It’s because the rules for spoken English and for written English are completely different.
Think of the pages of a novel. Now consider how the pages look in a play. They don’t look the same. This is because plays are written to be spoken. Conversely, a beautifully crafted, grammatically-correct piece of prose can be hard on the ear. It may sound stilted and flat when read aloud. So you have a problem if a presenter writes his presentation in the same way he would a report.
To stop you falling into this trap, here are 5 tips so you have better writing for your presentations and public speaking:
1. Start with a bang
Written communication will start with an introduction, then work through the information, often building to a conclusion. In a presentation you need to capture your audience’s attention in the first 30 seconds – so you need to start with a headline and give them a reason to engage, and keep listening.
2. Use the power of three
The brain processes information delivered in three parts better than any other number. That is why we have global slogans with three words such as Nike’s “Just Do It”, Coke’s “The Real Thing” and Mars’ “Work Rest and Play”. The best way to apply this to a presentation is to divide your presentation into three sections. Start by saying what you are going to say, then say it, and finally say what you have said. Also, if you can group your points into three themes within the main body of the presentation you will give your audience a huge helping hand. Whilst it is impossible for the listener to remember every word of a presentation, this approach will give your audience the best chance of remembering your key points.
3. Repeat repeat repeat
In a written communication you only need to say things once. If your reader is unsure, they can re-read. However, in verbal communication we need to have things repeated, not surprisingly, an optimal three times for impact. Repetition can be used to add emphasis, highlight important parts of your presentation and even build your point with an ‘expanding three’ i.e. when you repeat a point three times, each time making it a little larger. Remember Obama’s rally cry “We will win in the churches, we will win in the towns, we will win across America!” In spoken language you also need to summarise and navigate your listener: Tell then what they have heard and what they will hear next.
4. Use simple sentences
In written communication sentences can be joined by conjunctions, have multiple clauses, sub-clauses and so on. However, when we listen the brain struggles with long complex sentence structure. So keep sentences short and simple.
5. Don’t stick to the script!
Written communication follows a set order. Once it is published or sent, it can’t be changed… obviously. However, spoken presentations are never cast in stone. In fact, the opposite is true. The same presentation can be given differently, using different words and word order every time. You can do this for many reasons: someone has asked a question, you forgot a piece of information, there has been a request for further explanation…. However, it remains the same presentation IF you are clear what your messages are. The actual words you use to describe your messages can differ without any harm coming to your power as a communicator. That is why using short bullet points as speaker notes is generally better than using a full script. A full script forces you to focus on the words rather than the messages.
The language of presentations should be the language of conversations. After all, a presentation is just a one-way conversation with a large group of individuals.
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