We’ve written many a blog post on how to tell compelling stories in a presentation (and we’ll fight to the death defending the importance of them), but there’s a lot more writing involved in the crafting of a presentation than simply telling stories. Here are some tips from some of our favorite writers on how to write well in general. (Thanks to Brain Pickings for compiling so many great ‘tips on writing’ lists.)
1. “Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it. “ – Ray Bradbury
First things first: Don’t take yourself so seriously. Be lighthearted and easygoing. Have fun with your writing.
2. “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.” – Kurt Vonnegut
This is crucial advice for the presenter. Never waste your audience’s time, or borrow it without asking. Make sure your presentation is offering them something essential.
3. “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” – Vonnegut
Every person in your audience is there to get something out of your presentation. Ask yourself: “What’s in it for them? Why are they attending my presentation? What do they want to get out of it?” Once you’ve answered those questions, make sure your presentation succeeds in meeting (and hopefully, exceeding) their expectations.
4. “Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy.” – Jack Kerouac
If you want to write compellingly in your presentations, make sure you write as much as possible for your own pleasure. Dedicating time to random scribbles and stream-of-consciousness musings will help you unearth your unique voice.
5. “The only story that seems worth writing is a cry, a shot, a scream. A story should break the reader’s heart.” – Susan Sontag
Evoke an emotional response in your audience. Tell stories that tug at their heartstrings; ones that compel them to genuinely care about what you are saying.
6. “Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.” – David Ogilvy
Beware the dreaded Curse of Knowledge. Never speak down to your audience. That’s a surefire way to lose their attention and respect altogether. Cut out the jargon. Speak to them on a level that’s accessible.
7. “Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.” – Henry Miller
Miller refers to “the Program” as the writing regimen you adhere to, but the apt advice here is to narrow down and exclude. Remove anything from your presentation that isn’t crucial. Include only what is most important, so your audience will remember what’s essential from your presentation.
8. “Forget your generalized audience… I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.” – John Steinbeck
Know your audience like the back of your hand. Write specifically to them. Know their needs and desires well enough to tailor your presentation to them.
9. “Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.” – Zadie Smith
The importance of editing should never be overlooked; it’s an essential part of the writing process. As Smith recommends, leave time between creating and editing so you’ll have a clearer idea of what’s necessary and what can be cut out.
10. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. – George Orwell
Concision is key. Use words economically in your presentation. Pretend like you have to pay for every word you use. What doesn’t need to be on that slide? What can you remove?
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