No bullet points allowed

No bullet points allowedVeteran advice on the new world of speeches

By Joe Diorio

I worked for a time as a speechwriter for a pair of executives at IBM. One was a very good speaker. The other? Well, he was otherwise good at his job.

The good speaker rarely used slides and kept his talks to 20 minutes or less. The other? I once had to create a slide to explain a previous slide in one of his presentations. And he routinely needed at least 10 minutes just to introduce himself.

Point made. Public speaking is hard. And it is only getting harder in a social media world. Apple recently said it limits executives to ten minutes for a speech. And a wonderful presentation from Google doesn’t use a single bullet point. Clearly the rules of public speaking are changing.

Some speechwriters have sound advice on making good presentations in today’s social media world.

“I follow the ‘10/20/30’ rule. Ten slides to present in 20 minutes and nothing smaller than 30-point type on the slides,” says Thomas Mattia, a former executive who ran communications for Coca Cola, Yale University, Electronic Data Systems, and Ford Motor Company. “You have to make your points as convincing as possible in the shortest amount of time.” He teaches a storytelling class at Rutgers University and has students follow the 10/20/30 rule.

The message and good writing are the primary concerns for another veteran speechwriter. “A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but a picture of 1,000 words is worthless,” notes Boe Workman, director of CEO Communications for AARP. Workman is firm in his belief that the slide is not the speech.

Liz DeCastro, executive director of marketing communications and events for the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), says she has a team who works on developing images that support rather than repeat a speaker’s message.

“I once sat in on a presentation on a very technical subject,” DeCastro says. “The speaker used no notes, and the images supported – not repeated – what he said. I always try to take that approach myself.”

Workman said the length of a speech is secondary to the quality of writing. “I don’t buy that a 10-minute speech is hard to do,” he says. “People can’t listen to a five-minute speech if it’s not written well. If well written, then the audience will be mesmerized by it.”

Odds and ends

I tend to give broadcasters more than their share of mulligans, but I couldn’t let pass the bromance that networks and local affiliates alike have with using the word “facility” during reporting of the delivery of pipe bombs to high-profile Democratic party members and their supporters. “Mail facility,” “bomb disposal facility,” “investigation facility.” Gloriosky, folks, how about “post office,” “safe disposal site,” and “crime lab.” I figured the sports report would be all clear, but Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans of the National Football League was referred to as a – you got it – “sports facility.”

Lastly, lest no one thinks I only pick on broadcasters, the New York Times, in a preview story about the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers, said “Beat! L!A! are the three most famous letters in Boston.” Really? What’s the third letter?

Let’s write carefully out there, people.

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