Write It Forward

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A recent client was preparing to give a PowerPoint presentation at an industry event. A freelance colleague of hers had done a good job helping her create a preliminary presentation, writing the copy for the slides and the notes sections. In a creative field, my client produced the visuals. Although they are both experts in the same general area, and their work is based on the same foundational ideas, the two have a different bent.

My client wanted my help refining her presentation. Upon a preliminary look, I thought the points made were interesting and the slides were visually appealing, leaning heavily on graphics rather than text (good!) As we looked through the presentation slide-by-slide, it became apparent that my client had a somewhat different perspective on the material than her colleague. We worked together rewriting the copy and eliminating some of the slides and text.

I helped her dig beneath the copy to define her overall message, to whittle down content unnecessary to that point, and to add transitions. We left in parts she deemed important to her audience even though they did not fit precisely with the main message, and we hesitated to cut a few slides that we really loved, though they were not 100% relevant anymore. The presentation improved, but I had a gnawing feeling that something was wrong.

By the time we completed going through the presentation, I understood the problem. This presentation was written backwards.

Before reworking it, the presentation did include some points very relevant to the title and description she had given the organizers of the event. Main topics were consistently introduced via simple questions. The copy was well-written and conversational. However, it seemed to have been written point-by-point, with slides produced accordingly. Some slides looked like they had been produced first with notes added later. It had a feeling of a patchwork. I missed an integrated and powerful bigger picture.

The good news is she ended up with a very decent presentation. We succeeded in adapting it more to her style, reshaping it into a more fluid, dynamic whole, introducing an audience-engaging attention grabber at the beginning and end, focusing it more around the main message, and morphing one visual theme throughout the course of the presentation and adding a little oomph with its last iteration.

We both agreed, however, that for her next presentation at an even more important industry event, we would write it forwards. That means:

  • We carefully think through and define the purpose or goal of the presentation, examining who will be in the audience and trying to determine their needs, interests and level of knowledge about the subject.
  • We determine a main message to act as the basis for the entire presentation.
  • We brainstorm all relevant ideas, examples, facts, quotes, etc and write them each on a card or sticky.
  • We organize the ideas into main points and sub-points, eliminating what does not directly or indirectly support the overarching message and we make sure the points are illustrated by relevant examples, stories, facts, quotes, etc.
  • If we haven’t already, we think of a theme that will hold the presentation together — a sort of larger picture story.
  • We make sure to define any actions we would like the audience to take and state them clearly along with the benefits to them of taking those actions.
  • We then order the points and supporting information and adapt them to the bigger picture story or theme.
  • We create transitions and reinforce our main points using our main message.
  • Then we think of a powerful attention grabber with which to open the presentation: one that leads us directly into the main message, which we spend the rest of the presentation proving and exemplifying.
  • We come full circle at the end with a more developed version of the first attention grabber, or create a new one relevant to the voyage the audience has taken during the presentation.
  • As we do all of this, we keep our mind open to which visuals we might use. Perhaps a unifying visual theme or idea to illustrate the various points. The last piece is creating and/or refining the visuals. After all, they are an enhancement to the spoken word, not the guiding force behind what we say.

When we do all that, we are writing forward, creating a powerful and cohesive presentation. No need to look back.

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