I have a love-hate relationship with speaker notes in PowerPoint. On the one hand they provide the closest link between the narrative structure of a presentation and its visual representation on the slides. On the other hand they beget loads of problems because they lure users into a mindset that is unhealthy.

A great script turns into a problem the minute a speaker wants to memorize it. The script becomes the focus of the speaker, a beacon of false perfection to not deviate from during the actual live presentation, when the speaker’s focus should be the audience. As a speaker you want to connect with your audience first and foremost. The connection is what makes your speech powerful, not the words on your computer screen.

Take a page from a storybook

Here at BrightCarbon we encourage our clients to deviate from the script and improvise in the same way they would tell a fairy tale. There are certain key elements to a tale that drive the internal logic of the story. As long as you got them covered your story will be intact and your audience will follow you. A fairy tale actually gains from never being quite the same anytime it is told. It is precisely because of their propensity to grow and adapt that these stories never get old.

Now, in sales presentations or when you are talking about technical information, you may feel that there are no glass shoes, no staircases, no magic swords and no brave siblings as plot devices that help you progress in your story. That is not strictly speaking true. The key elements in your story may be less magical than that of a Grimm tale, but they are no less pivotal to advance your plot.

Much like a sword can sever the Gordic knot can a piece of not-so-boring data help your audience unravel a mystery that is relevant to their business. In our presentations we take great care to highlight these key pieces of information and we visualize them on our slides so that the speaker may follow the bread crumbs that the slides lay out in front of them. All you need to do is weave your tale and connect the dots.

The “Cheat Sheet”

Still, practice makes perfect and you need to familiarize yourself with the pivotal moments in your story before you can add the flourish of improvisation. But we don’t want you to fret over following a script either. What do you do to practice?

You do what most students do. At least what most students in Germany do at some point, where creating “Spickzettel,” cribs, trots or other forms of cheating aids is an art form almost as highly regarded as fairy tale narration. The amount of ingenuity and creativity mustered to create a foolproof cheat sheet in an average German high school class could easily power a start-up scene on its own. There is just one catch: The best students, while many of them partake in creating genuinely impressive cheat sheets that condense information into microscopic contraptions, don’t actually use them.

A friend of mine is a teacher and he told me that he very much likes it when students prepare their cheat sheets for tests. Having to condense the information down to its essence is a great way to learn. It forces you to dive into the material and make hard decisions about what to put on your piece of paper and what to leave off. Only if you understand which pieces of information are critical can you make an informed decision. And just like that you already made the piece of paper obsolete.

I humbly suggest you follow the cheat sheet approach in practising your sales story. Take the script and condense it down to its bare essentials, the pieces of information that advance your argument as reflected on your slides. Put it on a sheet of paper, then pack it even tighter, perhaps aim for putting your whole script on just one sticky note. You can skip the part of creating a sheath and a spring loaded folding mechanism in your cuffs to stash the cheat sheet away, but perhaps it adds to the thrill. I suggest you read your condensed notes once more. And then burn after reading. You are welcome to feel like a super spy from the movies at this point. Remember, you still got some awesome piece of technology supporting you: Your slides.

If you follow the time honored traditions of fairy tale narration and cheating you may consider yourself equipped for an oral exam in the German school system. Or for delivering a presentation that connects to your audience without stressing you out. Forget the stress that rote memorization brings with it. Says your friendly BrightCarbon resident German.

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  1. Image of Kumar Kumar says:

    Jakob,

    Great article and it really will help me when I next make a presentation.

    Hope you don’t mind if I nitpick just a little….Not sure if you are joking about German kids cheating – I do understand you are using it to make a point and you do clarify that what you call “cheating” is a highly advanced form of boiling down the materials to its essentials – but it does stand out as some sort of tarring a whole group of kids with a pretty broad brush.

    Or maybe this analogy is common knowledge in the UK/Germany so since I am from the US, this sort of goes over my head! If so, I apologize in advance. Anyway, thanks again for a great article. Cheers!

  2. Image of jakob jakob says:

    Hey Kumar,

    Thank you for your kind words.

    I understand your concern about using cheating as a benevolent example. Please excuse me choosing hyperbole for dramatic effect. There is, however, a poignant difference in how cheating is perceived across cultures. If I were to call it “hacking” would that already take the edge off?

    The fact is that this particular form of crib artisan work is indeed celebrated even in German movies in the sixties. It takes place in a system where students are not graded on a curve and where being crafty is part of what you are meant to learn at school. When I was a student in a US high-school I understood very well that these sort of shenanigans don’t fly.

    Anyway, the point of this article is to “hack your brain” and to be crafty about learning. It is not to take advantage of your peers. The former is a skill that I feel schools everywhere would do good to promote.

    Cheers!

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BrightCarbon has created several animations for us. The result was always the same: a very clear “wow” effect. I highly recommend BrightCarbon for making complex topics come to life on screen!

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