Sunday, 22 March 2015

Clarkson endorses my plea to business presenters to ‘Kill their Darlings’

I have written before (here) about the need for ruthless editing in any business presentation and I have suggested looking to film and TV directors for inspiration.  They have a phrase ‘Killing my Darlings’ to describe the fact that, having gone to all the trouble of writing dialogue, acting it and then filming it, they go on to throw much of it away – ‘on the cutting room floor’ or whatever is the digital equivalent.

“Take a look at the ‘Deleted Scenes’ of your DVDs”, I say, and you will get the director typically saying: “this was beautifully played by both the lead actors; but it wasn’t really moving the story forward; so it had to go”. They have to be ruthless in their editing for a number of reasons and they usually end up with a better product as a result. Anyone who has ever sat through a typical business presentation will probably agree that business presenters could do well in taking inspiration from these killers of darlings.

Now, Jeremy Clarkson, who I often lean on for presentation tips, has come up with perhaps the definitive description of the benefits of killing some darlings. In his Sunday Times column on March 22 he wrote the following:

I used to work on a television show called Top Gear and every week the films were edited to a length that felt good. But every week there simply wasn’t time to fit them into the programme - so they’d have to be shortened. And without exception they were better as a result.

Whatever you happen to think of Clarkson, most people who have read his books and columns would agree he is a very talented writer. And of course he scripted most of what went out on Top Gear. Quantifying just how good he is is difficult, but I can offer this little personal insight into his skills. Many years ago he and I were the only ones left at a dinner table in South-London – possibly because no one else was interested in our somewhat anoraky chat about the inner workings of journalism. “I have been writing columns for so long”, he said, that if I am asked to write, say, 400 words, I can start writing and come to a halt, knowing that I am within two-to-three words of the 400 target”.  And on that note…. I shall come to a stop, with absolutely no idea whatsoever of how many words I have written.

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