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Why Writing an Outline for Your Next Presentation Is a Waste of Time... and What to Do Instead.

It’s Tuesday afternoon and you’re knee-deep in analysis. You’ve been pouring over your client’s data and have been generating tons of charts, graphs, and observations. The quarterly report is due next week and you’re in charge of building out the deck.

But, where do you start?

If you’re like most, you probably open up PowerPoint and start going to town. You paste in dozens of graphs and write tons of random slides. It’s a hot mess.

So you think: “Maybe I should write an outline?”

This is where I’d like to stop you.

Outlines are organizational tools. They’re great for making sure you have the right elements - but they’re not so great at ensuring you’re putting the right words on your slides and saying the right things come time to present.

Outlines ask questions - scripts give answers.

Last week, we talked about writing a narrative for your presentation and how it can help you create a kick-ass presentation. Today, let’s move forward and tackle presentation scripts! By the end of this article, I bet you’ll never write another outline again.

Disclaimer: Writing anything down is better than writing nothing down

Some of you may be thinking: “I literally just start building my decks in PowerPoint - I don’t write a script or an outline.” And to you, I say: please start writing something down before you write your first slide.

Presentation planning (such as writing a narrative or writing a script) is an invaluable tool. Writing something down before you begin building slides ensures you are:

  1. Telling a more cohesive story

  2. Including the right elements based on requirements

  3. Answering questions directly instead of just rambling

  4. Aligning your team around a common storyline

And tons more.

Scripts take your narrative to the next level by figuring out exactly what you’re going to say, and in the order of which you’re going to say it.

Why scripts are a better tool for presentation building

Here’s the main problem with outlines: they don’t help you think through exactly what you’re going to say.

With an outline, you’re usually left writing things like “Why are we here” - when’s the last time you said that in a presentation? Rarely, I’d guess. But, you probably have said something like “So, today we’re here to…”

This is where a script is perfect. You’re forced to think through what you’re going to say to your audience. Instead of bumming around typing generic statements, you’re putting real effort into honing your content.

Don’t think you can spare the time to write a script?

You might argue that in the great scheme of things, you don't have enough time to write a full-blown presentation script. But, contrary to this belief, you actually will save time by penning a script instead.

Why? All of that time you usually waste trying to organize and rearrange slides after you’ve already built them is eliminated. Instead, you spend that time in the upfront honing the best story possible.

Does this give structure to the deck? Sure.

Does it give your audience answers? No! Your audience is there to get answers to the questions that are in your outline.

When you know the words you're going to say, data and design will fall into place. Your script can aid you in creating short but punchy copy and beautiful visuals that will captivate your audience. Now that’s something an outline can’t do!

To summarize: outlines can help you ask the right questions, but scripts help you say the right words.

One last benefit of writing a script is that it gives you a great opportunity to start rehearsing your presentation as early as possible. After you’ve found the right words to say, you can more easily remember them down the road since you’ve written them, then re-written them, and so on.

Okay, but what does a script look like?

Below, I’ve got the first four slides of a fake report that looks at what happened in social media during January for a fictitious client.

Have a read:

Answers, not questions!

Writing a script in this format gives you a much more detailed glimpse into the future. It paints a picture of what your deck will look like not only in your mind, but in others as well.

Putting it into action

  1. Write something down before you begin building your slides.

  2. Write a script instead of an outline.

  3. Align your team or stakeholders first before you build out your slides.

Writing presentation scripts help you organize your thoughts in advance. It creates that much-needed clarity. This way, you avoid wasting countless hours staring into blank Powerpoint slides wondering how to weave your data into a deck.

Next time you find yourself wondering how to tell the story behind your report, deck, plan or whatever - sit down and think about what you want to say. It doesn’t have to be long and complicated. Keeping it short and sweet makes it easy to remember and even easier to see the big picture.

After all, nobody likes a rambling presenter and a clunky deck!

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