Monday, February 1, 2016

Presentation Essentials for Writers: Part 1

For some reason, I was thinking the other day about the training sessions I used to lead for my company on effective presentations. These thoughts quickly transitioned into how some of the tips I gave to countless corporate collogues could also benefit my fellow writers.

There’s the obvious—the tips that can help you speak more effectively about your work. This is necessary for not only book events, but also for those moments when you find yourself with a prospective reader, editor, agent, or publisher.

But there’s also the not so obvious—how using tips for effective presentations can enhance your writing.

Thanks to this being a Leap Year, I have the rare opportunity to bookend February here at Across the Board. This gives me the perfect opportunity to break this topic into two parts. Today I’m focusing on the not so obvious—how it can help our writing. I’ll address what you need to know when speaking about your writing in Part 2 on Feb. 29th. My focus will be on novels, but this applies to all types of writing.

4 Presentation Tips for Writing

1. Design the Close First
I tend to agree that the close is the most important part of a presentation. There’s a good chance your audience won’t remember everything you presented, so the close is there to remind them of the important aspects of your message. It’s also where your audience determines if you were successful in making your point.

It’s the same in a novel. As a reader, I’ve read several books where a rushed or incomplete ending killed the rest of the story. Take the time to think about your ending before you even write the first sentence.

I’m not saying that you have to draft out the entire last chapter first. You don’t even have to know the exact outcome before you get started. But you should know the general destination. You should know the primary message of your book. Once you have that, build the rest of the novel to arrive at that point.

2. Grab Attention & Keep the Interest
Studies have shown that in a presentation audience attention is high at the start of the presentation and then again at the end. Attention and interest naturally decrease during the body of the presentation. To deliver an effective presentation, you have to continuously grab the audience’s attention. This can be accomplished by injecting humor, using a personal testimonial, or engaging the audience. The change of pace will naturally regain the audience’s attention and interest.

The same can be said about writing. Readers usually start out a novel with high interest. However, if there isn’t enough ‘spice’ to retain the reader’s attention, they might give up or start skipping sections just to get to the end. I know the reader in me has done this on more than one occasion. I also get frustrated when an author baits me throughout the entire novel, only revealing secrets at the end. Below are some examples of what I’ve done in my own novels to grab the reader’s attention and keep their interest:

  • Revealed a big secret early in the book
  • Added in a one-page chapter after several longer ones
  • Interrupted the narrator at the end of a chapter to start the next one
  • Left a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter
  • Added in humor

Your options here are virtually limitless. I have to say that my most creative (and favorite) way that I’ve structured a novel to retain interest is in my third novel, Shattered Angel. Angel is given a choice where she only has 24 hours to decide. I start the novel at chapter 24 and count down to chapter 0 where I reveal her decision. Many readers have told me that it has kept them engaged late into the night!

Something important to point out here is that you don’t want to add ‘spice’ in every chapter. Too much and it loses its uniqueness and ability to grab attention.

3. Add in White Space
During my training sessions, I could never stress enough how important it was to have clean presentation materials. There is not much that will drop an audience’s attention faster than charts that are too small to read or slides completely blocked with text. If there’s too much on the slide, then the audience doesn’t know where to focus. In addition, the eye needs a place to rest.

In writing, I don’t classify white space as what you find in the margins or between section breaks. Those are important also, but here I’m defining white space as those story elements where the reader can take a breather. For example, I write emotionally heavy books. That means I have to be thoughtful about adding in lighter moments where my readers can escape from the emotions I’m driving into them. If I don’t, they may give up simply because it’s too much. Think about the primary emotions your novel carries and consider ways you can balance that. Even a thriller needs to take it down once in a while—readers may not have enough stamina to go 100mph for the full length of a novel! You don’t want to take the risk of a reader needing to put your book down for a break because they may not come back. Give them the breaks they need within the story.

4. Minimize Distractions
One of the things I had to cover in my training sessions was how our company logo should be respected. Many people thought it was ridiculous to have to remember where it should be positioned, how far text needed to be away from it, or what colors it could or could not be. Their argument was that the logo had nothing to do with the topic of their presentation. While that’s true in general, misuse of the logo was a big deal for the people in the audience who knew the branding guidelines. The result was that all of those people were suddenly only focused on the logo violation and not what the presenter was saying.

Distractions are dangerous because while they seem insignificant, the reality is that they can cause a major disturbance. Distractions in writing include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Mistakes
  • Plot inconsistencies
  • Excessive use of adjectives
  • Use of complex language
  • Rapid changes of PoV

While it’s impossible to predict every distraction for every reader, you can think through some of the most common ones and work to ensure they are not in your writing. A good place to start is to list out the things that have disrupted your reading experience when reading a novel.

Incorporating these four tips into your writing will help you produce your best work, which will go a long way in your quest to build a loyal readership. Keep these tips in front of you as you write. You can also structure some beta reader questions around these points to help ensure you’ve covered them appropriately.

Come back at the end of the month when I’ll give you tips to use when talking to others about your writing!

~ Carrie


Jonathan Schramm said...

Nice presentation of the presentation Carrie! I suppose this could work when pitching, when giving a classroom-type presentation or just in a quick conversation. Look forward to your next post!

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

I love your suggestions for keeping interest. I need to insert some of those ideas into my writing.

Mary Fan said...

Great post, Carrie! Love the analogies between presentations and writing :-)

Carrie Beckort said...

Thanks, Jonathan!

Carrie Beckort said...

Thanks, Kimberly! I find it fun to think of new ways to keep the reader's interest :-)

Carrie Beckort said...

Thanks, Mary!

Blogger Template by Designer Blogs