Food for thought: Sohn conference presentations

On Sundays, I post about interesting content I came across during the previous week. This week, I’m diving into Chamath Palihapitiya‘s recent presentation at the Sohn Investment Conference in New York City. At the conference, Wall Street’s brightest investors offer their top market picks in the name of raising funds for the Sohn Conference Foundation’s mission to cure and treat pediatric cancer.

The pitch from Palihapitiya, Founder and CEO of VC firm Social Capital, focused on Box as his favorite idea to play the artificial intelligence trend. While his stock pick is interesting in its own right–shares of Box soared 11% after his speech–I’m equally interested in how he delivered his investment thesis. Love ’em or hate ’em, presentations (and their accompanying decks) are part of our modern business culture, and I think there’s something to be learned from Palihapitiya’s style.

You can watch his full 16-minute presentation here and download the deck here. Here’s what stood out to me …

Startling simplicity

Palihapitiya’s presentation is more stark than pretty much any investment-related deck I’ve ever seen. Let’s do a quick comparison. The first slide below looks pretty standard for a financial presentation, right? It’s from a great investor: Andrew Walker, CFA of Rangeley Capital, winner of the conference’s Idea Contest.

It’s dramatically different from this slide–one of the “busiest” I could find in Palihapitiya’s deck:

More is more?

It’s also worth noting that Palihapitiya’s deck has more than 100 slides, while the other conference decks range between ~15 and 30 slides. I can’t be certain if the other presenters were allotted the same amount of speaking time, but let’s say they were–that would be interesting food for thought about how we can most effectively pair spoken words with accompanying images and text. Instead of a handful of dense, word- and chart-heavy slides, is it more impactful to click through dozens of slides with just a few key words on each?

Most of Palihapitiya’s  slides have only a coupe of words–sometimes in non-sentence form–drawing from a relatively simple vocabulary and no images at all. These are three separate slides:



As I think about applicable takeaways, I think about all the decks I’ve worked on that were designed to serve double duty as (1) materials to accompany an in-person conversation or presentation, and (2) leave-behind docs the recipient could reference later. Perhaps this is where we’re going wrong. The “two birds with one stone” mentality makes us feel efficient, but maybe it’s at the cost of being effective. These double-duty decks end up being too dense for a presentation yet not thorough enough to serve as truly useful reference material. As Seth Godin acknowledges in his iconic post on Really Bad Powerpoint, it can be difficult to change the status quo–but, hopefully, with Palihapitiya’s excellent example fresh in my mind, it will be a little bit easier.

P.S. For more inspiration, check out John Pfeffer’s presentation on cryptoassets–another superbly sparse deck, but with a very different vibe.