How and why editing can make or break your presentation

Delivering information is your objective, of course, so keeping your audience alert and receptive to your message is essential. Take these steps to keep it compact and potent.

One could argue that the editing process is more vital to good writing than the act of writing itself.

Your first draft is a hectic mess of cake batter: a mix of ingredients covering your hands, clothes and kitchen. Editing is when the batter becomes a delicious cake.

When it comes to editing presentation content, say what has to be said in as few words as possible. No jargon or fluff—just the facts.

You rarely, if ever, reach your writing goals in the first draft. When you approach editing as a creative process, it can shape your content in unexpected (and improved) ways.

Hannah Rubin said: “In the same way that sketching isn’t drawing and mixing colors isn’t painting, first drafts merely scratch the surface of what it means to really write. Editing is part of writing-they aren’t two separate processes but, rather, one and the same.”

When editing a presentation, work on three core areas:

1. Making it shorter.

By “shorter,” it doesn’t mean you should cram all your ideas onto two slides. Keep each slide visually appealing by reducing the amount of text overall.

Each slide should contain just one idea. If you have 10 beautiful slides with only one or two words apiece, you will spend the same amount of time explaining the same amount of concepts, but it will look infinitely more appealing.

Having a hard time getting rid of text on each slide? Not ready to “kill your darlings,” as Stephen King suggests? Try these two challenges:

  • The “Twitter” challenge: Twitter allows a maximum of 140 characters per tweet, and people have become better editors because of it. Slides don’t have to be read as complete sentences (you shouldn’t read your slides verbatim anyway), so take the presenter’s version of the Twitter challenge: Use 30 characters or fewer on each slide. For example, instead of saying: “Our yearly profit report shows that profits have exceeded expectations,” say, “Profits are up.” That’s 14 characters, including spaces. It says what you need it to say, and anything else can be added aloud or shown with a chart, preferably on the next slide.
  • 5-7-5 : My colleagues and I like to consider our presentations a long poem, each slide representing a new line. One fun technique is the 5-7-5 formula, that of a haiku. This can be achieved in groups of three slides, where the first slide has five syllables, the second slide has seven syllables, and the conclusion has five. Maybe you want to explain how awesome your marketing department has been in the last year. The core idea might be: “The marketing department at Sam’s Bread has succeeded in landing 20 new clients this past month.” The 5-7-5 would look like:

Marketing has ruled

Twenty new clients

In only a month

Reducing text on each slide is about eliminating filler, run-on sentences and sometimes even full sentences. Occasionally, all you need is a single word to guide you along the path of the talk.

2. Making it consistent

Consistency isn’t merely about not using the word “cupidity” on one slide and “bro” on another. It’s ensuring your work is structured with a beginning, middle and end. Main points should be revisited, stories should be wrapped up by the end, and themes should used throughout and not forgotten later.

Consistency can be achieved by creating an outline before you begin or by writing down the key concept from each slide after you’ve finished the first draft. An outline could look like this:

Slide 1: Title: “Yearly Report”

Slide 2: Thought-provoking question: “Have you seen our numbers?”

Slide 3: Answer: “They’re amazing.”

Slide 4: Chart to prove how amazing

Keeping an eye on your goal for each slide can prevent important points from slipping through the cracks or remaining unvisited later. Carefully examine your presentation’s structure from start to finish, like a home inspector checking for leaks and rodents. Eliminate the rodents, and fix any leaks.

Grammatically speaking, also ensure that all your verb tenses are consistent.

3. Making it powerful

If you wouldn’t want to sit through your presentation, neither will anyone else. Editing for impact sometimes requires that you step back and let someone else look at your content. It also means that you spend a little more time revising and refining your final call to action, ensuring you’ll leave the audience with their jaws dropped.

Because this element of editing is more about the “feel” of a presentation and less about the technical aspects, it’s hard to assign strict do’s and don’ts. I try to keep an eye on how all of the main points strengthen the conclusion and how many relatable storytelling elements I’ve used. Your presentation should take the audience on a journey.

As you edit, be sure you aren’t leaving out a personal element to your presentation, no matter what story you have to tell. Take a risk with your audience’s emotions. Share something personal in a presentation that might not initially seem to fit. So many presentations lack that human touch.

The checklist

After you’ve worked through larger editing issues such as consistency, revisit your work for smaller issues as you finalize the draft. Ask yourself:

1. Have I read the entire presentation out loud to check for mistakes?

2. Has anyone else read it?

3. Are my verbs tenses correct?

4. Are the main takeaways clear?

5. Is the text short and to the point on each slide?

6. Is there a logical order to the slides?

7. Do I have a strong conclusion and call to action?

8. Am I repeating anything the audience already knows?

Editing is so much more than crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s; it’s about refining your creation and improving your own understanding of the content. When done mindfully, editing can ensure that your audience can enjoy the delicious double-layer German chocolate cake that is your presentation.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Ethos3 blog.

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