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I’ve spent a good part of my career working with content related to complex topics like pension and benefit plans and retirement financial planning concepts. I’ve often filled the role of marketing advisor to the technical wizards. Over time, I’ve learned how to distill this complex – and sometimes complicated – information into marketing and communication content that my audiences can understand in both B2B and B2C environments.

As a follow-up to a previous blog post, How to Create Visual Content Marketing that Works, which talked about what visual content marketing was and what platform it can be applied to. Here are a few examples of how to bring clarity to any message – in a way that, while created by a few experts, can be understood by many.

I’m sure you’ve experienced the 30-slide presentation that uses 9-point font and has been allotted a 30-minute time slot (with Q&A at the end). Or, the 20-page technical report that doesn’t provide a summary or visuals to help you understand the information contained in the document. In a word… painful! I believe, in so many cases, experts are so afraid of leaving something out that the essence of the message has been forgotten at the drafting stage. These are good candidates for distilling the messages.

A simple example:
You want to report on a rate of return for a particular stock over a 10-year period and you want to compare that to the benchmark index. Your expert might be inclined to show a line graph that plots 10 years of data (and uses 9-point font). The distilled information is titled ‘10-year Rate of Return’ and shows two numbers – the fund’s rate of return and the benchmark’s rate of return. Use colour coding (red for ‘in the red’, black for ‘in the black’) and you add more visual impact. Simple!

Another example:
Your engineering firm has been hired to design an upgrade to an industrial plant. It is a complex, five-year project. Management at the plant would like to share some information about the project with employees to let them know what they can expect. While all the project documents put together could fill a small vault, you create a two-page overview which answers some basic questions, visually graphs a condensed timeline showing project milestones, shows an artist’s rendering of what the new plant will look like, and tells employees how they can get more information on the project. And one more thing… and this is very important: the overview is written in plain language that a layman can understand.

Admittedly, these are very simplistic examples and it’s not to say that the information distilled away is not important – because it is. What is more important, however, is to focus on the main message when preparing and presenting content. Think simple… think visual!

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing an Apple veteran, Guy Kawasaki, speak about the art of innovation. He shared a simple rule he follows when presenting any new idea. Follow this 10/20/30 rule and you can’t help but distill your messages:

  1. Have only 10 slides
  2. Assume you have 20 minutes to talk
  3. Use a 30-point font.

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