How to ensure an effective business presentation

If you understand what your audience is looking for, you wouldn't make the mistake of sliding in a beloved and seemingly important, but redundant piece of information.

Kill your darlings... We mean, in storytelling, silly; not literally! And movie buffs, don't go finding comparisons with "Kill Your Darlings", the film.

One might wonder then why we are using such a phrase in a corporate blog.

Well, in the everyday corporate world, you must have come across some presentations, the contents of which are sometimes completely off the main topic or utterly irrelevant. 

Just this other day, in a client pitch about our services in Japan, a slide was inserted about an award. Of course, it's prestigious. Only that it was for a project in Europe, for a very different line of work. On further enquiry, it was found that the person

who worked on the pitch was also part of the project that won the award. Obviously, couldn't resist the opportunity to talk up their "darling." Do you see what we mean?

We see this discrepancy often…and that's why it is important to "kill your darlings." An old teacher's words said ages ago, rings true even today. This is also a common piece of advice given by experienced writers.

As creative writing aficionados, editing out around 30% of a written piece is our first instinct. Merciless, yes. But striking off the parts that we perceive as clever writing, but may not be relevant, is important for the sake of taut storytelling. From Charles Dickens to Amitav Ghosh, acclaimed authors have attested to the importance of editing, time and again in their writing.

You kill your darlings when you edit out an unnecessary storyline, a conflicting idea, or a jumbled thought from a piece of writing. Ideas you may have spent days creating must be removed if it doesn't add to the story or move it forward. But often, authors turn possessive about ideas that they have painstakingly formalised and are reluctant to part with them.

Similarly, in the corporate world, achievers want to share every last detail about their work or an idea they love, with prospective audiences. 

But audiences do not necessarily share your interest or the understanding of your domain. So, we in the corporate world, like creative writers, must also learn to kill our darlings. Especially when we are increasingly inclining towards a storytelling approach to content marketing; rewriting and then again, must become second nature to us.

In presentations, the creative process begins with assembling all the requisite elements. But not all elements are to be used mandatorily. A few will fit into all squares of the storyboard, some may not. Visualising the elements of a presentation as part of a bigger story is important to assess every item for its relevance to the audience - not you. 

Slice, dice, or mince choose your verb but eliminate excess baggage. Be brutal. After the first cut, revisit it, chop a little more, and repeat, till the storyline has no excess fat.

Keep a lookout for redundancy. On re-reading a piece, one may realise a point has been overemphasised in different words. 
Edit those out. Don't hard sell your achievements. Let your work speak for you without resorting to over-explanation. Trust the audience to read between the lines and acknowledge your expertise.

But above all, it is important to know your audience, before even starting to assemble a storyboard presentation. A simple assessment of backgrounds, professional profiles, and demographics of the audience will help in designing a presentation that is relevant, informative, and creative. 

If you understand what your audience is looking for, you wouldn't make the mistake of sliding in a beloved and seemingly important, but redundant piece of information. Case in point - an award update in an unrelated project presentation. Kill your darlings, not your pitch.

This article was first published by Business Today.

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