(This is Part 4 in the Communicator’s University Series. Read Part 3 here.)
The single best thing you can do when speaking publicly is to synthesize your thoughts into one succinct, memorable, and pithy statement–and deliver it multiple times during the second half of your message.
Now read it again, this time with meaning: “The single best thing you can do when speaking publicly is to synthesize your thoughts into one succinct, memorable, and pithy statement–and deliver it multiple times during the second half of your message.”
Big Idea vs. Theme
The problem is that most public speakers aren’t willing to work hard enough, or give it the time, to boil their thoughts down to one “big idea” and then make it cool enough that it will be memorable. Some speakers think a “big idea” is the same as a theme, but it isn’t. A big idea is a succinct, memorable, pithy statement that reflects the central teaching. It is the thing that people take with them. Some principles:
- Hint at your Big Idea early in the message, but don’t you dare deliver it until the second half. See my post on speaking inductively, not deductively, and you’ll know why I say this.
- Trim the idea down to twelve words or less. Yes you can.
- Google search “quotes about _______” and I’ll bet you’ll see something that will trigger a memorable idea. Work it, work it, work it until it is short and pithy.
- Pay attention to when words move you emotionally. It could be something you read, or a phrase you hear, or a song that’s sung. If the words move you, they’ll move other people.
- When you deliver your Big Idea, repeat it again and again and again until you think your audience is sick of it. I’d like you to say it at least eight times, using the exact same wording, but applying it in varying ways.
Cookies and Letters
Here’s an example. (I’m illustrating!) A few months ago I read the book Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar. It’s the powerful story of those 33 Chilean miners who survived for weeks underground in 2010. It moved me as I read how they kept breaking cookies (their only food supply) into smaller and smaller daily rations. When they were fading, at about day 15, a few started to write their good-bye letters to family–but many refused to write letters, because they felt like they would be psychologically giving in.
About that time I was speaking to a group of people who needed to calibrate their dwindling resources (energy, money, manpower) so they could make it through to the other side.
So here’s what I did. I started the message by re-telling the Chilean miners’ story–including the cookies and a cursory reference to the goodbye letters. I sprinkled hints along the way, and then near the end of the message I looked at this gathering of faith-filled people and said this: “Around here, we’ll break cookies long before we write letters.” I’m sure I repeated that about eight to ten times in the last ten minutes of my talk, applying it at every turn.
Work on your Big Idea. It is the single best thing you can do to enhance your public speaking.