“How do you build a presentation?” I’ve had the question asked of me a few times recently. And I’ve had enough flights recently to spend some time thinking about the answer. As I mentioned, before I could actually answer the question I had to write this other post about clarity and empathy. Go read that and then come back. With that as context, here is my stripped down process – my 9 essential steps to building a presentation.
1 – Find the nucleus
I start with a few pithy quotes or few, very few, key points. In the case of my “Killing IAM” talk, all I had was the phrase “Behold the comma.” For my more recent “No One Is An Island” what I had was “Hierarchies and our love for them is the strange love child of Confucius and the military industry complex” and “Treating people like just nodes just rows in a database is, essentially, sociopathic behavior. It ignores the reality that you, your organization, and the other person, group, or organization are connected.” What you need is just enough to grow a talk upon.
2 – Build an outline
Next up – I build an outline. The top-level items will become the sections of the talk. Under each top-level item I add just a few bullets, the essential points for that section. I’ll also add cues for visuals where I can. Sometimes I have a strong image in my mind how to illustrate a certain point, or there’ll be a joke I want to tell that requires a visual. Don’t stress over not having visual cues; they’re nice to have but by no means required to proceed to step 3.
3 – Write the speech
Yup. I write out my full talk. All of it. Write out the story that you want to tell. Hit each top-level item from the outline; make them headers. Weave the associated bullets into full sentences. Paragraphs grow from there. I will also put in parenthetical notes to myself for visuals, staging, and other things I want to remember when I present. I’ll also put in the quotes and ideas that served as my nucleus.
You might be surprised to learn but I don’t spend a ton of time of the actual writing. It takes me about an afternoon or so to write a speech. Your mileage may vary.
The text should flow. If it doesn’t, then you aren’t ready to write it. Go back to your nucleus and ask if it inspires you. Go back to your outline and look for weaknesses and holes.
As for length, I find that each page of single spaced text is about 3 to 4 minutes of talk. To get a sense for how long your text is, fire up text to speech. Time how long it takes the computer to read the text. This will give you a sense if you are in the right neighborhood lengthwise. Continue reading My 9 Step Process for Building a Presentation