5 Tips For Writing Less And Saying More
We’ve all heard it before: less is more. But somehow it doesn’t stop us from oversharing, rambling, and generally binging on our feelings. Then in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to convince ourselves that this situation is the exception. And besides, who has the time?
“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”
-Blaise Pascale, Mathematician
So you wanna know the secret to successful presentations that sell, demystify, and dazzle?
36 point font. 40 point if you can manage it.
By and large, executives are an older bunch whose attention has been beaten down over a lifetime of information overload, politics, and responsibility. The best way to get through to them is BIG FONT and small words.
Ironically, while you think a presentation’s goal is to educate or inform – it is in fact, in most cases, the opposite. The goal is to get the audience engaged enough to ask questions. And if the executive doesn’t care about the headline, then it’s a forgone conclusion.
Try these time-tested tips to stay on point.
1. Get Organized
Gather and organize the facts before writing is critical. There is a reason that most writers often spend months, sometimes years, doing research. You have to know what you’re talking about before you talk about it.
- What are you trying to write?
- Who is your audience?
- What is the main point?
- Why is it important?
- What are the other points you want to make?
- How are all the points related?
Now I hear you already – there are dudes in the office that just wing it! Why can’t I?
It is a free world. You can certainly try. But what you already know is that those same people run the risk of being called out. It’s a gamble. And another article for another day. I believe the best bet is to do your homework AND wing it with the same confidence.
You will fly higher.
2. Embrace White Space
Grab a stack of blank pages. Sketch out headlines – one per page, in messy handwriting with lots of white space. The space will give you the feeling of freedom to write without judgment. And it allows for rewriting on the same page to keep your thoughts together.
“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
― Jodi Picoult
Then I like to tape the sheets sequentially on a wall. When you read across the wall, does it tell a story? Does it tell a story? And cover the facts?
3. Write Like You Talk
Before diving into what other people may think, it’s important to start with you. Do you like it? Does the flow make sense to you? Is this how you talk?
Listen to how people talk around the office. You’ll notice that a lot of dialogue doesn’t make sense. Everyday conversation is short, casual, and to the point. Like the best presentations.
Also, consider that the power of a presentation often comes afterward – when it’s passed around to various stakeholders. The more conversational the presentation, the more it will be appreciated by a wider audience.
4. Incorporate Their Words
You know want to say at this point, now we have to venture into convincing other people. Using their language creates common ground before pitch that new product, strategy, or recommendation.
If you’ve been at a company for more than a year, chances are you know the CEO’s favorite words because the human tendency is to repeat them. Try folding them into the presentation where it makes sense.
“People only see what they are prepared to see.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
5. Keep It Simple
Words should express, not impress. I was caught in this web earlier this week putting together a presentation for an investor. Thankfully, I had the sanity to run it by someone. And, yes, he called me out.
Some ways to test for simplicity:
- Can you make the headlines 5 words or less?
- Is every point on a page unique and necessary?
- Show it to a stranger and see if they understand it…
Finally, edit fearlessly. Get rid of needless words. You know what they are.
For more in-depth guidance, I recommend these classics:
- Pyramid Principle, Logic in Writing & Thinking by Barbara Minto
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Good luck! You got this!