Are you giving a talk? Designing a workshop? Don’t confuse the script, the front end, and the handouts.
The number one mistake people make when preparing a talk or a workshop is to confuse what they have to say with what they plan to present.
The script captures the flow and content of your talk: what you wish to say, the key messages, the anecdotes and stories, the examples and metaphors, and when you will interact with the audience. Writing the script of your talk is crucial. It is the roadmap of the journey you plan to take your audience on.
The script does not have to include the full text you are about to deliver. You should not recite it word for word. You should memorize it, but only to wrap this skeleton later with naturally spoken words. And most important, the script must be completely separated from what you will later decide to add to the front-end presentation.
Your script is not your presentation. It is for your eyes only, not for your audience. There is obviously a connection between what you present on the screen (or write on a whiteboard) and the script, but the connection is value-driven. Whatever you decide to show on screen must have real, tangible value. It mustn’t capture what you say — it should add to it.
A presentation is not a document you share with your audience. It is certainly not your script. You should never write on a whiteboard what you say. The front end of your talk might be crucial to the message you are aiming to deliver, but it must be handled with care. Whatever appears on the screen or the board must serve a purpose.
I don’t like generic guidelines like “only use pictures” or “never use more than three words in a slide.” These tips might be good in some cases (some even in many cases), but eventually, there are no rules. Except for one rule, which applies to 100% of the cases: be convinced that whatever is on the slide adds value and does so in the most minimal way possible.
Your presentation is not meant to tell the entire story. It is not meant to be understood without you giving your talk. It is not meant to be handed out to the audience after the talk. The front end is designed to be memorable and create an impact based on what you say — based on the things that are not included in it.
You don’t have to, but if you feel compelled to leave your audience with something tangible they can return to, don’t just print your presentation and never share your script.
Handouts should be designed as such — they are standalone artifacts. The handouts combine a summary of your talk and visuals that add value where text is less effective.
Make your handouts as minimal as possible. They must never capture your entire talk. If you can squeeze the key ideas into a single-page cue card, your audience will appreciate it. It will be easier to memorize and refer to in the future. And if you include references to additional material (for example, articles on your website), both your audience and you will benefit from it.