In 1983 I wrote an essay about 1984.
I was in my final year of High School and our English text was, ironically given the year, George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. I recall with perhaps way too much over-confidence, writing a long, detailed essay in my Year 12 mid-year exams and handing it in to my English teacher, Mr Whitehurst.
I considered myself a good English student, I had studied hard, I knew the ins and outs of the novel and expected to get a fairly decent mark.
To this day I recall the disappointment of getting the essay back (mark – 11/20) with copious red pen scribbled all over my pages-long answer, whole paragraphs scrubbed out by Mr W and at the end of the exam booklet, my teacher had written just 3 words “ECONOMY OF LANGUAGE.”
Mr Whitehouse was a quirky, brilliant and wise teacher, the head of the English department and one of those teachers whose impact you only truly appreciate years later. When I went to see him to get him to explain his comment, he said to me that I was unfailingly long-winded, I tended to say in one paragraph what could be better said in one sentence. I waffled continuously. I repeated myself. I used unnecessarily flowery, verbose language. “Words matter” he said. Use them sparingly, use the right words, be clear, succinct and to the point.
His comments have stayed with me to this day and it is a lesson I try to adhere to, not always successfully, but it’s certainly a lesson I pass on when training clients in presentation skills.
If you can deliver your conference presentation in less time, then do so. Keep it simple. Use plain English language. And edit. Then edit again. And when you think you have cut out as much as you can, cut some more. Less words on your slides. Less diagrams. Less PowerPoint slides. Less key messages. Keep It Simple.
The best conference presentations are usually the clear, simple, easy to follow and easy to digest ones. Conference audiences rarely complain that a presentation was too short!
The first draft of this article was originally twice as long as this.
I hope that Mr W would have been proud.