This article shares seven simple rules for writing a great presentation.
John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) was a priest in the Church of England who later converted to Catholicism and became a Roman Catholic Church Cardinal. His beautification was officially proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI on September 19, 2010.
Among Cardinal Newman’s many accomplishments was a listing of seven rules for writing sermons. These rules have surprising relevance for trainers, teachers and speakers.Those rules, slightly adapted to modernize the verbiage, are as follows.
- Keep the presentation idea in view and write sentences over and ever until the meaning of each sentence is expressed accurately, forcibly and in as few words as possible – The key to great writing can be described as “less is more.” When writing a presentation, it is always best to start with a sentence that states one point and then reduce the length of that sentence until the point is made in as few words as possible.
- Aim to be understood by the listeners – Learners, especially those unfamiliar with the subject, often get lost in minutia. Experts are, conversely, often unable to discern the “need to know” from the “nice to know.” A simple example might be one in which an auto engineer tries to teach a son or daughter how to drive a car. The expert is likely to include details about how a combustion engine works while forgetting basic information like a key is needed to start that engine. Your presentation should be focused on delivering only the essential, must have, basic information.
- Use words that the audience will understand – All the large words, flowery language and short-cut acronyms won’t matter if the audience does not know their meaning. Besides eliminating unnecessary words as listed in rule 2 above, it is wise to avoid words the audience will not understand.
- Never aim to be eloquent – Speaking eloquently is better than speaking ineloquently. But, trying to speak eloquently results in flowery language that obscures meaning. Eloquence comes once you fully grasp the subject and can speak fluently and succinctly about it.
- You must be humble – Audience members do not appreciate pompous presenters. They will value you, and will listen, when you are real and let your true self, rather than some stuffy expert, shine through. The reason for the presentation is, after all, the audience. The more you shift your focus from you to them, the more likely you will be to receive a favorable audience.
- A presenter who is ambitious will never write well, but one who tries to say simply what he feels and thinks will be eloquent without intending it – This rule is an effective summation of the prior six rules. Humility, simplicity and focus will help you deliver an Oscar-worthy presentation. The awards will follow.
Although John Henry Cardinal Newman lived in a different era, his advice still rings true and can lead you to a fully effective presentation.