I wrote recently about my excitement at finally getting to meet advertising legend Dave Trott and soaking up some of the street-wise wisdom that he generously blogs, then compiles into his books Creative Mischief and Predatory Thinking.
It was on re-reading the latter that I was reminded how closely he hits the spot on two big, related issues in business presentation: 1) the difference between conversation and presentation and 2) the need to be ruthless in editing yourself.
When making a business presentation you almost certainly want to adopt a conversational style, but this does not mean you simply make it up as you go along. If you were to record a genuine conversation you would find it so full of superfluous words and general meanderings, let alone umms and errs, that you would certainly want to do a major edit on yourself before repeating that particular topic in a more formal manner. As Dave Trott says in Predatory Thinking: if we wrote the way we talk, the page would be covered with so many words it would be illegible.
Trott goes on to say:
Why don’t we talk the way we write?
In writing we work out what’s essential and just say that.
Why don’t we do that with talking?
Work out the most important, powerful thing to say.
Then say it.
Then shut up.
In writing, we know words are more powerful with lots of white space around them.
Words need room to breathe.
We only use what we need.
That – as long as you avoid defaulting to the ‘cloak of formality’ that some people still do when writing - is the essence of good construction for a business presentation. And the point about ‘…say it. Then shut up’ needs reiterating when you are thinking about how to close. A strange paradox that afflicts many business presenters is that they are often nervous about getting up to speak, but having done so they never know how to stop! Having made their big point they keep trundling on, gradually running out of anything to say and getting further and further from that big point.
So: Say it. Then shut up!