Untangle Your Presentation

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Lately I’ve seen some clients whose style of pulling together the content for their presentations confuses them and slows them down.

I usually advise clients to do a “data dump” before starting to write. That is, to put all points, examples, facts, themes, etc. on index cards or write them individually on a document. I emphasize having only one idea per card or line on the document, or at most one idea and an example or data to support it.

What I have been seeing instead is clients who throw out ideas and points, but they start writing longhand about them from the start. That means they have several points and examples mixed together in one paragraph. They may have some of the same points combined with new ones in another paragraph. Or they’ll determine main themes or messages and combine lots of points and examples to flesh them out, and write the whole thing out in paragraph form.

Though there is lots of good material there, it is complicated to use in that form. I always recommend making up an outline before starting to write (if you are in fact going to write anything out longhand) or before you determine your bullet points that will be your guide in presenting. However, you need isolated points and examples/facts to use as the building blocks of the outline. It becomes very hard to tease out single points when they are joined with other ones and joined with still other ones somewhere else.

It’s much easier to start by keeping your ideas, messages, themes, examples, etc. separate when you do your data dump. Resist the urge to start writing. Then use those individual points etc. to create an outline. Place your examples where appropriate. For instance, you might hit three points and then give an example that illustrates all of them — after you explain the points. Or give the example first then break it down by explaining the three points.

If you were to simply piece together all your paragraphs you had started with, your points and messages would be all jumbled up. You want to relay your information simply and clearly, in a logical and straightforward way. That makes it possible to use your information to create a narrative or story. Your presentation can have plenty of style, and you can use your information in the context of an overall theme, but the points will be clearly delineated so people don’t have to unravel what you say to locate the information they need.

Try it next time. I think you’ll find it makes the process more efficient — and much less frustrating!

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