Take away the takeaways. Please.

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Take away the takeaways. Please.

Ever meet a jerk you wanted to call a Summer’s Eve?

Officially, you can dispense with the dispenser and call that person a douche.

So says Oxford Dictionaries Online, which added douche and dozens of other words to its lexicon last month. My favorite is photobomb, the act of hopping into a photograph at the last moment, thus causing hysterical snapshots like this:

Squirrel photobomb in NatGeo.
via National Geographic

Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary added a few words last month, too. Man cave. Bucket list. Gastropub.

By far, though, technology and business words dominated the new-words lists of the dictionaries. Most are understandable, such as e-learning and user experience and video chat. Some are stupid, such as tweeps and inbox as a verb. Does anything sound more douchey than “inbox me”?

But there’s one new-to-the-dictionary business word that irritates the crap out of me.

Takeaway.

You know, takeaway, the most important thing a listener is supposed to remember from a conference session. Usually, there are at least three most important things, so there is a plural form of takeaway spelled takeaways.

Ideally, takeaways are delivered at the end of a presentation so they’re the last thing audience members hear and, therefore, remember. Helpfully, you should title your final PowerPoint slides “Takeaways” so listeners know a) what they are and b) what to write down. You could even title them “Key Takeaways,” which, while redundant, makes the takeaways sound more important.

Takeaways should be short enough so listeners have time to write them down, in case bosses quiz them later.

Funny or quotable takeaways should be labeled “Tweet this!” so listeners tweet only what you scripted and not that thing you accidentally said.

The best takeaways are actionable, i.e., listeners can take action based on the takeaway, or whatever the hell actionable means.

Sound familiar?

If so, it’s probably because every speaker since the beginning of PowerPoint has been given this advice or picked up the habits along the way. And no one said stop it.

Stop it.

Don’t be a sheep

Herd of sheep
Photo courtesy Alexandre Dulaunoy on Flickr.

With the fall conference season getting under way, dozens of speakers are preparing their presentations right now. Some are speaking more than once at a single conference like PubCon Vegas — not an easy thing when you’re also marketing your company, attending other sessions and gambling networking at the same conference.

Still.

Here’s why to reconsider those takeaway conclusion slides you’ve depended on for so long. You can stop at the first reason, but if you’re not convinced, there are four more good reasons:

  1. They’re unnecessary. If your audience doesn’t already clearly understand the main points of your presentation by the end of your presentation, then you gave a bad presentation. 29 minutes of rambling can’t be rescued by 1 minute of takeaway slides.
  2. They’re simplistic. Takeaways distill a half-hour’s worth of critical thinking or strategy into a six-word phrase or two. a) A six-word strategy generally sounds trite. Real example from Twitter yesterday: “Takeaway from [redacted] discussion this morning: be fired up to empower people and don’t be afraid to take risks.” !! b) If you can turn your strategy into six words, why should anyone spend 30 minutes listening to you talk about it?
  3. They’re irrelevant. What you think is the most important thing you said often isn’t the most important thing you said for individual listeners. People jot down notes about things most relevant to their needs, not yours.
  4. They’re attention-killers. Takeaway slides at the end of an otherwise solid presentation signals to an audience that you’re finished talking about things that matter. Rude audiences will start packing up. Polite audiences will start checking programs for the next session.
  5. They’re boring. Can you imagine Anthony Hopkins closing the final scene of Silence of the Lambs by saying, “In summary, despite your best efforts at capturing me, I’m still a cannibal” instead of “I’m having an old friend for dinner”?

I can hear the protests now: “But my teacher said you always have to have an introduction and three main points and a summary conclusion! Mrs. Griswold can’t be wrong!”

Mrs. Griswold probably told you to use two spaces after a period, too, didn’t she?

It’s not high school anymore. Writing a term paper isn’t public speaking. Mrs. Griswold is dead.

And if the dictionary can evolve, so can your presentation conclusions.

Mea culpa

I’ve made the takeaway mistake. I’m not a public speaking expert. What I am is one of those listeners.

I’ve watched a TED Talk about leadership for 20 minutes, without being bored for a second or needing a recap. I’ve been entertained by Marcus Sheridan more than once for the same presentation. What they have in common is passion and expertise. They’re storytellers.

I’ve also heard Average Joe speakers who don’t use takeaway slides and still manage to be clear, interesting and memorable.

One of my favorites is a guy named Justin Davis. He used to live in Nashville, so I’d hear him at local BarCamp-type events. What I love about Justin’s decks is that, without him there to give the presentation, you wouldn’t have a clue what his main points are. That means his listeners have to… listen.

Here’s a recent example of Justin’s work:

I know nothing about that presentation, but I’d love to hear it. I’m sure I would remember it. Anything that ends with “Don’t forget the toilet paper tomorrow” just has to be good.

Anything that ends with takeaway slides is just lazy.

Postscript

Rick Edwards tweets about takeaways.

Arienne Holland is the Director of Marketing and Customer Experience at Raven. She divides her time between outreach, writing, teaching and understanding developers. Before Raven, Arienne spent more than a decade as an editor and graphic designer for Gannett. She was a 2010 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for team breaking news journalism. She likes bread, books and bourbon.

More about Arienne Holland | @RavenArienne

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