A Fawlty tip to improve your writing

If you want to make your next presentation or speech better, try making it shorter. Editing – bold, brave, brutal editing – is an essential part of the creative process.

Challenging every word is a big part of our presentation skills and media skills courses. If you only have a sound bite of four or five seconds to deliver a message, you can’t afford to be wordy. Any writing gets brighter as it gets tighter.

I call as a witness John Cleese. The man whose absurdist humour inspired Monty Python and Fawlty Towers has just written an autobiography, ‘So, Anyway’. Over Christmas I was enjoying his recollections of his early days as a comic writer and performer at Cambridge University.

“If you have an average show, and you can dump half of it, it doesn’t get a bit better – it gets a lot better”, he writes. “I began to discover that whenever you could cut a speech, a sentence, a phrase or even a couple of words, it makes a greater difference than you would ever expect.”

If your ‘show’ is a presentation or speech and it’s not working for you, try the Cleese approach. Strip out the clutter from your writing, and you may find that what’s left begins to sparkle.

In our media skills and presentation skills workshops we encourage people to image they had to pay for every word they wrote. They soon find ways of economizing – and the resulting script is always better.

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