25 June 2012

The Zen of Presentations, Part 55: Script doctoring

Page from the script for The Dark KnightWhen I am giving a talk, I do not read from a script.

But I often write a script or notes when I am preparing for a talk. I learn a lot by looking at the page. Often, what happens is:

  1. Picture of study species: Short paragraph, couple of lines in length.
  2. Introduction of concept slide: Short paragraph.
  3. Statement of hypothesis: Short paragraph.
  4. First graph of results: Short paragraph.
  5. Second graph of results: Three long paragraphs of notes.

When I look at a page and see the notes for one slide that are way longer than slides before and after, I know I haven’t clearly articulated the point I want to make. It’s a reliable marker that I have more thinking to do.

Sometimes, another benefit is that you can uncover just the right turn of phrase. The shorter the talk, the more important those well chosen sentences are. They will save you from chewing up valuable minutes of time explaining something.

There is a big difference between looking at your slides and thinking, “I know what I’ll say here,” and doing it. This, of course, is the same reason you need to rehearse your talk out loud. Sometimes, though, writing it out is useful when might not want to say all that stuff out loud. You’re not ready yet, don’t have a quiet space, or whatever reason.

Writing a script for a talk forces you to be explicit, which reveals your weaknesses. That makes it useful, even if you never read from it on the day.


Empowerpointers said...

An excellent post! I design presentations, and agree that scripting is a useful exercise for most speakers (regardless of topic).

It also helps presenters articulate their vision to a designer, so audience is engaged with on-target visuals.

Thanks for the wise quotes; I've shared them with my tweeps.

Jeremy Fox said...

I write my talks out almost word-for-word, and then run through them several times so that I don't have to look at the "script" when I'm giving the talk. I don't necessarily say exactly what I've written, though I often end up sticking fairly close. But writing it out this way and then practicing it as written ensures I say what I want, and that I do so clearly and efficiently. And before anyone asks, I don't think it makes me sound like a recording.

I have the impression that it's rare for people to do this, but I could be wrong about that.