When it comes to writing a presentation, it’s arguably as much about what you take out as what you keep in. While many of us bemoan the truncated attention spans of Millennials who are attuned to short-form content and often seem unable to sit through anything more than a few minutes long, the fact is that punchy presentations have always been more effective than lengthy lectures.
Learning from the masters
Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address was just ten sentences long and it is no surprise that it’s his words which are remembered centuries on, not the two-hour oration by Edward Everett which preceded it. In those two minutes, Lincoln’s diligently crafted speech not only set out the purpose and principles of the American nation but eloquently affirmed the very essence of human equality, thus demonstrating the power of the carefully chosen word.
Editing a presentation takes time and care to get right though. As Mark Twain famously observed, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter so I wrote a long one instead.” Novelists frequently find that the editing of the initial manuscript is by far the most time-consuming aspect of writing a book, so when you’re preparing a presentation, be sure to factor in plenty of time for rewriting and honing your script and slides.
To help you create your killer slide deck, here are our top tips for editing a presentation.
- Be ruthless
Treat your first draft as a first draft, not the finished article. In all likelihood, when you’ve written your presentation it will contain too many words and be trying to convey too many key points. Sometimes it helps to allow a bit of time between writing and editing, so you’re approaching the editing process with fresh eyes and will be more able to spot areas for improvement.
- Use short sentences
Re-read your text and cut out all extraneous words. Reduce your key points to a few well-chosen phrases then link them for maximum effect. A small amount of repetition or reiteration is useful for emphasis, and don’t underestimate the power of a well-told anecdote.
- Try printing it out
We’re all used to typing at a screen these days but sometimes you can miss inconsistencies or typos when you’ve been staring at a monitor for hours. Some people find printing it and reading on paper a useful way of seeing the wood for the trees, perhaps going through it with a coloured pen, making notes and highlighting what to keep in and what to delete. If you need to change the order of your slides, print them out one slide to a page and use a large table to shuffle things around until you’re happy with the structure of your presentation.
- Sprinkle the gold dust
At this stage you should have something which is close to the final draft. Once you’re happy that the content is pretty much there, it’s time to consider how you can sprinkle some gold dust to really make your speech sparkle. Humour and the element of surprise are two great ways to engage your audience and make your words memorable. Is there an innovative twist you can put on your presentation or delivery? Can you personalise it to your audience?
- Polish the design
Once the words are done, it’s time to design your deck. Think about colour choices, typeface, imagery and video as well as the potential use of audience participation or interaction. You can find more on presentation design in this blog.
- Do you need a leave-behind?
Depending on the context of the presentation, you may need to produce a leave-behind document which provides more detail on the points made in your speech, so your audience can refer back to it afterwards. This is the place to include any additional material and contextual detail which you may have taken out during the editing process. Our Presenter system allows you to send a ‘digital resources’ pack immediately after your presentation to ensure that you and your presentation remain front-of-mind even after you’ve left the room.
- Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
Finally, allow plenty of time to rehearse. Editing a presentation isn’t just about what you’re going to say, but how you say it. Recruit a colleague as a guinea pig and present to them. Ask them for detailed feedback and questions so you can hone your content and delivery to perfection. Make sure that their take-out from your presentation is in line with your message; if something has got lost in translation, you’ve still got time to rectify it before the real thing.
We can’t guarantee that your next presentation will earn you a place in the history books alongside Abraham Lincoln, but by following these simple rules for editing a presentation you will be a more effective and engaging presenter. Good luck!