Often when we’re approached to put together a presentation, clients tend to give either very scarce design briefs or hand over an outline that is far too long/detailed. So what is the key to writing for presentation?
As a designer, I’m constantly scaling down the number of elements onscreen or begging clients to simplify their ideas to a few basic dot points. People (myself included) tend to struggle when asked to condense their ideas or expressions.
It’s human nature to overexplain because we assume the listener is clueless and we also fear the sound of silence, particularly when we’re presenting to audiences. This is the real value of content writers and editors – they can boil down complex ideas and massive chunks of text into something easily digested.
“An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.” – Charles Bukowski
Prior to writing your presentation, ask yourself the following questions:
- How do long do you have for the writing for presentation? (This is vital as it will dictate just how much detail you can give and how attentive your audience will be)
- Who is your audience? (There’s a distinct difference in tone and delivery when presenting to an investor, a subordinate, a superior, or a potential client)
- What is the purpose of your writing for presentation? (Forget messaging; what action do you want to evoke from your audience)?
- What are the key things you want your audience to take away from your presentation?
While the last two points may seem similar, the first is about action and the second is about thought.
On a recent episode of The Presentation Podcast, veteran copywriter and scriptwriter Mort Milder offered three key things for presenters that I would like to reiterate. The first thing he noted was the importance of having a brief outline of no more than three key points. The answers to those initial questions above will form your basic presentation outline, which means you’re now ready to get into the specifics such as how long to spend on each point and how to convey them.
Mort’s second point is rehearse your presentation out loud and preferably to someone who is unfamiliar with the topic and industry. The reason for this is because things look and sound different on page compared to out loud. Also, if someone who knows nothing about the content still understands what you’re saying and retains that information then you’ve done your job.
The third and final point Mort made was that shorter is always better. This is a notion shared by writers and designers alike – the KISS principle (keep it short and simple). Since the rule of threes applies to people’s ability to retain memory, try to compact your ideas into a maximum of three bullet points and never try to overload your audience with information when they’ll only walk away with three takeaways at most.
Mort’s three tips summarise the main mistakes I see make when clients write for a presentation. They fail to outline things simply and concisely, and they often don’t rehearse their presentation in front of someone beforehand. Writing for presentation is an unforgiving job (as my content writer regularly bemoans), so it’s usually best to leave it to the professionals, but if you insist on writing it yourself, please remember to the power of brevity and preparation.
Now that you’ve got the writing down, how about your presentation itself? Find some useful navigation tips for presenting in PowerPoint.