7 Lessons for Delivering a Powerful Message

I attended TEDxCincy today. (I’m a huge fan of TED in general.)

It was a professionally produced event, with an impressive roster of accomplished people invited to speak.

But sometimes the most accomplished people are not the best speakers, meaning too many messages today were not as effective as they could’ve been.

And so, my greatest takeaway from TEDxCincy has become a valuable lesson in how to deliver a more powerful, memorable message. While these principles came out of hearing people speak, I believe they apply across many mediums.

1. Focus on sharing your vision, not emphasizing the root problem.
I heard one speaker say that the purpose of his speech was “to torment you [with this problem] as it torments me.” He focused relentlessly on the severity of a problem, or why everyone needed to take the problem seriously.

There is a time and place for wake-up calls, but the most effective presentations usually offer a vision, or an inspiring solution to a vexing problem.

People want to hear positive, life-affirming things. They want optimism, hope, belief. They want the art of possibility.

Give people an idea or dream of how life COULD be, if only we took action, or changed a behavior. Rally people around a common vision.

2. Use stories to inspire and support your message.

I enjoy a revealing or startling statistic like anyone else, but a laundry list of statistics, without full context or stories, becomes meaningless and boring. You persuade people and change their behavior by appealing to their heart, not their head.

3. Go after ONE idea, not the laundry list.
It’s tempting to throw every possibility out there. But a laundry list of solutions or opportunities isn’t memorable.

Repetition and reinforcement of an idea is critical, and this can’t
happen if the topic gets changed every couple minutes. A big idea needs
to be carefully framed and grounded, then expanded upon. Commentary
can’t seem random; the audience needs a through-line, needs to feel like the
message is building, gaining momentum, going somewhere.

(I wonder: Maybe people are jumping around so often because they don’t
trust any single idea to be powerful enough to carry a talk?)

4. Make it easy to spread your message.
People can get so close to their subject matter (or their passion) that they lack the distance to convey an understandable message about it. It’s the classic forest-for-the-trees problem.

Jargon or specialized terms have no place of any kind in a general-interest message, and the most inspiring speakers are the ones who can make their point compelling to anyone, and sharable by anyone.

Stay out of the weeds, focus on the compelling takeaway idea you want people to be discussing long after you’ve left the stage. (How does each part of what you say reinforce that ONE idea?)

5. Enthusiasm and energy matter—A LOT.
You can tell when people are bored by (or unsure of) what they’re saying. Their whole delivery and attitude changes to that of someone going through the motions, just trying to get to the end. It could be they’ve lost conviction or interest in what they’re saying—or maybe they’re just emptying out the purse of every intriguing idea they’ve ever had but haven’t really considered, so let’s rush through it! Deadly!

6. Don’t let the visuals override you, or become the higher entertainment.
The speaker should always be the focus, and the visuals should support, illustrate or amplify a point the speaker is making. There shouldn’t be so many slides that none are worth showing for more than a few seconds, and there shouldn’t be any slides that give a different message than what the speaker is delivering. And of course visuals should not distract. Reinforcement is the name of the game.

7. Give your audience an immediate answer to “So what?”
Every time we give our time to someone else, we immediately look for the reason we’re granting that time. Why does this matter? How is this relevant? How will this help me live better, do good, change the world, shift my thinking, modify my outlook?

In part, this means: Don’t tell your personal story to a general audience unless it’s highly unusual. No one wants to hear about you, though certainly tell about vulnerabilities and mistakes; offer symbolic stories that teach. But always tie it back—tie it back to the vision, to the universal. Make it about something bigger than yourself.

What have I missed? Where am I wrong?

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10 thoughts on “7 Lessons for Delivering a Powerful Message

  1. adisonadolf

    his is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the leisure here! Keep up the excellent work.
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  2. DazyDayWriter

    Loved this — "They want the art of possibility." How very true. We can all list the terrible and the dramatic, but it takes more than that to motivate people, to inspire. And without inspiration, the heart refuses to go along w/the message. Thanks, Jane, for sharing these useful ideas here. Best wishes from SunnyRoomStudio

  3. Kathy Caprino

    Hi Jane – Love all your points. To me, engaging an audience is about sharing a core-essence nugget of who you are with a brave, authentic message that enlivens and motivates the audience to do something different or think something different. As Krista Carnes says above, not everybody is a rockstar speaker – but if we are speaking to people, we’ve got to try our best to make it count to those who’ve honored us by showing up.

  4. chuckerte

    I just happened on this site. Is this a sight of nothing but critiques. Did you witness any astonishing or astounding presentations? do you have anything good to recognize of the whole event or talks?

  5. Herm Mays

    Really great advice! If only I had this before my TEDxCincy talk! Its hard for many academics accustomed to speaking to their peers at scientific conferences on fairly arcane things to shift gears and make their work compelling to the public, especially at a big event like TEDx.

  6. Hyla Molander

    Thank you for another useful, inspiring post. As you’ve stated before, it’s all about connecting on a human level. There is an assumed authority when listening to a speaker, but the words are lost if delivered without authenticity and passion. Having had the honor of hearing you speak about the publishing industry several months ago, I know this is something at which you’re quite skilled. I’ll read this post again before my next speaking engagement, in hopes that I can follow your lead.

  7. SleepingWithTheLaundry

    Laura,

    Wonderful post. I agree. We go to conferences for ideas and inspiration:

    It’s tempting to throw every possibility out there. But a laundry list of solutions or opportunities isn’t memorable. Repetition and reinforcement of an idea is critical.

    Optimism is contagious. If you’re interested, here’s my thoughts on the day. I’ve distilled it to 3 things I want to take away and do in my life:http://themoxiemoms.blogspot.com/2010/10/3-simple-things-i-learned-at-tedxcincy.html

  8. Krista Carnes

    Way to rock it, Jane! Been watching your Tweets from TEDxCincy. TED and TED-inspired events are wonderful models for event producers everywhere.

    My comment: Not all experts are expert presenters. Like most talents it takes education, practice, passion and a healthy dose of chutzpah. And though I think your points apply to all the ways we can publicly display content, not everyone is cut out to wow an auditorium full of people. Some may never have "it" at all and that’s okay. There are so many wonderful, exciting ways to share a message.

    Maybe you should be present on presenting somewhere soon!

  9. Newton Saber

    Your points are full of great insight. I too have sat through many _dog & pony_ shows at different companies I have worked for, as various misinformed, inept speakers have tripped over microphones.
    <tap> <tap> "Is this thing on?"

    It’s funny that you discovered the hidden curriculum, which is _How Not to Inform an Audience_. 🙂

    [MAKE IT EASY TO SPREAD MESSAGE]
    One more thing — I was wondering what TED stood for, so I clicked the TEDxCincy link above. Slow page so I quickly clicked the About link. I couldn’t find what TED stood for on that page while scanning. Hmm…Possibly a clue to the associated thought process.

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