Despair mingled with hopelessness. That’s what I usually feel when someone fires up a PowerPoint presentation. Lists of bullet points, flow charts, process diagrams, more bullet points, graphs, and did I mention the bullet points?
But as I was leafing through the pretty pictures and wonderful words of one of my graphic novels, I realised something. A comic book is a template for a great PowerPoint presentation. Panels are just slides, each one advancing the story and telling the reader something new. The only difference is that comics are interesting. And I think it’s because they do four things that most presentations don’t.
Comics focus on the little things
The faster something happens, the more images you need. If your story involves a dramatic gunshot, you spread it across a lot of panels so it’s easier for the reader to digest. The finger squeezing the trigger. The hammer pulling back. The bullet leaving the barrel. So if you have a graph, for example, don’t show it all at once. Plot each point you’re talking about separately. Build it up. Spread it out. So your readers have a chance to take everything in.
Comics cherish the turn of the page
Flicking over a page creates natural suspense. It gives you pace and rhythm. And it’s a beautiful moment to have something suddenly revealed, whether it’s the punch line to a joke, something unexpected or a tah-dah moment. Don’t be afraid to do the same in a presentation as you switch between slides.
Comics use words lightly
The narrator in a comic will usually only have a few words for each panel. Sometimes none. Each panel is essentially just one idea that moves the story on. The same should be true of a slide; each one should make a single point.
Comics are illustrations
Pictures are what make a comic, well, a comic. True, with a presentation you might not always have a literal picture. You might just illustrate your point, maybe with a single word or a quote. Just pick something that shows what you want to say, then narrate over the top. When you use your slides to symbolise your point, instead of parroting the words on the screen, people will listen to you rather than read what’s going on behind your head.
Hungry for more presentation tips? Take a look at our PowerPoint Writer Academy course.
You might have heard us showing off about having Professor Steven Pinker round to ours the other week (well, okay, up a well-known London landmark).
Steve (as we can now call him) has written a book channelling all his years of experience and experiment in cognitive science and linguistics into advice for writers. And blow us down if the science doesn’t prove everything we’ve been banging on about for years. Phew.
But while we were hanging out in the clouds, our big-haired academic friend made a cute point about grammar.
There are two, you see. First, there’s grammar as linguists understand it: a set of rules in your head that tells you what you can say and what you can’t. That grammar tells you to say I’m having chips for tea and not *Having I’m for tea chips. (The asterisk is linguist for ‘no-one says this, it sounds bonkers’.) If you’re a native speaker, you don’t need to learn these grammatical rules; amazingly you just work them out when you’re wee.
Then there’s grammar number two (the way most people, especially ageing whiny journalists, use it): a set of ‘rules’ about how so-called educated people speak and write. Many of these rules are baloney: you really can start a sentence with and and split your infinitives like there’s no tomorrow. Despite what the old codgers say, these ‘rules’ are mere conventions, and they change over time, going in and out of fashion.
Professor Pinker pointed out that the things the sticklers get het up about can’t be fundamental grammatical rules. If they were, no-one would ever need to express them, just as you don’t need to ever tell anyone not to say *Having I’m for tea chips. The very fact the sticklers need a rule to say which bit of disputed usage is ‘correct’ proves that it isn’t a rule.
Neat, huh? Of course, following conventions can be useful to you. Menotfollowingspellingorpunctuationsconventionsmakesreadingdifficult. So if you want to know which to consider and which to ignore, either swing by our Grammar for Grown-Ups workshop, or download our swanky new app.
‘Talk about benefits, not features.’ It’s one of the golden rules of copywriting. Because people don’t care about the details, they care about what your product/service/widget can do for them.
So, if you’re selling broadband, don’t bang on about ‘20 meg download speeds’, just explain that ‘you’ll be able to watch Netflix without any buffering problems’.
It’s fine as a rule of thumb, but it ignores the fact that actually, most benefits, no matter what you’re talking about, are pretty much the same: this product/service/widget will make you smarter/save you time/make you more attractive/give you more enjoyment. That pretty much covers it, doesn’t it?
The most interesting writing tends to sit in the blurry bit between features and benefits – when the features imply the benefits. Here’s an example.
There’s a café near where I live that serves the ‘three-mile breakfast’. It’s called the three-mile breakfast because all the ingredients used in it are sourced within a three-mile radius of the café.
Technically, it’s a ‘feature’ – it just tells you a fact about the breakfast. But it’s a feature that implies a whole host of benefits.
* Your fry-up is likely to be fresher and tastier because the ingredients haven’t had to travel so far.
* You can eat with a clear eco-conscience because the food miles are low (and the ingredients are likely to be organic).
* Eating here might well be fun/cool/interesting because the people who work here haven’t just gone for the standard ‘full English breakfast’.
The quirky ‘three-mile’ detail is a feature that works much harder than any generic benefit ever could.
I suppose ‘talk about benefits, not features, except when your reader will understand the benefit implicitly and the feature is more interesting’ isn’t such a snappy rule of thumb, though.
We love a bit of a do at The Writer. So we had ourselves a breakfast party in the BT Tower last week. Our guest of honour was Steven Pinker, who’s just written a book on our favourite subject. (That’s writing, by the way.)
We had a chat about the dos and don’ts of business writing. Including avoiding clichés. So we hope you appreciate the tongue-in-cheek title of this post. But everyone did tell us they enjoyed our event. Including those nice people at the Financial Times, who told their readers about it too. They said:
‘Professional narcissism’ is to be avoided, warned Steven Pinker this week to an audience of business executives. In other words, writing in jargon, brandishing your expertise and thereby making it impenetrable to the general reader. The latest book from the Harvard psychologist and linguist, The Sense of Style is all about language and stylish writing.
Read the rest here. (You’ll have to register, but it only takes a minute – and it’s free.)
We’ll have a video of the whole thing up on our site soon, too.
We spotted this from HP, and we like it.
The way tech firms approach security is changing; it’s nice to see that change reflected in the language of ‘prevention’. Kudos to HP for standing out from a traditionally dull crowd.
And we love this ad, a perfectly-pitched spoof of Apple.
Like the recent Ikea advert, it works because the execution is spot on. (‘Under £539’ made us chortle.)
Of course, none of this would work if Apple wasn’t such a staggeringly distinctive brand; it’s hard to imagine any other phones inspiring a parody. And for Innocent, it wouldn’t work if they hadn’t built their brand using humour and irreverence. The spoof works so well because precisely because they never use overblown marketing language or big boasts.
Two great brands, playing to their strengths.