Be Patient! Outline First, Write Second

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Greetings! It’s been a while since my last update so I’m happy to be in touch again.

I’m currently working with a seasoned presenter who wants some help with the content of an important presentation she will be giving numerous times to different audiences. Helping her through her process, I am reminded of why I urge presenters to refrain from freestyle writing when starting to create their presentation.

Rather than starting with prose, I recommend you begin with a “brainstorming/data dump” session followed by parsing through your ideas and organizing them to create a brief outline. Next, you can dig down more deeply to flesh out your outline. At that point it’s absolutely fine to write longhand using your outline as a starting point, to help you identify and think through all the nuances and details relevant to your points and supporting information.

I’m not, however, in favor of reading (or worse memorizing!) your presentation word-for-word. If you choose to write it out as a narrative, use that narrative as a basis for a second outline, more detailed than the first. It consists of bullet points, short phrases, specific data you’ll need to refer to, any quotes you want to include (those are fine to read verbatim) and perhaps a few sentences you deem crucial to communicate fully that might be hard to remember. From those bullets, phrases, etc., you’ll be able to speak spontaneously (preferably from cards or speaker notes), include everything important  and, when you truly follow your bullets, not get off-topic or over-talk points.

The issue with writing freestyle from the start is that although you are fleshing out great ideas, there’s a danger of “falling in love” with your writing. Invariably, your great ideas will be mixed up with other great ideas and not in an order that is clear and well-structured. Plus it’s so easy to include extraneous information that way.

You’ll first need to identify:

1) Your main message

2) The overall “story” of your presentation

3) Your main points, sub-points and supporting information

Those are the building blocks you’ll need before you can structure your presentation much less write anything out in detail. That way your presentation will have integrity and be easiest for your listeners to absorb.

If your spend your valuable time writing as a first step, you may have to spend lots more time later on the tedious task of sifting through your prose for the above-mentioned components, then restructuring them in a way that is clear and integrated.

So my advice to you is this: be patient! Write it all out if that helps you, but do it at the right time, and with the expectation that you’ll let go of your beloved words in deference to delivering an effective, relatable presentation. That way your efforts will serve the presentation rather than hinder your creative process.

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