Weeks 3 and 4 of the campus iteration of Professional Communication and Presentation are all about persuasion. Over the course of two weeks, students brainstorm and develop a persuasive topic; they then organize it using the Ignite model of presenting; the culmination of this process is the students delivering the presentation for their classmates. We begin our discussion of persuasion by talking about the importance of thorough idea generation and idea creation.
The core of a strong persuasive message is a unique and bold approach to a topic. Audiences by now have heard it all–especially in the speech class environment, where teachers often provide students with a list of generic, sterile, and over done topics like gun control and going green. So, instead of saying yes to the first “I want to save the world” idea a student pitches, we take students through a brainstorming exercise meant to help them hone their ideas down and really land on that once in a lifetime topic. The ultimate goal is to end the session with a clear big idea.
Before we get there, we talk about not only where good ideas come from but also what makes a big idea strong…
Coming up with a topic that is personal, unexpected, narrow enough for a five minute speech, and defendable through logic and reasoning is a difficult task, particularly in our “first draft culture” (Source). In Resonate, the course textbook, student learn that “the first, most obvious idea generated” is usually not the best one (Source).
So, in class, the brainstorming process involves both collecting ideas from as many relevant sources (what Duarte refers to as mining for gold) and creating new ideas (which requires us to move out of the head and into the gut). At this phase, a presenter’s best friend is sticky notes or paper. The goal, as Alex Rister puts it, is to “dig out your topic.”
So, what makes for a great idea? In the “Choosing an Ignite Topic” infographic, I refer to an excellent brainstorming article by Andrew Dlugan, curator of public speaking blog, Six Minutes. Dlugan believes that the perfect topic is a blend of what you know, what you love, and ideally, what’s relevant or important to your audience. I used to say, well, you can do well with two, but after four and a half years of watching PechaKuchas and Ignites, it’s become clear that all three are necessary for a topic to succeed.
A great big idea is also something unique and novel. Often, we land on the speech topic website topic because it seems like it makes sense to us, it’s the most logical and rational. However, this is not necessarily where great ideas come from (or not the only place). In Resonate, Duarte includes a wonderful description of Randy Olson’s Four Organs of Communication, which can help explain not only what appeals best to our audience but also where a great idea can come from.
Duarte explains why working from the lower regions, where emotion rules, can actually break a cycle of conditioning in most presenters:
People are more conditioned to generate content from their heads, because institutions encourage and reward employees who spend most of their time in their analytical region (head), so most people avoid the emotional region (heart, gut, and groin). (Source)
Once a presenter hones their topic down to a topic that blends all of these characteristics, it’s time to develop a big idea. The big idea is the core of a presentation; a presenter cannot determine what emotions, reasonings, and values he or she needs to appeal to without that big idea. Next time, I’ll cover how to turn that awesome topic into a solid big idea for a persuasive presentation.