PowerPoint Presentations – 7 Steps to Writing Killer Scripts For Online Business Presentations

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

With travel budgets slashed and off-site meetings at record lows, the demand for online presentations is stronger than ever. Whether delivering live presentations using webinar technology such as WebEx or Citrix, or recording them with tools like Brainshark or Macromedia Breeze, a good script is not only critical to an effective presentation, it is the foundation.

Why, then, do we spend most our time dreaming up fancy visuals?

It’s easier. It’s more fun. And a mistake. The element more likely to make or break your success is the script itself-your choice of words, the sequence of arguments, how you make your message stick.

Visuals are important, indeed. But the script even more so. In fact, some of the most persuasive presenters-in person-use no visuals at all. They know that PowerPoint can be PowerPoint-less. When delivering online, however, they follow this secret: The ratio of time invested on scriptwriting versus visuals should be at least 3:1.

Scriptwriting may look easy, but, like any craft, it’s a specialized skill that can take years to perfect. This 7-step scriptwriting process will shorten your learning curve and help you close that deal or promotion you so well deserve.

Step 1: Set Clear Objectives.
Is it to inform, educate, persuade, or motivate? Talk to 3-5 viewers directly and ask them what they need. The more explicitly your script addresses those needs, the better it will be received. Nothing kills a good presentation like extraneous information.

Step 2: Analyze the Audience.
Who are they? What is their experience with the subject? Do they know a little bit? A lot? Nothing? Find their sweet spot. Get too technical and you’ll lose them. Too basic and they’ll be bored. Remember, every audience member is always wondering, WIIFM – What’s in it for me?

Step 3: Brainstorm Content.
Old fashioned yellows pad and white boards work best. Electronic brainstorming tools may suit you as well. Using index cards and sticky notes this early allows your logical left brain to bleed into the process, which can slow the flow of ideas. Save those for step 4. Let your mind work freeform.

Step 4: Create an Outline.
Next, identify your best ideas. Add some, delete some. Consolidate into main points and sub-points. This is where index cards and sticky notes come in handy. Spread them out on your desk. Put them in a compelling sequence. A brilliant decorator friend once told me his secret to success: “Move the furniture around until it looks good.” Do the same with your ideas.

Step 5: Write a Sloppy Copy.
Turn off your editor. Open the spigot. Write fast. Don’t stop to edit and second-guess yourself or your best ideas may never come. I recommend writing in Word first and pasting into PowerPoint (notes section) later, after the script is finished.

Step 6: Edit, Edit, Edit
Richard North Patterson said, “Writing is rewriting.” Review your sloppy copy. Keep the good parts. Delete the rest. Then expand, shape and clarify. Refine. Say things in the fewest words possible. William Zinser, author of the bestselling book, On Writing Well, said, “Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it.”

Step 7: Polish
The best way to polish is to first test it on your audience. Deliver it as if it were the final performance and get their candid feedback. Writers often find that entire sections can be deleted. Remember, with every word you cut, your impact increases exponentially. Hold off on writing your intro and summary until the very end, as it’s impossible-and frustrating-trying to write those when you haven’t yet figured out what you’re going to say.

And the Winner Is – The Art of Presenting Awards: Practical Tips and Techniques

While participating in sports as a young person growing up I was a member of several teams that were presented with awards of recognition but was never the recipient of an individual award. Awards were based on proficiency and results. I displayed neither. Elementary and secondary school weren’t any different. Apparently there wasn’t an annual award presented for showing up.

This left me unprepared for my first experience as a presenter of an award of recognition. I was serving as the Student Council President in my second year of training as a nurse in a community college when I was called upon to present a silver gavel to the President of the college as a token of appreciation for his many years of service. When it was my turn to speak and make the presentation… the cameras recording the moment for prosperity… I panicked and uttered the words “I’m so scared up here!” Things got a little black as I recall. I’m pretty sure that I remained standing during the ordeal and I’m not sure how the President ever got his gavel. In a strange twist of fate, the President took is own life a few short weeks later. I don’t think that my mishandling of the ceremony had had anything to do with it, or so my therapist convinced me.

Award presentation ceremonies aren’t life and death situations nor will they be effective without advance preparation and your self-confidence to put on a good show. Think showmanship. Think about some of the award presentation ceremonies that you have seen in the past as to what worked and what didn’t.

I believe that two of the biggest mistakes that amateur or inexperienced emcees make are that they are unprepared and/or make the ceremony about themselves rather than the award recipient. Humour and jokes can be a powerful tool when used effectively but when they are used to make you the star of the show, they are not. It’s not about you! Your job is to entertain and inform your audience and convince them that the award that you are presenting at that moment and the person that is receiving the award is of great importance.

