Just Be Natural

I was sitting in a boardroom, listening to a workshop called “Make it Stick,” based off the book by Peter Brown. The presenter was telling me that doing the unexpected was the way to catch attention. He showed us an example of a stereotypical PowerPoint presentation (clipart images and giant word blocks) and lambasted it. But why are typical presentations so flat?

Because presenters often want to give the audience what is expected, so they abide by convention. But this answer felt incomplete — it did not address why people choose not to deviate from convention. In my opinion, presentation makers fear that deviating from convention would be a breach of professional decorum. They follow the presentation styles of what experienced professionals have done before them, thus making their work indistinguishable from that of others.

At this time, I was working on a rental catalog for a client that wanted to rent out its vacant spaces. The catalog contained sales pitches for each of the spaces. Applying the lessons of “Make It Stick”, I worked to make each sales pitch simple and distinguished. What surprised me the most about writing these sales pitches was how natural it felt. It was easy to make a sales pitch once I realized that I was free to use unconventional expressions that I liked because they would be unexpected and thus catch readers’ attention. Consider this example sales pitch for my client’s empty classrooms: “Each classroom also has a whiteboard or chalkboard — would they even be classrooms without them?” Few would anticipate that kind of quip from a sales pitch.

There is a certain linguistic style common not only to presentations, but to any material that has an informative purpose. In textbooks, it is the style that causes readers like myself to tune out due to its sheer flatness. To avoid falling into this style, it is best sometimes to say things how you would say them in normal conversation. Calculation can come later.

by bruno youn