episode 79: Writing for Presentations (w/ Mort Milder)

  • With high stakes presentations, often a professional writer is brought in to craft and write the story to be presented. The Presentation Podcast welcomes Mort Milder, one of those professional writers who has written many high stakes presentations and speeches for many, many industries, for a great conversation about presentation design with a professional writer at your side.

How often do you get to work with a professional writer and what has your experience been with professional writers?

  • Sandy: With conference work, I regularly collaborated with a copywriter on all of presentations. Currently, I regularly work with one executive who requires both a copywriter and presentation designer. I believe it to be the ideal presentation creation approach.
  • Troy: I have many projects where a professional script writer is a part of the team. But not as often I would like. Developing a presentation where a script is handed off is a fantastic way to approach a high-stakes presentation.
  • Nolan: I liken the process to the art director/copywriter relation at a traditional agency. Together they brainstorm concepts, then the copywriter develops the copy while working with the art director along the way, which is a good approach.

With a writer, there are now even more cooks in the presentation kitchen. What’s your general process and how do you find it best to work with designers and others involved?

  • Mort: The content is the focus, and it’s really an iterative process. I’m used to going back and forth through a lot of drafts. Generally, I like to lay out a presentation in a two-column format with visuals on one side and talking points on the other.  And in the first drafts, the visuals are simply my description of what I think goes in that slide, and the talking points are just that – outline level.  As the project proceeds, the talking points may turn into actual copy, and notes on visuals get replaced by jpegs of the slides. Coordination with PowerPoint designers is really important to me, and it’s maddening when, for one reason or another, we’re not talking to each other. Both of us have the same client and the same job, which is to help that client convey what they want to say. Script and visuals are like music and lyrics – they have to be complementary.

What are some of the first questions you ask on a project?

  • Mort: The first questions I ask about a project are all related to audience:
    • Who is the audience?
    • What are they doing now and what do you want them to do differently when you’re done?
    • What are the three things they need to know?
    • But if I can only ask one question, it’s ‘how long is it?’ Everything relates to that number. Is it an hour keynote, a 20 minute presentation, or an elevator pitch?

Presentation designers always want to reduce text on the screen, but you’re the one writing that text. Do you find yourself ever begging to write less?

    • Mort: A big tension in my work is helping clients/presenters understand the difference between projections and handouts. If you’ve got a sixty-foot screen, a lot of clients think, “Wow, I can put the whole Library of Congress up there.”  You want to remind them that a big screen is a place for a Big Idea.  Handouts, on the other hand, benefit from the principles that Tufte lays out for compressing a lot of quantitative information into a single space – it’s very powerful to be able to see complex connections and interactions between different measurements, and forces. But those kind of dense graphics – first of all they have to be done well and be well thought out and we all know how rare that is – work best when the viewer is in control of the pace. Projections – speech support – let the presenter control the pace, and we’ve all had creative meetings where the speaker wants to put up an eye chart with fifteen columns of figures in 9 point type and when you point out that the audience is not going to digest the information on the slide, they answer is, “that’s okay, it’s not important.”

Listen to episode 79 for the full conversation!

Resources from this Episode:  (List of links to tools/resources discussed )


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