Delivering a message and making it stick is no easy task. And Mark O’Toole knows this well.

As the Managing Director of Public Relations and Content Marketing at the HB Agency, his job is to craft the right content for the right audience. He does the same thing for his SlideShare presentations. Mark’s approach, both fun and controversial, grabs you and holds your attention.

As part of our Masters of SlideShare project, Mark shared a salient tip. We decided to share all his advice in the interview below.

When did you first start using SlideShare and what drew you to it?

I first explored SlideShare in 2009. My firm at the time had taken an equity stake in an online travel news company. The company was relatively new to the U.S. and had very little visibility.

Most of its assets—user guides and testimonials mostly—were behind a subscriber-only wall. I simply turned some of these documents into PDFs and posted to SlideShare so U.S. prospects could get a sense of how the technology worked and the ease of using it. This ability to make my content public and shareable—still a relatively new concept even then—was liberating.

SlideShare is a unique forum unlike other “social networks.” When crafting a presentation for it what are the “rules” or guidelines you follow?

Because SlideShare is a unique platform, it requires special attention to content shared on the site so that it’s relevant and accessible. I find it lazy when a company, for example, simply posts its Tweets to Facebook and considers that as satisfying the need to have Facebook content.

It’s the same with SlideShare. Simply taking a presentation that was created with the intent to present live or in-person, and posting that to SlideShare doesn’t cut it. SlideShare content needs to exist so that readers can get the point, understand the information, and enjoy the experience without the need for someone speaking to it, or about it, to bring it to life.

If I were to rank my top three ideas to ensure a successful SlideShare, I’d say:

  • Great title: make it provocative, contrarian, tweetable, head-scratching—whatever. Just make sure it’s memorable.
  • Great design: SlideShare is visual. Respect that.
  • Grasp-able content: Does it stand on its own? If not, keep working.

For someone just getting started with SlideShare, what would be your first piece of advice?

“When starting anything, figure out your goals.” @markrotoole

When starting anything, figure out your goals. For first-timers on SlideShare, read a bunch of the successful submissions. While the most read or most shared presentation may be wildly different, it’s easy to see that they had compelling content, design that supported the content, and a message easily grasped.

Is it worth engaging a designer to partner with you? Can you do it on your own?

Design! Great design rules on SlideShare. Sometimes that design is no design at all: black words on a white background, for example, to evoke a starkness. When the images support the content, readers respond. My original SlideShare posts, lightly “designed” by me, were read a few hundred or few thousand times each. Good content, weak design. For my most recent SlideShare, I asked the professional designers at my firm to bring my words to life.

The result? This newest SlideShare has been read almost 700,000 times.

[slideshare id=30350834]

What are the signs that a SlideShare has succeeded? Is it likes, shares, views, downloads, new business?

I see each piece of content as something that must be maximized, adapted, and shared as many places as are relevant.

A successful SlideShare is really based on your intentions for it. Like most social networks, shares, likes, and views are important and do make a difference, and are measurable. For my “Congratulations Graduate: 11 Reasons I will Never Hire You” SlideShare, there were plenty of those. But I considered it successful when I received emails from college career centers asking if they could incorporate it into their educational materials, and when blogs and HR-focused sites had raging debates in their comments sections regarding everything from the content to the design. I wanted a reaction. I got one.

How have you gone about sharing and gaining visibility for your presentations outside of SlideShare?

I’m in PR and content marketing so I see each piece of content as something that must be maximized, adapted, and shared as many places as are relevant.

The “Congratulations Graduate” piece actually started more than a year ago as a contributed article on a site that targets the innovation community in Boston. From there it became tweets and ultimately the Slideshare itself. Certainly having strong social networks helps with sharing. LinkedIn and SlideShare themselves are very good about sharing content with their audiences. That certainly gave my presentation a boost. In the end, it comes down to great content. Without that, no presentation will be compelling.