Your audience should always leave your presentation with something they’ll always remember. But, what does it actually take to create a memorable STAR moment?
In her landmark text on developing persuasive and engaging content, Resonate, Nancy Duarte devotes an entire chapter to what she calls STAR moments, those moments in a presentation when an audience truly achieves shared meaning with a presenter. According to Duarte, a STAR moment should “dramatically drive the big idea home” (Source), and it should be a “significant, sincere, and enlightening” (Source) moment that imprints the audience so much so that they spread and share the big idea long after the presentation ends. In teaching this particular presentation strategy, I’ve found that one can codify and define the types of actions that serve as STAR moments: memorable dramatizations, like Bill Gates releasing mosquitos on a TED conference audience; emotive storytelling, like Jill Bolte Taylor’s dynamic recreation of her massive brain stroke; evocative visuals, like Lisa Kristine’s hauntingly beautiful images of a few of the 28 million people enslaved throughout the world; repeatable sound bites like Martin Luther King, Jr.s “I have a dream…”; and shocking statistics, like Michael Pollan’s revelation that 28 oz of crude oil go into making each and every one of those quarter pounders with cheese sold at McDonalds every day. But, I’ve also learned that one can define a set of qualities that all of these strategies embody.
So, these are excellent examples of types of STAR moments, but what makes a STAR moment actually memorable? What is it about what these and other great speakers do that leads to that mental hook in the audience? A former student, Elianna Bentz, led a class discussion several months ago that really helped put the qualities of a strong STAR moment into an easily digestible format. A STAR Moment should be Simple, Transferable, Audience-centered, Repeatable, and Meaningful.
The job of the STAR moment is often to take a very complicated problem and break it down to its simplest, most human, most transparent form. Chip and Dan Heath believe simplicity starts by removing superfluous elements and getting to the core of an idea. They compare it to the way a journalist writes an article–the lead comes first, and is not buried by complexities (Source). In the same way, a STAR moment has to be straightforward and evocative. Take for example Benjamin Zander’s STAR moment in the TED talk below. To help the audience understand the technicality of music, he demoes what piano playing is like at different ages and breaks down a prelude by Chopin note by note. But, to help the audience understand just how impacting classical music can be, before he plays the piece a second time, he asks the audience to imagine a lost loved one. The first time I did this, I was in tears. I’ve watched the speech now each month for four years and its impact is never the same unless I succumb to Zander’s request.
A STAR moment cannot exist in the vacuum of the speaker’s own mind and heart; it’s emotional impact has to be transferred to the audience so that they can internalize it. According to Duarte, a STAR moment is “rehearsed and planned to have just the right amount of analytical and emotional appeal to engage both the minds and hearts of an audience” (Source). Bill Gates’ 2009 TED talk contains such a moment. After establishing the problem–malaria is a worldwide problem (200 million are affected), but because the people affected do not have the wealth and resources to stop the problem, not enough is being done. To transfer the impact of this problem to a room full of TEDsters, wealthy folks who cannot necessarily relate to or understand the problem, he releases mosquitos into the audience, stating “there’s no reason only poor people should have the experience” (Source). Brilliant transference!
A great STAR moment requires audience-analysis and audience adaptation.Why? Because without audience analysis and adaptation, how can a speaker truly know what will impact his or her target audience, what will push through the wall of bias and resistance present in each audience member, what will be easily understood by the audience? The last day of Professional Communication and Presentation is Ignite presentation day. Two days ago, I witnessed one of the strongest STAR moments. Shayna wanted to communicate to her classmates that while they are all a product of the environments they came from, such a truth does not necessarily mean one has to be a slave to that idea or to what one learned as a result of one’s upbringing. She began her presentation by describing what it means to be a slave; she wore chains around her arms while she described this concept. For the next two minutes of her presentation she established her big idea, used storytelling, statistics, facts, and examples to support her big idea. She then told the story of having lost friends and family to drug abuse and how these experiences led her to act, to break her chains. She then threw the chains wrapped around her arms down. The reaction from her classmates was audible–the air literally went out of the room. By the end of her presentation, she had her audience in tears, fired up and ready to take control of their destinies.
Repeatable and Meaningful
Finally, a STAR moment (if it embodies the first three qualities) must be easily repeatable/describable and also meaningful enough that the audience must repeat it. According to Duarte, “a carefully crafted sound bite can work as a STAR moment–not only for those who attend your presentation, but also for those who encounter it second hand” (Source). One of the most beautiful, repeatable, and meaningful STAR moments of our time is the repetition in Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream.” Dr. King, who spoke this portion of the speech extemporaneously and without a pre-written set of points (Clarence Jones describes the moment when King pushed his speech aside and spoke from the heart in this NPR interview). What made it repeatable was the simplicity of the phrase; what made it meaningful is that he was vocalizing America’s collective dream of the future. In order to help the audience visualize a positive future, motivate them to action, inspire their waning spirits, and tie the dream of desegregation to the long line of America’s dream, King repeats the phrase and follows it with what Nancy Duarte calls “new bliss,” a visualization of the world with his idea in place. This phrase has become part of our cultural consciousness in the United States and it helped reinvigorate the hearts and minds of King’s followers.
So, by choosing a type of STAR moment and then ensuring it meets the qualities above, you too can create a moment that shines on long after you say “Thank you for your time. Any questions?”