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| 1 minute read

Writing a deck that works

I have finally taken David Ogilvy's advice and finished reading "Writing That Works" for the third time, having read it first perhaps three years ago. 

It was good advice.

This time through, I was caught up in the art of writing and presenting a good deck (chapter 6 "Writing for an Audience"). Like all really good advice, much of what they advocate seems like obvious common-sense; that is until I compare it with my own presentations, where I still seem to make every mistake possible. 

There were two stand-out points for me. First that the format for a presentation should "carry the audience on a flow of logic:

  • Objective
  • Background
  • Facts
  • Conclusions
  • Recommendations
  • Next Steps"

This format builds to an explicit outcome by laying down a series of foundations, much along the lines of Barbara Minto.

The second point I get wrong is that often my decks are about what our product does and its features. I forget the advice my father once gave me when I was nervous to go into a party full of teen-aged strangers and didn't know what I was going to talk about; "Ask them about them" he said "they'll think you're great".

The second point I took from Roman and Raphaelson is essentially the same: "While you're talking about your credentials and your achievements, the people in the audience are thinking about their organisation, their business, their problems. The biggest single mistake in presentations is... telling people how terrific you are."

What I take from these two points is that we should rely more on mapping an audience's needs and structure our presentations around how we might help with these. After all, all products are only as good as they are valuable to their users.

Now I'd better go and re-write that deck... 

Ogilvy sent it out on September 7th, 1982, directing it to everyone employed at Ogilvy & Mather, the respected ad agency he'd founded more than thirty years before. "The memo was entitled 'How to Write,'" says Lists of Note, "and consisted of the following list of advice:" 1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times. 2. Write the way you talk. Naturally. 3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs. 4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass. 5. Never write more than two pages on any subject. 6. Check your quotations. 7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it. 8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it. 9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do. 10. If you want ACTION, don't write. Go and tell the guy what you want.


content marketing, b2b marketing, e2e, writing advice, writing, presentations, david ogilvy