Tag Archives: speech writing

What makes a STAR moment shine?

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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!


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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

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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?”

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Six Minutes is back: Three offerings from my favorite blog

Oh joy! My absolute favorite public speaking blog is back in full force. Over the past few weeks, Andrew Dlugan, curator of Six Minutes, has been blogging up a storm and providing readers with all new excellent articles, insights, and resources on all things public speaking nerd. I am busy grading 130 new assignments before my upcoming college visits trip with my mother and sister (eek! My sister is an adult!), but I wanted to share three of my favorite recent offerings from Six Minutes:

5 Ways you Can Make Money Speaking

This has been a topic at the forefront of my mind for a few months. As a teacher, I don’t expect to make the big bucks, and for me, teaching in a place that enriches my existing skill set and helps me make a different in others’ lives is really what motivates my creativity. However, I am also determined to return to school for my PhD or EdD without incurring any more student loan debt. So, I’ve been consulting with family and friends about monetizing Tweak Your Slides and offering my design and consulting services. Dlugan’s article is focused primarily on making money as a speaker, but his advice to explore the world of corporate training where “training professionals collectively earn the largest fraction of the speaking industry’s dollars (Source)” because of the length and frequency of sessions, is right in line with not only my existing skills but also can further grow my skills as educator and designer. Do you design or speak for money? Does Dlugan’s advice work in your case? What was your journey to monetized public speaking nerdness like?

Speech Transitions: Magical Words and Phrases

Transitions, those little bridges we remember are so important in writing (partly because written language gives us more verbal cues that something is ending and beginning–periods, paragraphs, indentations) but that we sometimes forget about in speech, are the subject of this article. Transitions are necessary but they are also rather magical. Without transitions, a speech can seem disjointed and disconnected; an audience in turn leaves the presentation unsure of how the individual pieces in the presentation lead to the whole “big idea.” In this article, Dlugan describes not only the uses of transitions (help create flow, show relationships between ideas, and help with comprehension) but also provides readers with a handy list of transitional phrases that communicate different relationships/serve different purposes.

How to Choose and Use Speech Props

The final article I’d like to share with readers today is about the somewhat forgotten yet remarkably effective presentation tool, the prop. Thousands of presentations are delivered each day, and chances are that only a small fraction of those move outside of the now standard and often dreaded expectation of PowerPoint. But, as Dlugan points out, using a prop well, as Bill Gates did in his 2009 TED talk, can completely change an audience’s perception of not only a speaker’s message but the speaker himself. In this article, Dlugan cite six reasons to consider the power of the prop in a presentation:

1. Props are concrete (this is so important in a speech, where the main mode of communication is verbal, which is by nature more abstract than visual.)

2. Props are unexpected (as Chip and Dan Heath explain, unexpectedness is one key mark of a truly sticky idea!)

3. Props are emotional (because they are visceral, they bring up all kinds of sensory associations untapped by a word or visual or bullet-riddled death machine).

4. Props are dramatic (Have you seen Bill Gates open up that jar of mosquitos? Jill Bolte Taylor interact with a real brain in her TED talk? People cannot help but physically react when a speech enters the realm of the tangible!)

5. Props require preparation (and a prepared presenter is a more effective, confident, and engaging presenter!)

6. Props are memorable (four years after a student persuaded us to do something about gang violence by sharing the story of her friend, who’d been killed in an initiation, what I remember most about that story is the way she held a single golf club–the same type of club her friend used to defend himself in the attack that killed him.)

Read the rest of the article here for more on how to choose a strong prop and harness the untapped power of unexpectedness!

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