Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What's the big idea? What those TED-like talks are looking for

You want to give one of those big talks someday, maybe soon. An Ignite talk, a Moth presentation, a TEDx or TED talk--that kind of big talk. And there's just one thing standing between you and that goal: One big idea.

That's because if you're going to make the most of those 3- or 5- or 15- or 20-minute opportunities, you need to narrow your focus down to one big idea. To stay in the minds of the live audience and get liked and shared by the online audience, just one idea will do. Not 50, not 15, not even three, but one. And that's the tripping point for many would-be givers of big talks. What's the big idea? That's the question they can't answer. A big idea requires a point of view, an opinion, the ability to zero in on a target.

Close readers of the blog will recall that I advise breaking your message into three key points, as most speaker coaches do--that's because we remember things best in threes and are almost hard-wired to do so. (And that's true for both speaker and audience.) Here's the connection: You'll use your three key points to put across your big idea. They're the three reasons we should decide to do that crazy thing you just proposed, the three arguments against that popular trend, the three things you're missing when you decide to do x. But you still need to give us that big idea to move toward, even as you lay out the steps to get us there.

I know, you have lots of ideas. And lots of facts to share. And, oh, those opinions-by-the-score. I'll even let you work some of them into the three points you'll get to undergird your big idea, if you promise to just focus on one big idea for this big talk. For technical experts and scientists who are used to backing up and giving us all the background we might possibly need to grasp the big idea, this can be a particular challenge. But I promise, your audience will sit in the palm of your hand and do so more happily if you can winnow it down to one idea.

Don't forget that the audience you need to win over starts with the conference organizers, by the way. The folks who put together these high-stakes conferences want smart people who can share new thoughts and approaches...if they can focus on one big idea. Failure to focus when you are proposing a big talk, or when you're approached to give one, can mean you don't get the opportunity...or if you get up to speak and that big point doesn't come across, it may mean you won't be asked back.

Here's one example of a detail-filled talk with a wonderful big idea for cancer patients: A surgeon describes a way to make cancer tumors and nerves fluorescent so they can be surgically removed (or avoided) with more accuracy. It's worth taking the time to develop a message with your big idea in it before you pursue those big-talk opportunities--and so you're ready when the call comes. Let me know if I can help you work on that; just email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

Looking for famous speeches by women? Check out The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, with a wide variety of women speakers, types of speeches and topics to inspire your next speech. Each one comes with lessons for speakers, plus video or audio and a transcript, where available.