The Creative Spark!

Common Eye-Candy: Essays and PowerPoints

Today, I had hoped to give you some PowerPoint tips. But since PowerPoint doesn’t seem applicable to AU folks in general, I’ll explain parallel presentations with essay-writing?and I’m going to end with a secret about using visuals.

These days, PowerPoint presentations are getting facelifts, spearheaded by cutting-edge authors such as Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds. They’ve morphed from painful bullet-points into visual stories.

But for now, my challenge is to show you the relationships between this presentation’s hype and your next essay.

Let’s peer at some of Chris Anderson’s ideas for presentations and parallel them with essays. (Anderson wrote Ted Talks: The Official Ted Guide to Public Speaking.)

Start with A Key Thread: Give your presentation or essay a key thread(thesis). This theme, like a tree’s trunk, should run through all your ideas. Capture this theme in less than fifteen words. Attach branches to this tree. Move from trunk to tip.

Put a Surprise in the Theme: Most themes and theses bore the Botox off of any prof. Try to twist your themes or theses. For instance, you could say “worry makes us happier.” Or “suicides happen mostly to those with the highest incomes.” Make your thesis unexpected and original.

Write for Someone You Adore: Take your most beloved friend and make that person well-read, curious, and formal but playful. Also make that person an outsider to your field. Author Elizabeth Gilbert (as cited in Anderson) says to frame that person as your intended audience. (If you write with love, the reader feels it.)

Make It a Story: Give the presentation or essay a three-act structure. Make the inciting incident the research problem or question you need to solve.

And wherever possible, find a hero. An essay on a historical figure has a ready-made hero. In a presentation and some essays, the audience can become the hero. Or some central author you cite can become the hero. Authors of opposing views could be framed as the villain.

Add obstacles or tension that the reader or hero needs to resolve. In other words, let your arguments resolve the central problem.

In sum, That’s a first-look at my budding theory on how presentations connect with essays.

The Secret to Visuals: Before I go, I promised you a tip on choosing visuals. With this trick, you can impress your professor with a snazzy cover-page or a telling PowerPoint. You can even make a better model for a theory based on the following idea.

First I want to cite the inspiration for the idea: Joe Toplyn, who I featured in last week’s article based on his book Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV.

As background, when making jokes, Joe said to take a topic statement, which could even be your thesis statement, and pick out two key parts. He then said to list those two parts as headings and come up with any words or phrases you can associate with each part. Then link an association from each list into a punch-line. (You would do well to find a word in common between the two lists to connect them together.)

I plan on making a video on why corporate presenters need professional comedy skills. That’s my topic. So, I chose two key parts of the topic: one, professional comedy skills; the other, corporate presenters.

Then I made a list of all kinds of words or phrases that associate with “professional comedy skills.” I made another list of associations for the words “corporate presenters.”

On the “professional comedy skills” list, I came up with the word “clown.” On the “corporate presenters” list I came up with the word “two-piece suit.” So, I searched iStock photo for the words “clown in a suit.” To my delight, the perfect image popped-up.

But, don’t just draft one idea. Link your two lists of associations into lots of possibilities. That way, you have plenty of fallbacks.

Of course, if your possibilities suggest using a picture of a confused snowman to depict your audience, get another visual.