I’m pretty blind without my glasses, if I can’t read it, I need to thin it down and make the typeface larger. Nothing and I do mean NOTHING is worse than sitting through a slide that has really tiny text on it and the “presenter” simply reads it to the audience, literally 50% of the presentations I’ve sat through were run this way, it should have been an email in that case.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Thanks Tim. This line is priceless:

      Nothing and I do mean NOTHING is worse than sitting through a slide that has really tiny text on it and the “presenter” simply reads it to the audience, literally 50% of the presentations I’ve sat through were run this way, it should have been an email in that case.

      I had several college classes that were like this. They would read the teacher slides provided by the text book company. They were a total waste of time. You could just as easily read the textbook and take the tests without ever going to the lectures.

      Another invaluable lesson I’ve come to accept as the truth (in two related parts), saying the complex in a simple way is extremely hard, and when you know a topic inside and out, you don’t need a lot to guide you, just respond to the audience’s reaction.

      Yes! And it’s easy to overthink it if you’re trying to put together the “perfect” presentation.

      Your slide could simply say “Winning at Business” then you ask “what does this mean to all of you?” then build on whatever areas interest them.

      I think Prof. Wales and I actually did this once for a presentation we gave together. We went into the room and said “Who here has seen Shark Tank? Does that do a good or bad job representing what entrepreneurship is really like?” And the conversation just flowed from there.

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