How to storyboard in presentations and speeches

Often looking like a cartoon strip and frequently hand written it details how the story will look and how the audience will be engaged

David Rigby
David Rigby - Special to Al Arabiya English
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“It’s the way you tell them” is late Irish Comedian Frank Carson’s catchphrase.

In the world of public speaking and presenting this is patently true. And while the exact words are not necessarily important, what you say and how it looks do matter. How do you decide?

When a film is being put together, the directors don’t just go out on the set and ask “what shall we shoot today?” It is usually planned out. And while a script will tell you the words and maybe some movements and action it’s the detail of the action and where the camera shots will be taken which gives the direction. This is called a storyboard.

Often looking like a cartoon strip and frequently hand written, though there is software to help, it details how the story will look and how the audience will be engaged. Getting the storyboard right is crucial. It’s a lot cheaper to redraw your storyboard as a result of feedback than to remake the film!

An oft quoted approach to presentations, said to be originated by Aristotle, is
• Tell them what you are going to tell them
• Tell them
• Tell them what you told them.

But before you can even get to this, the first question is “what do I want the audience to do as a result of my presentation”. And a good opener is to tell the audience exactly that.

But what, if any, visuals are you going to use? This is not about what you, the presenter, are comfortable with, it’s about what the audience is comfortable with. Are they a bunch of engineers who require lots of detail or politicians looking for visual sound bites? Are they mainly Auditory – who will listen more than look, or Visual, who prefer to look at pictures or words. “A picture is worth a thousand words” You will need to cater for all.

. You need to know how long the presentation /speech will be. You will need to decide whether you are going to use a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation, handouts, a collection of cue cards or your memory. But the approach is still the same.

The first step is the order of the content:
• Show them what you are going to show them
• Show them – most people won’t remember more than three points
• Show them what you showed them.
An easy way to start is on a white board or using post-it notes.
• Start with the three points above
• Then expand the middle detailed into for example three topics
• And expand each of those topics into three points.

This gives you 11 boxes or Post-It. For each, write what the point is or message in a few words – then expand:
• Maybe you write a list of everything you would want a slide – then reduce it
• Look at your audience – what’s in it for them on this slide – reduce further
• Look for triggers to remind you about what you want to say
• Reduce the content still further
• Can I replace words with a visual? How about a video clip?
• Remove more of the words.
• Then look at the sequence.

This is your storyboard. Like in a movie, only when you have finished the storyboard should the shooting begin. Only when this is complete should you build content. In this case building the actual slides. Do you actually need a slide for each point? Watch several TED talks – see how few visuals there are. I once attended a presentation jointly given by a Branding company and an IT company. The Branding guy talked for 5 minutes with a slide of a baby. The IT guy talked for 30 seconds over a slide showing what was a flowchart or wiring diagram. Not enough time to even read it. Maybe just a few for the more difficult or visual content. Only after doing this should you begin to develop your content.

Being well prepared, rehearsed with good material is the key to success. Go out there and tell them in your own style, with few slides as props. And avoid the famous ‘Death By Powerpoint’, and giving the audience a good view of the back of your head while you read the slides out to them.

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