Read the text of Nora Ephron’s 1996 commencement speech at Wellesley College here.
I knew that Nora Ephron was a great screenwriter, but I didn’t know until after her death last month that she also knew how to write a presentation that was funny and memorable.
When I saw her first films, Silkwood and Heartburn, I didn’t know who Ephron was. But I certainly recognized her work when I enjoyed When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail and Julie and Julia. One of the articles about Ephron’s life led me to watch a video of her 1996 commencement speech at Wellesley College, her alma mater.
With no film, and certainly no PowerPoint slides, Ephron created vivid scenes that I can recall later as easily as I remember key moments in her movies. When you ask yourself how to write a presentation that will stick with your audience, remember to pepper it with detail.
Because of the details Ephron included, I could imagine being in a dorm at Wellesley in 1958 when “if you had a boy in your room, you had to leave the door open six inches.” I could see Ephron writing the speech on her computer when she describes it “next to a touchtone phone with an answering machine and a Rolodex, there are several CDs on my desk, a bottle of Snapple, there are felt-tip pens and an electric pencil sharpener.”
Instead of saying directly that abortion was illegal, she describes it this way: “If you needed an abortion, you drove to a gas station in Union, New Jersey, with $500 in cash in an envelope and you were taken, blindfolded, to a motel room and operated on without an anesthetic.”
By using the specific name “tunicata” instead of “a small fish” Ephron cements it in the audience’s memories when she describes its habits and how an article in the Harvard Crimson had compared Wellesley “girls” to it.
I see glimpses of Ephron at different stages in her life, based on only five words she used to describe herself at those times.
Details bring your stories to life. They are the difference in how to write a presentation that is vivid and memorable instead of one that is ho-hum.
What’s your favorite line from a Nora Ephron movie?