Have you made the #1 Fatal Mistake When Writing a Speech or Presentation?

Have you made the #1 Fatal Mistake When Writing a Speech or Presentation?

speech writing & public speaking
“If you could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.”  said Edward Hopper

I need help!

Recently, a friend came to me saying that he had been asked to give a presentation at an important meeting with senior managers at the company where he worked and he needed help in writing a speech and in developing the idea. So we sat down together, he switched on his computer and then proceeded to open PowerPoint.

NO ! That’s the #1 Fatal Mistake!


The #1 Fatal Mistake

The #1 fatal mistake when writing a speech or presentation is to start by creating PowerPoint slides.  (Tweetable) While the old saying that goes, “a picture paints a thousand words,” is true, PowerPoint slides alone do not a presentation make. It takes a well crafted idea, a logical structure of a captivating opening, a middle section that expands and supports an argument, and a close with a strong call to action.

Death By Powerpoint

In thousands of offices, in hundreds of cities, in tens of countries today people will make presentations. Many will make the #1 fatal mistake. The result will be bored listeners, lost sales, missed opportunities and wasted time. You only need to search on Google for “Death by PowerPoint” to find that there even could be “fatalities” as a result. Learning Developer, an eLearning and multimedia content company created a cartoon which is worth watching and sharing as a warning about the #1 fatal mistake when creating a presentation.

Develop A Conversation Style

In an excellent recent post on the evolution of public speaking, Nick Morgan described how the styles of delivery that were common and normal a few years ago are changing. He goes on to say, “What audiences crave is a conversation – and a conversational style – from their speakers.” By committing the #1 fatal mistake and opening PowerPoint when writing a speech or preparing a presentation we are naturally drawn into a linear delivery style. By working first on the words, and then finding slides to support and enhance the words, we develop speeches and presentations that engage and communicate.

Here are two better steps to take the next time you are writing a speech or preparing a presentation than making the #1 fatal mistake.

Develop One Key Phrase – If you could sum up your idea, argument, benefits of your project or product into a short sentence that is a “repeatable soundbite” what would it be? It can take considerable time to develop such a sentence, but the benefit of the investment in time is worth it. Because long after the audience have forgot your transitions, animations and text reveals on the PowerPoint, they will remember what you said. That’s the most important thing.

Answer The Question – So What? A very useful technique can be to ask yourself the question, okay you have told me all this information through your speech or presentation, So What? What do you want me to do now? Often we hear speeches or listen to presentations that may be full of fascinating information, but lead to no action. If you cannot answer the question, So What? You need to work further on the words before you get anywhere near developing slides.

Only when you have a clear structure in mind, perhaps even a written out text for the presentation, (one A4 page at size 12 font takes approximately 5 minutes to deliver) should you consider opening PowerPoint. But a word of warning, even using PowerPoint has evolved considerably since its launch May 22, 1990. An excellent resource for developing slides that communicate powerfully is – slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte.

Alan Wilson Watts said, “The menu is not the meal,” neither is the PowerPoint the speech or presentation.

So the next time that you are called on to create a speech or prepare a presentation do not make the #1 fatal mistake, instead, grab a large piece of paper!

If you would like me to help you with your next speech, why not ask?


Posted on by Peter Billingham in Blog Posts, Public Speaking

About Peter Billingham

Leader, Learner, Speechwriter, Storyteller, Author. a.k.a. 'The Artful Speaker' Enjoy working on social action projects, Toastmasters, films & adventure travel.

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