A slide is not a document. Creating slides for your presentation and writing a supporting document (such as the takeaway handout) are two different things. Yes, I know. This is obvious. But how many people do you know who make a "handout" for their presentation by printing out their slides (six slides per page)? When we attempt to "kill two birds with one stone" and generate slides that will also serve as handouts or a "document," we often end up with dreadful supporting slides for the talk and ambiguous, ineffective handouts for the takeaway document. Two weeks after the presentation these papers — with their promising coversheets but filled with small images of bulletpoint slides — can be painful to "read" (if they are ever read at all).
Author John Scalzi offers good writing tips for professionals who are not necessarily professional writers. The article is short, sweet, and excellent. If you have time, there are some good nuggets of wisdom in the comments section as well, currently at 146! (The exclamation mark proves, I suppose, what a hack writer I am. My apologies.)
OK. So the creation of presentation visuals, the delivery of a talk, and the writing of supporting documents are different animals. But there are some commonsense principles which apply to writing and presenting. A few of Scalzi's writing tips (listed in bold below), can be applied to the art of presenting as well. Here are four from his list of ten tips.
"Front-load your point." Make your point, then make your case. You do not want your audience (or your reader) saying to themselves "Where the @#&^%! is this going!?"
"Don't use words you don't really know." Sometimes people use big words to impress or sound credible or smart, etc. Whether it's writing or speaking, never try to impress. When we try to impress, we are thinking about ourselves and not about our audience. We must speak in a style that is natural, conversational, free of jargon, and clear. For example, instead of "I suffered a massive, humongous intel failure" how about "I screwed up"? (The level of your informality, of course, depends on your unique situation.)
"Read people who write well." I "learned jazz" by listening to and watching great jazz players. We can learn how to be a better presenters, in part, by watching and studying the famous and not-so-famous accomplished speakers and presenters of today and the past.
"When in doubt, simplify." I so love this point by Scalzi that I'm quoting almost the entire passage here (item number nine in the list of ten):
"Worried you're not using the right words? Use simpler words. Worried that your sentence isn't clear? Make a simpler sentence. Worried that people won't see your point? Make your point simpler. Nearly every writing problem you have can be solved by making things simpler.
This should be obvious, but people don't like hearing it because there's the assumption that simple = stupid. But it's not true; indeed, I find from personal experience that the stupidest writers are the ones whose writing is positively baroque in form. All that compensating, you know. Besides, I'm not telling you to boil everything down to "see spot run" simplicity. I am telling you to make it so people can get what you're trying to say."
— John Scalzi
Yes indeed. Simple and good writing. Simple and effective presentation. Useful, simple and beautiful design. These things are neither "easy" or "simple" to achieve for the creator. But the reader, listener/observer, and user will be forever thankful for the effort.
Also checkout Hints for Revising by Brian Marick. Good tips there. Thanks to Coding Horror for these two great links.