This last week I had fun writing about becoming a better communicator and why we need to grow in this area. I thought I’d wrap up with some closing thoughts about communication. Over the past 5-7 years, I’ve been given more and more opportunities to communicate on a variety of stages. Some of the experiences have been spectacular and others have been… let’s just say I wish I could have done things differently.
From my experiences, here are the things I’ve found to be most true of my very best talks. I know that when I do these things, my talk is far more likely to be great.
Don’t write your talk alone
My best talks are one that I get help writing. It’s not that I have a collaborative team helping me write, but I get a LOT of input at multiple parts of the writing process. When possible, I like to bounce ideas off of people in the early phases, when it’s just an idea. Getting 15-20 minutes in front of a white board with someone can be pretty significant. Next, I’ll usually write a first draft of my talk and then give it to 2-3 people to read and invite thorough criticism. I ask about what ideas are working and which one’s aren’t. What ideas have I left out. I might even sit down with someone for an hour and walk through the entire draft to help find the fireworks that are missing. After making these revisions, I’ll have a few other people help me edit and polish. Usually at this place, I’m trying to eliminate words. My wife, who is a verbal minimalist will help me say what I need to say with less words.
I’ve found having people help in the writing process to be so critical. I often find myself becoming weary after a certain amount of time. I become less creative and it’s harder for me to find the right idea. Having people who will give me the time to help is one of the most valuable resources I have. After writing a really good manuscript, I frequently wonder why so many people would do this all on their own. My best talks are always talks that have been shaped by many voices.
Use vivid illustrations
It takes time to figure out what these are going to be. When teaching kids, we use props. Of course we use props, they’re kids. I’m curious as to why we think that adults don’t need these intentional illustrations either. Sure, we don’t “need” a prop, but those are the messages that stand out the most, right?
I think we often don’t use vivid illustrations because it takes a lot of creative work to come up with one that really delivers a “pow!” The illustration we use has the potential to make our talk highly memorable. Take the time to make the illustrations amazing.
Usually, it’s worth making a fool of yourself on stage. A month ago I decided to start my talk with an illustration of a Middle School dance. I recalled the story of my 8th grade dance and the awkwardness that ensued. I decided to punctuate the illustration with me awkwardly “slow dancing” with my imaginary 8th grade crush to the music of “Tonight” by Genesis with all the lighting you’d expect at your middle school dance. It was an early idea and I was talking myself out of it all the way until the morning of the talk, but I knew it had to be done… no matter how embarrassing it was going to be. I did it and it was THE BEST. It set up the talk in such a great way and helped create a sticky/memorable statement that helped drive the central point home.
Even when working with kids, there have been moments on and off the stage where I took a risk and 5, 10 and even more years later, kids talk about that moment. Don’t be afraid to take a risk, they’ll be remembered.
Craft sticky statements
Most of our curriculums have bottom lines now. We’re used to them now. But when talking in other environments, we don’t usually think about them.
A good sticky statement will last with someone. It’s usually thought provoking, challenging and even inspiring. Take the time necessary to find your sticky statements and plan/practice their delivery for big impact.
Practice, practice, practice
Practice is my nemesis. Once I’ve written a message, I often feel like I’ve already put so many hours into it. I’m frequently tempted to just “go with it” after running through it a time or two. I’ve had some great messages and moments with little practice, especially in the energy of the moment and with the enthusiasm of the crowd. But my best talks are always the ones that have been most prepared.
Taking many hours to practice helps you find the best rhythm for delivery, it helps you know exactly how long your message is (so you can make adjustments if necessary) and help you practice those sticky statements so they have a great delivery. Taking time to practice helps you work out the kinks with using visuals and where you should walk to, stand or sit during key parts of you talk. All of these things matter and the more time you give to practice, the better your talk will go.
Okay, those are my recent learnings. I’m no expert when it comes to communication, but I know what it feels like to deliver a bad talk and to deliver an exceptional talk. These five things are almost always present with the exceptional talks.