What’s the Big Idea?
Every successful speech and presentation drives home one — and only one — big idea.
A big idea organizes, ties together, and makes sense of many smaller ideas.
Great speeches advance one big idea. At Gettysburg Lincoln spoke of the birth, death, and rebirth of liberty. At the outbreak of WWII in his first address as Prime Minister to the House of Commons, Churchill answered the question “What is our aim?” with one word: Victory. On the steps of the Lincoln Monument, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of his dream – and America’s dream — of freedom and equality.
Lincoln’s speech, which was by far the shortest (under two minutes), was also the most tightly focused. But even it addressed — and tied together — several smaller ideas (dedicating a graveyard, honoring the dead, committing ourselves to their struggle).
The problem with most speeches is their lack of a big idea. If they present any overarching idea at all, it’s usually a small idea that leaves audiences asking, “Is that all there is?” or “Who cares?”
By their very nature, presentations tend to communicate more information and, often times, more ideas than speeches. (Here is how I differentiate a speech from a presentation.) But effective presentations still expound one big idea.
Watch Hans Rosling’s presentation at TED. (It’s a masterful presentation.) In 15 minutes he presents an amazing amount of information — especially statistics — and he develops several ideas. (Many of his ideas deserve their own speech.) But all of the information and all of his ideas develop a single message, Rosling’s big idea: The economies of Asia are catching up to the economies of the West.
The greatest curse of most presentations — audience’s most common complaint — is too much information. But the real culprit is not too much information but the lack of a big idea that ties all the information together and makes sense of it.
Do you have any examples of presentations that develop a single, clear big idea that you’d like to share?
Photo courtesy of Guido van Nispen at Flickr.