How to write a presentation – don’t!

scriptThe answer to how do I write a presentation is… you don’t!

Let me qualify.

If you are a speechwriter, if your presentation needs to be word perfect or you’re speaking in Parliament or the world stage for example, then your speech needs to be written.

You may want to write down prompts, links, important figures and quotes that are essential to remember

You may end up with a form of script (although this isn’t always necessary and often I recommend against it)

But for most people delivering presentations in companies, at conferences and meetings, writing a presentation can have a negative impact on your delivery. Here are some of the things that can happen when you ‘write’ a presentation.

  1. You write in written English rather than spoken English. The effect this has usually results in long sentences that are overly convoluted. Language and words that are complicated and are jargon or management speke. Weird sentence structure and sequence that doesn’t easily make sense to a listener.
  1. Your writing actually turns into a series of bulleted lists on a PowerPoint. Almost without exception, this results in what I term ‘list-voice’. A sing-song voice which stamps out any meaning of the words and an audience which doesn’t engage because they are following a list instead of absorbing the meaning and life of the message…
  1. You become tied to the script. Either in rehearsal or indeed in the actual presentation itself. You might be surprised at me saying tied to the script in rehearsal is a bad thing but think about it this way. The more you write, learn and then become dependent on the script, the more you’ve invested in it. And when you’ve invested in it so heavily the more difficult it is to veer away from that to change and enhance and develop. Rehearsal becomes all about getting it word perfect and not about changing it to make it the best presentation. (a dangerous process in my opinion)
  1. And while nearly everyone I have spoken to understands why we shouldn’t read from a script in the presentation itself, once there is a script the temptation to be glued to it is almost impossible to resist. In the same way,  if there are bullets on a PowerPoint, it is hard for even the most experienced presenter to break away from them

When it comes to presentation preparation there are things we can do that help us work out what to say and how to say it and remember without having first to write the script. Here are few to be starting off with:

  1. Say it out loud. Even before you have a fully formed structure, slides or script, say out the words for size . As soon as those words come out of your mouth you’ll have a good feel for whether these will work. Pay attention to the impact these words will have. For the sound of them. For the sense of them. And play around. Use an audio recorder. Jot down the ones that work. Change the ones that don’t.
  1. Work hard on the links and transitions between different parts of your presentation. When these work (try them out loud as in the point above), then the whole presentation will flow and the words will come more naturally (in the design and most definitely in the delivery) It’s a bit like the difference between learning all the road turns, roundabouts and signing on the roads between Cheshire and Dorset ( impossible and stressful and unnecessary) or knowing that you’ll take the M6, M5 and then the A358 and A35. Once you have the general direction of travel, the details will slot into place. (PS, guess where I am going for my holidays this year!)
  1. Play. If you are clear on your message (see this blog and this) and what you want your audience to do, know and feel at the end of a presentation, then you can afford to play with words and phrases, examples, comparisons and stories.

Of course, you’ll make jottings and at some point you’ll need to put them in sequence in the form of prompts but that’s exactly what you’ll end up with – prompts not a script. And your delivery will be the more spontaneous, natural and flowing for it.

Give me a call or make contact if you’ve got any questions or comment below and please share the blog with anyone who wants to get even better at speaking in public.

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