A Deceptively Simple Checklist To Help With Something Really Hard

Coming up with a compelling story is hard. And creating a great deck can be so intimidating. 

So, you take a look at some best practices out there. First website, framework #1. Second website, frameworks #2 and #3. 5 minutes in, and you’re already overwhelmed. There’s too many frameworks. You don’t know where to start.

But hey – it does not have to be complex.

Building a great story is already a complex task. So you don’t need to throw some extra-complexity in there.

Here’s a simple checklist for you to build a kick-a$$ deck and story. Download the template and check out Clari’s sales deck to help you build your sales deck.

It’s deceptively simple. But it will force you to spend more time actually thinking and strategizing – by answering these 4 fundamental questions:


That’s it. Let’s take a look.


Good ol’ “knowing your audience is half the job done” adage has never been truer. With everyone’s attention span always shrinking down (sadly), you gotta meet your audience where they are.

So, before you even think about slides, answer this simple question: WHO is your audience?

It’s a simple question that can lead to sophisticated answers – and to more second-level questions. That’s part of our checklist.

WHO 1. Define your primary and secondary audience

Who is your target buyer? And who are the influencers?

WHO 2. Establish their maturity level

Are they “problem-aware” or “solution-aware”? Has your buyer already used a similar product?

WHO 3. List their key drivers

What are their obstacles? What’s in it for them? How does their boss measure their success?

WHO 4. Map their past interactions

Who else have they been talking to? Colleagues, peers, analysts, other vendors, etc.

You absolutely have to answer all these before you even get into the WHEN.


Of course, timing is everything. There are so many time-related questions you need to answer to scope this well.

WHEN 1. Map your ideal run of show

How long do you have? When will be a good time to switch from discovery to deck, or from deck to demo?

WHEN 2. Determine how long your buyer has been shopping around

How long has your buyer spent talking to other vendors, to analysts, how long have they been educating themselves about the solution that they need?

WHEN 3. Establish their level of urgency

When would they need to roll this out? Why now?


Now that you have amassed so much knowledge from answering these WHO and WHEN questions, it’s time for action.

Time to get into the thick of it. Into your strategy. Your content.

Your content IS your strategy. How you show up that day will influence how likely you are to get to your expected outcome.

Wait – what is our expected outcome, again?

You’re not sure? Ahem – you’ll need that answer, too (WHAT5 below).

WHAT 1. Nail your main message

What’s the one thing you want your audience to walk away from this with?

I like to phrase those as WHAT IF. “What if you could stop Revenue Leak?”

WHAT 2. Establish what makes your solution different

for THIS audience (WHO), and NOW (WHEN) 

WHAT 3. Source all your supporting proof points

Product, customer, analyst validation, momentum stats

WHAT 4. Determine your expected outcome

Your desired next step could be another meeting (Sales), or a presentation your audience will love (Marketing).

Next step, after answering these?

Open a blank page. In Google Docs. Apple Notes. Your notebook. Anything that has no fancy design features. And then – write that story on how to get from Problem to Solution. If we checked all the boxes so far, believe me, it’ll come naturally.

Here’s one way of doing it:

Your main character is your buyer (WHO 1 to 4). There’s stuff that’s getting in the way (WHO 3, WHEN 2). Yet, your character needs to change now (WHEN 3). Because there’s a better world, out there (WHAT 1). How to get there? (WHAT 2). Just like other customers got there before you, too (WHAT 3). Bliss. Consensus. Next step (WHAT 4).


Let’s be real. None of the above is actually really specific to the deck format. It’s required steps to take to build a story that resonates.

Now that we have a good story in a free form (Gdoc, notes or note book), HOW do we turn it into slides?

Honestly, this is the part that most people fear – and yet, it’s by far the simplest of the 4.

There’s a playbook to do it – you just have to follow it.

Here you go:

HOW 1. Break down your story 

into, say, 8 to 10 paragraphs (based on how much time you have, see WHEN1). One major idea per paragraph. Let’s call them chapters.

HOW 2. Write down the title of each chapter

Make it sound like a strong statement.

HOW 3. Create a skeleton deck

Now, and only now, open Google Slides 🙂

At the top of each empty slide, put the chapter’s title. In the speaker’s notes, paste the chapter’s copy. You should have as many slides as chapters. Make sure it still all flows nicely. The story should be understood by simply reading the sequences of the slide/ chapter’s titles.

HOW 4. Fill out each slide – with a mix facts & emotions

What are the supporting text or visual elements that will support the main message of that slide, expressed in the title?

You have an arsenal of tools to do that: 

  • if your buyer (WHO) makes decisions based on “data” and facts, use things like: diagrams, stats, bulleted lists, industry quotes, product features, value statements.
  • if your buyer (still WHO) makes decisions based on “emotions”, use things like: customer heroes, customer quotes (“I love this so much because…”), metaphors (“you can’t open the black box of…”), fear of losing statements, etc.

Can I tell you a secret? Every buyer makes decisions both based on data and intuition. So, the best decks will mix both styles.

HOW 5. Have a strong CTA at the end

(as per WHAT 4).

Deceptively simple, huh?

The hard part is WHO, WHEN, WHAT. HOW is easier.

Few last things for you to consider:

  • Iterate, run the flow by colleagues, peers, reps, get feedback, iterate again.
  • For a live delivery: practice, practice, and practice again. Sounding scripted destroys even the most beautiful story.
  • Your sales deck will be a living thing. And typically at least 20% will be customized by your reps – as it should.


We always jump to solutions and try to get the job done too fast. Hence, decks that $uck.

Putting the right strategic thinking to answer these fundamental questions will take you further than you think.

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