Hemingway says the first draft always sucks. Take a tip from the legend and use this editing tool.
Keeping your audience engaged during a presentation is no easy feat. However, there is one component that takes the cake: ease of understanding.
If your audience doesn’t understand what you’re trying to say quickly and easily, then you haven’t done your job as a presentation author.
In the agency world, this is especially important as we talk about complex topics that are hard to describe in a concise way.
So, how can you write copy that doesn’t make your audience’s eyes glaze over?
It all boils down to solid writing.
Increasing understanding has two main criteria:
It has limited jargon
The simple fact is this: shorter sentences are easier to read. A study from the American Press Institute titled “Readers’ Degree of Understanding,” (which is sadly not available online) found the following when asking readers about sentence length and comprehension:
< 8 words = very easy
11 words = easy
14 words = fairly easy
17 words = standard
21 words = fairly difficult
25 words = difficult
> 29 words = very difficult
While shorter sentences work wonders for comprehension, they also boost attention as well. The quicker an audience reads through a slide, the faster they can bring their attention back to what you’re saying. On the flip side, the faster they’ll be able to read through your deck without misunderstanding, the easier it is to share that information internally.
Odds are that your report, plan, or strategy won’t stop with that initial client who you presented to. In a recent survey we conducted of 300 clients, approximately 91% of all clients share their agency decks. (Sign up for the Deliverable Coaching Roundup to get notified when the full report comes out!)
Since agency decks will be shared internally at a client’s organization most of the time, it means the audience will be much broader than just the initial audience it was presented to. If a deck is filled with jargon and acronyms that only a small number of people will understand, you’re limiting the potential power of the deck. What happens when a client executive picks up that deck to read through it and can’t understand anything?
To recap, the key to a better understanding is shorter, jargon-free copy.
Okay, so how do we take that super long sentence and make it shorter without losing its meaning?
In particular, learning how to edit with the right tools.
While there are many online tools that help you improve your writing, nothing out there is quite like HemingwayApp.com. This free online tool allows you to improve your writing with its extensive, real-time readability scoring system that helps you emulate the writing style of the legendary author.
One quick note: Deliverable Coaching is not affiliated with HemingwayApp.com in any way. We’re simply huge fans as we’ve seen it in action and it’s a tool that our program participants can’t get enough of.
Let’s see how it works in action:
Check out this 42-word beast of a sentence that is from an actual client presentation. Keep in mind that the original content has been slightly edited for confidentiality.
Business Objective: Enhance the brand’s understanding of its customers by identifying the ideal target(s), enabling more effective targeting, communication, messaging and promotional strategies for how to win / retain targets and better convert prospects with the ultimate goal of maximizing revenue.
Let’s use this as our editing example.
First, I’m going to copy and paste this into HemingwayApp.com and see what it says.
We see a few things here:
The sentence is at a “post-graduate” level of readability
It clocks in at a whopping 42 words
The sentence is highlighted in red as it’s “very hard to read”
Two phrases are highlighted in pink as they have simpler alternatives.
Let’s start unpacking this.
First off, there are five ideas that are being crammed into one sentence:
Business Objective: Enhance the brand’s understanding of its customers…
...by identifying the ideal target(s)...
...enabling more effective targeting, communication, messaging, and promotional strategies…
...for how to win / retain targets and better convert prospects…
...with the ultimate goal of maximizing revenue.
Using HemingwayApp.com, let’s break this up into several smaller sentences and fix a few tiny grammar issues in the process.
We get something like this:
Now we’re starting to actually get to some legible sentences, but there are still a few issues that we need to iron out:
I want to get this down to one sentence, with maybe some supporting bullet points—so it’s still too long.
My first sentence is “very hard to read.”
Readability is better, but still not good enough—I like to aim for Grade 11 or lower.
I also have some complicated phrases in there.
Next, my aim is to start rewriting these sentences so they make more sense and use fewer words.
Have a look:
Not bad. We’ve dropped down to Grade 10 readability but we’ve increased to 50 words and still have one “hard to read” sentence.
What I have now might work well for a voice-over. This is concise enough that we could rehearse this and deliver these sentences just like they are now and we’d be fine.
But that leaves us with the question: what goes on the slide?
For this, we keep pushing—get out that machete!
Killer! This would look great on a slide; short sentences with the most having 12 words.
I’ve busted out some bullet points too as there was just too much to pack into one sentence. But, it’s much now much more scannable as I’ve also given a label to each bullet point.
I’ve also boiled everything down to what the actual business objective is:
“To refine how we identify ideal targets.”
Boom! Simple. Now we’re ready to put this onto a slide and be designed.
To put this into action…
Writing something long is easy. Writing something short is hard.
It’s okay to put that first, long sentence down on a slide but also remember this:
“The first draft of anything is sh*t.” - Ernest Hemingway.
Whip out HemingwayApp.com on a current deck you’re working on and try it out. I love this thing. Past learners at Deliverable Coaching love this thing too! It’s an absolute dream for getting sentences down to their essentials.
One watch out: It is really easy to cut too much out of your sentences. Remember that it’s only an app, you need to be the writer.