Being an effective emcee is an art. Like a giant iceberg with much of its bulk hidden beneath the waters, much of what happens in an award presentation ceremony is done behind the scenes before the spotlight shines on you.

Here are some steps to take to ensure your next award presentation is handled professionally.

Logistics: (things that you need to know in advance)

• Do the nominees know in advance if they have won a specific award or just of their nomination?
• Does the agenda allow time for the winners to deliver an acceptance speech? If so, how long are they allowed?
• If there are multiple awards to be presented, do you know the total time allotted in the agenda?
• What is the size of the awards? Will they be placed on a nearby table or perhaps hidden within the lectern/podium? Will you be able to lift them or will you require an assistant?

Research questions:

• What is the award being presented for?
• Does the award/trophy have a name?
• What were the criteria for winning the award?
• Are there any notable past winners that should be mentioned?
• What did the recipient of the award do to win the award? Examples: specific accomplishments or achievements.
• How was the winner chosen and perhaps from how many if the number is known?
• Does the winner get to keep the award forever or for a period of time?
• Is there a sponsor for the particular award? Are you expected to do a promotional plug for them as well or will they be expected to speak?

Preparation: Creating your script

You should incorporate the answers to your research questions into your speaker’s notes. Answer the questions of who, what, why, when, where and how. Your role is to create excitement about the award being presented even if it is an award that in your mind is a big whoop-dee-doo. (i.e. not really very important at all.)

Your notes should be written for the spoken word, not the written. Short sentences. Simple words. Lots of adjectives. They should be appropriate ones though and not too flowery. You should be enthusiastic and motivational in your presentation, yet at the same time, sincere. You can read your notes at the time of the presentation if you really have to to control your nervousness however, you will seem to be more polished and professional if you have committed much of your content to memory and only refer to your notes for specific details that you want to ensure are delivered correctly.

Presenting the Award:

Its show time! All eyes are on you. It’s time to raise some excitement. Its time to make a special person feel like they are the most important person in the world, at least for the next few moments. You have your script. If it is a trophy, plaque or an object of some kind, this would be a good time to show it to the audience.

Start by introducing the background of the award, why it is so important and provide examples of what the winner has done to achieve the award. By now, if the nominees for the award haven’t been told in advance that they have won, they will likely recognize their achievements being broadcasted. Now is time to announce the winner. Your voice can be an effective tool by increasing your speaking speed, your pitch and your volume as you build your audience into a frenzy of anticipation. Well, maybe in your mind! Your role at this point is to act as a cheerleader and lead the applause as you announce the winner and invite them up to you to receive their award.

If you have a co-presenter, it would be prudent to give a brief intro of them before you started your delivery. They might be the sponsor of the award. Having a previous winner of the award pass it on to the next winner can be quite exciting.

If you are the sole presenter of the award, step away from the lectern/podium to allow room to present the award and shake the recipient’s hand. Think photo op. Hopefully you have remembered to dress in your finest. While shaking the winner’s hand I always offer them a few words of private congratulations while looking them in the eyes and shaking their hand. The process is very much like following the steps in a dance routine. Announce, shake their hand, look them in the eyes, congratulate them, step back, lead congratulations applause and lead the applause as they return to their seat. Repeat for the next winner.

Bridging between awards and recipients is essential to your performance. Remember… its not about you. You could give a brief personal example of how you have seen that the recipient has earned the award assuming that you know them. Or you could give a brief overview of why you believe the award is important as you set up the next award to be delivered. The key word is “brief.” Repeat the process.

Pitfalls to Avoid:

1. What happens if you announce the winner of an award and they are not present to accept it? One solution might be to ask the audience if there is anyone else from the individual’s family or organization, if they are part of one, who would like to accept the award on their behalf. Perhaps if you are aware in advance of the reason that they are unable to attend an alternative action would be to call upon a leader in the hosting organization to accept the award in the absent winner’s behalf.

2. If you are presenting awards of achievement and they are not there to accept, do not give the award to someone with the directions of “Just give it to them next time that you see them.” I have known of awards that have taken a year or more to get to their recipient. By the time that it did, the significance of the award had diminished.

3. You are presenting awards and notice that the award that you are giving isn’t the one that is supposed to be next or there is a spelling mistake on the engraving. What do you do? I go with the principal of the “show must go on!” I would present the award and when the opportunity arises I would mention to the recipient that there was a slight problem but not to worry about it and we would solve it after the ceremony.

