Having written thousands of presentation scripts, this is our advice on how to write them and how to use them in your presentations.
What’s the most important factor in any presentation?
It’s got to be the design, right? Making your slides so beautiful, so chic, and so damn on-brand that your audience will weep at their magnificence?
That’s important, but no – we’re talking about something more fundamental than that.
Ok, then. How about the animation? Slick, professional and seamless. That premium, professional sheen that shows your quality through and through.
Again, really love your thinking here, but before that too.
Before you even open PowerPoint, Keynote or Google Slides. Before you get stuck into Photoshop, XD, or whatever design software you prefer.
In many cases, before you even fire your trusty PC or Mac up.
Which brings up back to answering that original question. The first – and most important – part of any presentation is the story. It’s the structure on which those other visual elements can hang, and with a great narrative, your design and animation can take it to another level of excellence.
We’ve talked before about how to structure a story for your presentation, and it’s worth taking another look.
But the story needs to be delivered. And in most cases, that’s down to you, the presenter. So you need a way to make sure you talk through the story in the right order. Hitting the right highs and lows. Without missing anything out. And without rambling on and going over your time limit.
What you need, my friend, is a presentation script.
The benefits of a great presentation script
OK, before we go any further, I can already see some of you grimacing at the thought of a presentation script.
I don’t need a script, you might be thinking – and you may well be right.
Scripts make presenters sound all robotic and boring, you could be muttering – and again, good point.
I want my salespeople to be able to think on their feet and adapt to any situation, you might be screaming into your screen. OK, chill out – you’re not wrong.
But let’s not be so black and white about things, eh?
Like presenters, presentations and audiences, each script should be different.
Your presentation script will likely be based on your experience as a presenter, your knowledge of the presentation subject, the level of detail you want to go into, the type of audience you’re presenting to, your time allowance, and many other variables.
So, it’s a good idea to start with the maximum amount you need, and then chip away as necessary. Think of it like Michelangelo’s David. To create his masterpiece, the Italian sculptor took a huge block of Tuscan marble, whittling it down for over two years to reveal the final result.
Can you imagine if he just took a small torso-shaped piece, and then glued a few bits and bobs on as he went along?
It’s the same for your presentation script: write it out in full, and see how it feels when you speak it out loud. What’s that? You probably wouldn’t speak it out loud? Well, you should – some phrases sound all wrong spoken aloud, even when they look fine on the page.
Speaking aloud also gives you a much better estimate of the time it will take to present it in full; reading it in your head, or even muttering it softly to yourself just won’t give you the same timings.
Each time you speak it aloud, it will get a bit tighter, a bit stronger and a bit more personalised to the way you speak.
And, after a few drafts, you’ll have something approaching your final presentation script. Just be careful to leave it when it’s ready – it can be tempting to tweak and tweak ad infinitum, and it’s sometimes difficult to know when to leave it alone.
Now it’s decision time. What will you do with this script? There are basically three choices here:
- Read the full script.
- Cut it down to bullet points.
- Memorise it.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of each in turn.
1. Read the full script
This is the safest method.
You separate your script out throughout your slides in the speaker notes section. This means you see them on your laptop, but your audience doesn’t on the big screen (or their Zoom screen).
Most people new to presenting, nervous of public speaking, not experts in the subject matter, or just a bit cautious, might initially choose this option, but it’s not without risks.
Yes, you won’t forget anything and yes, it gives you something to focus on other than the audience, but that can become an issue.
If you stand in front of your audience with your eyes glued to PowerPoint’s speaker notes, then it’s often not the best experience for them. People like to connect with one another, and eye contact – even over video calls – is an important part of this. So, if you don’t even glance up from time to time, you and your presentation can come across as cold, at a time when you should be sharing emotion.
And another issue is it can be hard to portray that emotion when you’re reading out loud, rather than speaking from the top of your head. It can be a bit like listening to kids reading out loud in primary school: sure, they are saying all the words right, but the speed, the cadence, the emphasis and passion can all be lost.
So how can you get around this conundrum: you’re not confident enough to go without a presentation script, but you don’t want to sound like an emotionless reading drone. The answer, whether you like it or not, is to practice.
The more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel delivering your presentation script. You’ll find that certain sentences and phrases slip off the tongue a bit easier, so you are able to make eye contact from time to time. Keep practicing and there may be whole slides or sections that you can talk around – maybe not word-for-word – but close enough.
And this is where you’re getting closer to that audience connection – in fact it’s arguably better to falter every now again – it proves you’re just human like the rest of us.
It also gets you closer to option 2.
2. Cut it down to bullet points
For most of our clients, who are pretty experienced presenters, this is the best option. It gives you the flexibility to talk around the main points, but with a safety net of all the key points written down as memory aids.
These bullets, tucked away in the speaker notes, can be a presenter’s secret weapon. With just a discreet glance towards their screen every now and again, they can make sure the whole story is delivered in full, in order, and with a healthy amount of audience connection thrown in too.
Don’t forget that speaker notes – whether a full presentation script or bullet points – are really easy to edit. So, if you tend to use a presentation multiple times, you can go in each time afterwards to tighten up a word or two here, or perhaps a couple more pointers there.
Or maybe edit them beforehand to personalise the script a bit to your specific audience – it’s a good way to mitigate on blanking the company or individual names you’re meeting.
It’s still important to practice with just speaker noters though, and you’ll find those glances become fewer and the eye contact increases as you do so. And the more you practice speaker notes, the better you’ll get, perhaps ultimately getting to option 3.
3. Memorise it
Let’s face it, the best presenters don’t need any kind of script. When was the last time you saw someone delivering a TED talk with a fistful of cue cards? Or referring back to their laptop every couple of minutes?
It’s all just there, in their heads, effortlessly transitioning through and out of their mouths. Or so it appears… again, don’t kill the messenger but these people practice over and over and over.
But memorising it doesn’t always mean literally reciting every exact word. That can be useful when you have a very strict time to work within, but the best presenters can flow in and out of their memorised script at will. It’s really something to behold.
This means they can slip in relevant stories or recent events seamlessly. Or can refer back to other talks that day, personalise their story to the audience and generally make it much more of a flexible experience.
But of course, there’s a flip side. Less experienced speakers might lose their place, miss a whole chunk out, or go off on a rambling tangent that has no relevance, like that time I went to do a talk and it was really early in the morning and usually I set my alarm for 6.45 except for Thursdays when I get a lie in but actually the Thursday before I had a meeting so I turned that alarm off, but left on the 8.30 alarm and this talk happened to start at 8.15 and I didn’t realise but the alarm was still on but the talk didn’t actually start on time because there was an issue with the pastry delivery because we usually use this one company but they couldn’t deliver them so we had to use another company which was actually run by the husband of a client we used to work with who used to be a designer but then realised that he preferred to actually bake and……… you get the point there I hope.
Your presentation script. Your way.
All in all, presentation scripts are essential in creating and presenting a great audience experience. They give you structure, flow, and confidence that simply reading off your slides, or ad-libbing it can’t.
Start with a strong presentation script, and remember that it’s entirely up to you to decide how to use it to make the most out of your own style.