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Presentation Lessons from the Fed; Intentional Vagueness & Ambiguity

“I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Alan Greenspan.

In 1987, Alan Greenspan famously said this and confused the crap out of a reporter questioning him about his plans for the Federal Reserve’s position on some matter, which for the sake of this article, is no longer important. Understanding the coded financial jargon, known as “Fedspeak” (a deliberate parallel to “Newspeak” of George Orwell’s novel, “1984”), used by U.S. Federal Reserve officials, is quite the challenge.

Greenspan, much like every other Fed board chairman in history, intentionally uses this vague and ambiguous dialect to answer questions about their monetary policy. In doing this, they can prevent financial markets from overreacting to their remarks. According to Alan Greenspan, the recognized chief in “Fedspeak,” using the coded dialect involves, “purposeful obfuscation to avoid certain questions coming up, which you know you can’t answer.” Here’s an example:

The Fed originally said: “The Committee will maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and continues to anticipate that economic conditions, including low rates of resource utilization, subdued inflation trends, and stable inflation expectations, are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate for an extended period.”

The Fed’s official explanation of this “Fedspeak” phrase reads: “Extended period is conditioned on resource slack, on subdued inflation and on stable inflation expectations.”

Nevertheless, some observers think the phrase actually means something closer to: “the U.S. economy is still doing pretty poorly, and so we really have no clue as to how long the economy will take to recover enough for the Fed to start raising interest rates.”


Although “Fedspeak” may be useful in political, economic, or governmental situations, a corporate presentation should be exactly the opposite. Any presentation expert will agree with the fact that clear, concise, and tangible information is necessary for a successful and effective PowerPoint presentation.

Have a story to tell before you start creating your PowerPoint presentation. Once you can clearly define your beginning, middle and end, you are ready to begin the presentation design and sequence.

The best way to avoid ambiguity and confusion in your audience can be found in a “three-act story” structure. This structure revolves around these three questions that your audience will ask themselves:

  1. Why should I care?
  2. How will your product make my life better?
  3. What action would I need to take?

Instead of using 30 different statistics, 4 slides of technical data or long background stories, focus on simple, clear, direct language. Make your content easy to understand, easy to remember, and better yet, easy to share. Make your content into universal converter (those big bulky blocks you take on trips to Europe to charge you phone or camera) .

Your content should be universally transferable from Facebook statuses, to Tweets, to text messages. The easier it is for people to share, the more they will.

Ill leave you with Leonardo Da Vinci’s philosophy that Steve Jobs often quoted: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”



Alkalay, Leo. “Understanding Fedspeak.eToro Blog. June 17, 2011.

About Rick Enrico

Rick Enrico is the CEO & Founder of SlideGenius, Inc., a San Diego based marketing & software agency. Rick currently oversees an experienced team of talented designers, software developers and marketing professionals that specialize in creating custom corporate presentations and cloud publishing applications.Mr. Enrico and our team of PowerPoint design experts contribute to this blog frequently. If you have any questions or just want to drop us a line please forward them to admin (@) slidegenius.com

About SlideGenius

SlideGenius.com is your PowerPoint presentation specialist for business. Based in San Diego, California, SlideGenius has helped enhance the presentations of more than 1000+ clients all over the world, including J.P. Morgan, Harley-Davidson, Pfizer, Verizon, and Reebok, among others. Let us help you with your presentation needs!