4. Photo ops can add a lively dimension to your ceremonies but what can you do when they take up too much time or are disruptive? As the emcee, you are in charge of the proceedings. If you want to restrict the time allowed for each photo op, you can do so. There is nothing wrong with advising that the winner will be available for a photo opportunity upon conclusion of the formal ceremonies. You should offer your services for representing the award at that time. Don’t forget to smile!

5. What can be done about an award recipient whose acceptance speech never seems to end? If they are the one paying you, you might want to let them run on a little. If they aren’t, and you are on a tight schedule, you may need to intervene. Often standing right beside the speaker can give them the hint that it is time to relinquish the spotlight. Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes you have t be forceful and interject with something along the lines of “in order to keep us on track to allow our other winners to speak, I’m going to have to cut you off… I would then lead the applause and hopefully the speaker will get the hint.

Presenting for People Starting out in Business

In some ways, the time when you’re setting up your business is just like any other point in the life-cycle: what you want to do is concentrate upon your ‘core’ activity (making widgets) but what you’ve got to do is spend half your time on irrelevant fripperies (selling widgets). Once your company is up and running you’ll be dealing with actual widgets; up until that point you’ll be selling the just the idea of the widget factory… that means you’ll be making presentations. Like it or not, at some point you’ll be doing at least one or two of this list:

  • outright competitive pitches to Venture Capitalists or Business Angels
  • presentations to bank managers
  • meetings with business partners (or potential business partners)
  • selling the concept to organisations like Business Link
  • doing a one-minute ‘elevator pitch’ at networking meetings
  • talking to colleagues, superiors and subordinates.

    In short, presenting yourself and your idea is a basic fact of business life and setting up a business, so you’ll need to be good enough at it. The words are carefully chosen there – you don’t need to be “good”, just “good enough”. That’s a useful thing to remember because it makes the job of training yourself that much easier. So the story so far is that you’ve got to make presentations but that they’re not as difficult as you might suppose – we’re not looking for great orators here, just people with enough about them for the audience (think of whoever you’re talking to as an audience and you won’t go far wrong) to get the picture.

    I’m going to break down the process of making the presentation into three parts: the first is the obvious one of what you say. The second is the corollary of that – how you say it. The third part is what’s referred to as the meta-language of how you look (and dress and so on) while you say it.

    To be honest, the first is outside the scope of an article like this: there are other articles on this site that should help you with that.

    The second part, how you say it, is absolutely critical. The last one is also important (but not as important as you’ll be told by many NLP trainers who base their work on a mis-understanding of some good, experimental psychology).

    So, back to business.

    It’s likely that when you’re making some kind of pitch for your business you’re likely to be nervous. I know I always am. When you’re under stress, the body has a set of physiological responses designed to deal with the emergency: it’s called the “fight or flight syndrome” and you’ve probably heard of it. It’s very good at what it does, but unfortunately ‘what it does’ is designed to work in a much more primitive environment than today’s business one – one where you were literally going to have to fight for your life or run away. One of the things your body does is start to use your upper chest for breathing with, in order to get oxygen into your lungs faster, which is great for fighting but no good for talking. To talk you need to try and remember to use your diaphragm to breathe in (and therefore breathe out). The diaphragm is the big sheath of muscle underneath your lungs and above your stomach area. If you can use that when you’re making your pitch lots of good things will happen.

    The first, and most important is that your voice will firm up. It might go deeper, but it might not. Generally though, what it will do is sound richer and fuller – in short, you’ll sound more interesting and more credible. When you’re making a pitch, credibility is important. The second thing it will do is begin to calm your nerves. This is because there’s a part of your brain that is fooled into thinking that, because you’re breathing like there’s no threat, there really is no threat. The consequence is that your body chemistry is altered towards a relaxed, almost sleepy state. Don’t worry about becoming too drowsy, there’s no chance of that, but it should make your whole voice and demeanour a lot more relaxed and confident. The third thing that will happen is that you’ll actually have more stamina and a better oxygen flow over the longer term. That in turn means that you’ll be more tuned in to what’s going on around you: basically, you’re likely to start thinking faster.

    Moving up from your lungs, the next part of your “speaking system” is your throat. This is where the actual sounds of your voice are made, as airflows between your vocal folds. Again, when your body is under stress, you’ll probably react like the vast majority of the population and tense up your shoulders and your throat. That’s bad. This constricts your throat and stops the vibrations of your voice being made so easily – or so well. The consequence is that horrible “nervous voice” sound that everyone has heard (coming from other people as well as themselves, usually). The solution is pretty straight-forward. Breathing from your diaphragm is going to help but you’ll need also to make sure that your shoulders, head and body are positioned in the right relationship to each other.

