Tag Archives: big idea

Chiara Lives! And she’s been watching TED

The past few months between some big transitions in the Professional Communication and Presentation team and two moves across Orlando, September and October have been a blur! I am taking a deep breath, returning to the gym, and sharing this amazing TED talk with you tonight on Tweak Your Slides; Ash Beckham nails a particularly impacting rhetorical strategy in her TEDxBoulder talk, “Coming out of your closet.”

An impacting metaphor/comparison can take an un-relatable, complex, subjective, or polarizing idea and create a bridge of commonality that can break down barriers. In this talk, Beckham talks about coming out of the closet–but not in the way you think. Yes, Beckham shares her experience coming out to friends and family, but she says, that’s just one type of closet. We all have a closet–whether it is infidelity, bankruptcy, cancer…our closet is whatever is hard for us to be open about, what is hard for us to share with others. She introduces the closet metaphor and carries it through to her call to action, “a closet is not a place for a person to truly live.” She encourages her audience to find their closet and come out. In addition to harnessing the power of metaphor, she shares three lessons we can apply to public speaking:

Be yourself. Don’t wear armor.

Garr Reynolds says that we have to get naked to truly connect with audiences. We put on the armor of bullet-riddled slides, robotic delivery, and haphazard preparation to protect us from the judgment we feel from others in a speaking situation. That armor though, benefits neither speaker nor audience. To connect with others, you have to take off that armor!

Be direct. Just say it.

Directness and simplicity are the keys to a strong message. Filler words, fluff, irrelevant information, and decorated slides move us away from the core of our message, the idea that we want others to take on in the first place.

Be unapologetic. Speak your truth.

Like authenticity, being open as a speaker and sharing failure as well as success requires confidence in oneself. This goes for content in the form of storytelling and delivery in the form of those apologies for normal human behavior that we pepper our speech with.

Consider not only her message–what’s that difficult message you have to share with others–but also those wonderful rhetorical lessons: use relatable metaphors and be real.


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Content Development: Crafting a Big Idea

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Previously on Tweak Your Slides, I covered the basics of idea creation and idea generation. Once you have engaged in divergent and convergent thinking and narrowed your topic choices down to the one topic that best fits in with your experience, your passions, and your audience’s needs, it’s time to  analyze your audience, and then develop a central theme, thesis, or big idea to guide the presentation development process.

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What is a big idea?

Whether you call it a thesis, controlling idea, theme, or main point, a strong persuasive presentation begins with a clearly articulated and assertive big idea. The big idea is what forms the basis for the rest of the presentation. Without a clear sense of what your purpose is in presenting your logic, emotional points, and credibility, your presentation flounders and your audience remains confused and unsure. Presentation expert Nancy Duarte discusses a big idea in Chapter 4 of her second book, Resonate“a big idea is that one key message you want to communicate. It contains the impetus that compels the audience to set a new course with a new compass heading” (Source). So, a big idea includes not only the core of a presentation’s purpose, but it also contains the exigency or necessity of that message as it relates to the audience. Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick and creators of the SUCCESs acronym (Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories) refer to this as the core of the message. The process of brainstorming and then drafting a big idea is known as “finding the core,” which “means stripping an idea down to its most critical essence” (Source). “Finding the core” is central to crafting a successful “sticky” message:

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This process, however, does not mean that a big idea needs to be dumbed down. The Heath brothers make a clear distinction between simple and simplistic. A strong big idea is about “elegance and prioritization, not about dumbing down” (Source).

What makes for a strong big idea?

In addition to ensuring a big idea is simple, elegant, and essential, Duarte provides three (really four) basic keys to crafting a strong big idea (Source). A big idea should:

1. Communicate your unique POV on a topic

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Instead of simply presenting a topic: “ways to go green”, a strong big idea provides the presenter’s unique point of view on the general topic (for instance, “using reusable bags can save the environment”). The idea doesn’t have to be outrageous to be interesting, merely unique and personal. This is so often why choosing a topic you already know lots about and that really matters to you is a good starting point for idea creation. It is easier to communicate a unique perspective on a topic you know well.

2. Convey what’s at stake, or, pass the “so what?” test

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So, it’s great that you have a unique perspective, but why should your audience care about that perspective? The second important piece to crafting a strong big idea is what’s at stake aka necessity aka exigency aka so what? For your audience to truly adopt a perspective on a topic, they have to understand how their participation in your perspective is needed, what could be lost or gained if your perspective is put into action, and why they should act in the first place. If we return to our previous topic, what does the audience gain by using reusable bags? what happens if they don’t? why does their choice matter?

3. Be a complete sentence

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If we think of the first two parts of a big idea as an equation or formula, the third is the solution, the two parts joined and expressed as one simple, complete thought. Duarte suggests that the pronoun “you” be part of this construct. Doing this helps you ensure that the big idea is for the audience. When we take the first two pieces of of our sample big idea above, we can formulate our core, our big idea:

Part One:

I want you to use reusable bags instead of plastic bags.

Part Two:

Reusable bags are better for the environment because they reduce the number of plastic bags produced and used; they also save time and strain when shopping (4 plastic to 1 reusable).

The resulting big idea combines parts one and two into one complete sentence.

The resulting big idea combines parts one and two into one complete sentence.

One final important aspect of a strong big idea is emotion. According to Duarte, “[ultimately], there are only two emotions–pleasure and pain. A truly persuasive presentation plays on those emotions” to either increase pain and lower pleasure if the audience does not adopt the perspective, or to increase pleasure and lower pain if the audience adopts the big idea (Source).

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In the next content development series, we’ll explore the acronym SUCCESs further and discuss how it relates to creating strong persuasive content.

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Content Development: Generating Good Ideas

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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.

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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).

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According to Duarte, it takes three or four rounds of idea generation (using convergent and divergent thinking) to land on that best choice.

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.”

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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.

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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)

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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.

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GoTo Training Lesson: Murder Your Darlings

Yesterday, I shared with you one lesson related to slide design I put into practice in revising my slides for this week’s GoTo Training on delivery for the online environment. A second lesson to draw from my GoTo Training/REAL Delivery adaptation is the importance of cutting content and slides to fit a new purpose. In class, we discuss delivery for 6 hours, but our GoTo Training is only scheduled for an hour. That means I had to cut at least 60-70 slides from this 110-slide deck. Needless to say, this was a challenge. What is important? What isn’t? What do I think is important, and what does my audience need to know? Nancy Duarte discusses this concept in Resonate:

Although you may feel that all the ideas you generated are insightfully riveting and took a ton of time to generate, they need to be sorted and organized–and some ideas need to be killed off.

The purpose of this violent act is to keep the focus on the audience. Without the editing and shaving off of what may seem necessary to you but is not necessary to your audience’s understanding of that particular subject, you will lose your most important tool in creating an idea that spreads–the audience themselves.  As Duarte explains, we must murder our darlings because “striking a balance between withholding and communicating information is what separates the great presenters from the rest” (Source).

So, while it may be difficult and gut wrenching, a lesson I am sharing with all my students this week as they prepare to rehearse the delivery portion of their Ignite presentations is “murder your darlings.” Take the time to really hone in on the core of your message and nix anything that doesn’t communicate that core.


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