Every great TED talk begins with a good outline. If you want your presentation to leave a TED-worthy impression, you’ll need to start planning long before the day of the speech: how can you make your message memorable? What should be included in the talk? What should be left out? Should there be jokes?
You’ll answer all these questions in the process of drafting a killer outline. Here are the three keys to mastering that outlining process.
1. MAKE YOUR MESSAGE CLEAR.
Every word of your speech should have to fight for its existence. That’s because your time–and your audience’s time–isn’t unlimited. With only a few minutes on stage, you’ve got to make sure that each phrase supports your speech’s message.
Start with your main claim. Your speech should have one, and only one. It should be so powerful that your audience can’t help but remember it.
Got it? Good. Now strike from your outline everything that isn’t essential to that point.
Speakers are tempted to take a “kitchen sink” approach to speechwriting, adding everything they can to the talk. But does the audience really need to know about what you had for lunch that day? Is that one attempt at humor really necessary?
Excellent presentations, no less than excellent novels, require their authors to “murder their darlings.” That means being so ruthless in editing and honing your message that even some clever bits get saved for another occasion. And trust me, there’s always another occasion. Great phrases of genius are never lost, just postponed.
In speaking, less is more. Make your message stand out by cutting the fat and bringing everything back to your central idea.
2. MAKE YOUR STRUCTURE COMPELLING.
Once you’ve got your speech’s core idea, you’ll build the main points of the speech around it. Those points should naturally guide the audience toward agreeing with you.
Every speech demands a few things of a speaker. You’ll need to explain your claim and how you discovered it, show why it’s important, and then say what the audience should do with it.
You’ll find that reflected in the classic “What… So what?… Now what?” format. You can also find it in the age-old “Problem… Cause… Solution” arrangement. Both take your audience from a place of apathy and inattention to being right alongside you in reaching your conclusion.
There are as many speech structures as there are speeches; don’t feel bound to any one of them. Whichever you choose, make sure it accomplishes what Nancy Duarte argues is true of all great speeches: it moves people to a better place by contrasting where we are now with where we should be. Contrast is critical for compelling presentations.
Contrast. Narrative cohesiveness. Clear organization. If your speech outline has these, it can’t fail.
3. MAKE YOUR SPEECH CONCISE.
By the end of Bill Clinton’s 1988 speech to the Democratic National Convention, the audience was cheering. But not because of any particular point Bill made. It was because the famously long-winded Clinton had utter those words that have uplifted many a weary audience: “In closing…”
The final element of a perfect outline is simple: make it say everything it needs to say in the time you’ve been given to say it. TED talks go for 18 minutes, but don’t feel you need to use all of that time. If you have 10 minutes of material, that’s excellent. Your outline should set you up to speak for 10 minutes.
It’s a lesson every actor and performer learns early: always leave them wanting more. You’ve lost your audience once they’re checking their watches.
Keep your speech short and sweet, and your listeners will love you for it.