    If your neck (and hence your throat) is twisted you’re reducing the amount of vibration your vocal folds can achieve, so make sure that you’re facing forwards when you speak. If that means you’ve got to turn slightly, in order to face whoever you’re talking to, then do so. What’s more, once we’re stressed we all have an instinct to tip our heads back – to raise our eyes – but once again this constricts the throat and makes your voice sound thinner and less mature. It’s important to make sure that you’re not tipping back: it’ll probably feel awkward difficult at first because most people are accustomed to raising their head too far, but once you’ve got the hang of it you should find it becomes second nature.

    The balance point for your head that you’re looking for is the position where your head is resting on your neck in as “effort free” way as it can possibly be. Stand for a few minutes checking out your head position, making a conscious note of how much effort you’re putting into holding it in one particular position compared to others. I want to give you a word of warning here – be careful not to get confused between the position in which you’re actually doing the minimum amount of work and the position where it feels like you’re doing the minimum; this position is almost certainly related to having become habituated to standing in a certain way, and so your muscles are used to doing that particular amount of work.

    Keep at it – little and often – because it’s quite a subtle thing.

    Make sure that while you’re doing this a few other things are also taken care off. For a start, make a point of remembering to breathe: you’d be amazed at the number of people who concentrate so hard on the position of their heads that they hold their breath. Secondly, drop your shoulders. Now drop them again, because almost no one drops them fully the first time: make very sure that no tension creeps back into them (or your arms, or your hands) while you’re working. Don’t assume that you’re relaxed, check. Thirdly, make sure your breathing is from your diaphragm, not your upper chest. (I actually put my hands on my diaphragm and my chest to make sure when I’m doing this.)

    Lastly, relax the muscles of your bottom. It’s impossible to relax your body if your bottom is tight. It might make you feel like you’re slouching, but it’s worth it in terms of how much better you’ll sound.

    The last part of your “talking system” I want to mention here is where the sounds you make in your throat are converted into words – your mouth.

    The key thing to remember is to warm up your muscles here. Almost everyone lets these muscles atrophy a little, and under-uses them. What you think of as you doing an over-the-top impression of Noel Coward or the Queen is probably just clear speaking to someone else. Make very sure that your lips are working very hard as you talk.

    The key to warming them up, by the way, is a simple one. There are lots of exercises I give people to get them doing this when I’m giving courses and classes, but the key things to do are to yawn and to rub your face.

    When you yawn make sure it’s not a polite, behind-the-hand, stifled thing. I’m talking about the kind of thing your cat does that looks like it’s going to dislocate it’s jaw. This has the added advantage, by the way, of clearing out build-ups of carbon dioxide from the lower parts of your lungs and thus making you feel more awake. When you rub your face, use the same kind of motion you use when you’re giving yourself a vigorous wash in the morning. The area to cover is the area of your beard (if you’re a man) or the area where you would be rubbing a beard if you had one (if you’re a woman smile ).

    Pay particular attention to the top lip. This isn’t because it needs more warming up than the other parts but simply because it’s very easily overlooked as people put their hands to their faces.

    Put all this together and you should have a much, much better chance of making your pitch sounding cool, collected, mature, credible and relaxed. You never know, you might even end up enjoying it!

    The things that go with how you sound are pretty straight-forward, common sense type things. The basic rule is to be ever so slightly more formal than you need to be (how formal you “need” to be is taken here as meaning “as the other person expects you to be”). Don’t over do it – and tend towards the conservative.

    Things to avoid are gimmicks such as dangly ear-rings, picture ties, plunge neck-lines and so on. The focus of what you’re trying to do is get your audience listening to what you’re saying, not seeing how far up your skirt they can see (consciously or sub-consciously) or watching the flashes from your gold watch as it catches the light or whatever. Patterns are generally a no-no.

    Colours are a matter of personal style but a few tips to bear in mind are that black looks severe and robust (but few people suit it) while red is generally interpreted as a physical colour; blue as an intellectual one and green as a balancing one (and few people suit green either!). Golden-yellow is often interpreted as a power colour. One combination I particularly favour when I’m making a pitch therefore is: black trousers, mid-blue (corporate) shirt and a rich, deep yellow tie.

    And that’s it!

    I’ve simplified and skipped things, but you should have got a reasonable idea about the basics from this article. If so, I’m pleased; why not drop me a line and say so. If you’ve not got anything out of it, why not drop me a line in any case and I’ll try and help. Enquiries should be to me by email at [email protected]

    Above all, remember that your voice is unique to you and that the most important thing is to have fun. No one will be as critical of you as you are of yourself, ever, so just enjoy!