Children, by their naturally high energy, have short attention spans and make for very tough audiences. So if we look to people whose job it is to reach and retain young readers, we can find valuable lessons for how to reach and retain presentation audiences.
Judy Blume, whose children’s books have sold 85 million copies, teaches a MasterClass on writing in which she advises that, as a starting point, you let “the mess come out.” Rather than starting with an outline or the slides, she recommends starting with a brainstorming session in which you capture all your ideas as they bubble up in their innate random state. Wise advice that, unfortunately, is infrequently practiced in business presentations. In their desire to “get it done,” presenters often jump to the final version of their story or deck and end up with a presentation that results in a disorganized data dump that rambles all over the place with no clear through line of thought.
Blume’s lesson is to do the data dump in the preparation rather than in the presentation.
Once you’ve done that vital first step, you can move forward and, for that, we turn to two other consultants from children’s publishing.
John Matthew Fox, a book editor who offers courses on writing, wrote a blog listing 12 steps on how to write a children’s book. And Alan Durant, a children’s book author, wrote an article listing five steps on how to write a picture book for children. Both of them take similar paths in their early steps to develop a story that are as applicable to adult audiences as they are to young readers:
· Define the main point: Decide on the overarching theme, the big takeaway for the reader/audience.
· Build a structure: Organize the main ideas in a clear logical path, easy for you to tell and easy for the reader/audience to follow. In a recent Forbes post you read how Dr. Marc Hedrick, a surgeon and the CEO of Plus Therapeutics, described his complex cancer treatment by providing a clear path through his process.
· Be brief: This advice addresses the short attention spans common to both young readers and adult audiences.
What is noteworthy about both Fox and Durant is that neither of them gets to the illustrations for their stories until late in their processes: the seventh step (out of 12) for Fox and the last for Durant.
That these consultants relegate thinking about illustrations until later in their processes is the big lesson for presentations. That’s because, in common business practice, illustrations come before and after the story and, in doing so, become counterproductive.
If you think about your slides before the story, your mind is focused on colors, fonts, size, grammar, and the like and not on the main point or structure. If you think about the slides as a handout for despues de the presentation, you will be creating a document and not an illustration.
Instead, think about your slides like the pictures in children’s books, as illustrations. If there’s text, as headlines. Short, punchy, key words. Very likely to contain only nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Don’t sentence. No articles, conjunctions, or prepositions. Just as the headlines in print and digital publications capture the essence of a story and leave the details to the body text, leave the details of your story—the statistics (“in the last year alone, our market share grew from…”), the examples (“one of our customers found that since deploying our solution…”), the endorsements (“Gartner reported that our solution…”)—to your narrative.
Just as the images in a children’s book highlight the story, your slides should highlight your narrative. Above all, it’s all about your story.