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7 Lessons for Delivering a Powerful Message

Jane Friedman shares 7 lessons for delivering a powerful message that she learned while attending TEDxCincy.
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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.

7 Lessons for Delivering a Powerful Message

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?)

7 Lessons for Delivering a Powerful Message

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.

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