The Power of a Great Red Thread in a Commencement Address
What do you do when you have less time to present your pitch or speech than you thought you had? It can be terrifying, especially if you’re not in charge of what the product of that edited message is going to be. In this episode of Find the Red Thread, we take a look at just how much power a great Red Thread can have by examining a video summary of Sheryl Sandberg’s 2017 Commencement Address to Virginia Tech.
Sandberg’s original talk was 25 minutes, and 3,300 words. But the clip that ran on CNBC was only 2 minutes, and 195 words. The astonishing thing is that all the major points of her longer talk survived the edit. How? Because her speech hits all the pieces of the Red Thread in the right order.
Tamsen breaks down the clip of Sandberg’s talk to highlight how her Goal, Problem, Idea, and Change statements create a strong throughline that survives even a huge edit. If you build your message up from the Red Thread, you can easily expand it for a larger presentation. But you also know what you need to hit for a shorter version that has the same impact as the full talk.
- Sheryl Sandberg’s full 2017 Commencement Address to Virginia Tech
- CNBC’s 2-minute excerpt of Sandberg’s speech
- The Red Thread Worksheet
Have you ever had a situation where you suddenly had a lot less time to present your pitch, or message, or presentation than you thought you did? I think, most of us have been in that situation. And it can be terrifying. Especially if we’re not the ones in charge of how much time we have or what the ultimate product of that cut-down message is going to be. But, if we take a look at Sheryl Sandberg’s 2017 Commencement Address to Virginia Tech, we have some really good clues on just how much power a great Red Thread can have. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com and this is Find The Red Thread.
Sheryl Sandberg’s original talk was 25 minutes and 3,300 words. And then an editor, not her editor, but CNBC’s video editor comes in and cuts it down to two minutes and 195 words. And yet, all the major points of her longer talk survive in that clip. Why? Because she managed to hit, in the right order, all the pieces of the Red Thread. She’s not a client. She didn’t work with me and use the Red Thread method to build this talk. But it does show that when those elements are there, it makes the talk understandable to anybody in any amount of time.
So let’s take a look at the clip. Then you can go watch the longer thing later, but the clip, itself, is really interesting. Because right out of the gate, we hear the Goal Statement. Remember, the Goal Statement is not the speaker’s goal. It’s a statement by the speaker to the audience about what the audience will get, what goal they can achieve by listening to her talk.
And what she says is that she spent the last two years studying resilience. So the topic is resilience, so we, the audience, know that it’s going to be about that. And the fact that she’s studying it, tells us there’s going to be lessons learned. So, clearly, by implication here, is we’re going to learn from Sheryl Sandberg what she learned about resilience. “How can I learn about resilience from you?”
She goes on to explain why she was studying it but then she sets up, or rather the editor sets up, her Problem Statement, which was a discovery that she made as a result of all that studying. And the discovery was this: that we are not born with a certain amount of resilience. And that’s a perfect Problem Statement, by the way, because it sets up a difference. A binary, a dichotomy between the world as we may think it was, and the world as she discovered it actually is. We may think that we had a certain amount of resilience and she is saying, “Uh-uh. We’re not born with that amount.”
Once she said that it sets up her Idea Statement beautifully. So what’s her Idea Statement? It comes right afterwards. She says, “It’s a muscle. Resilience is a muscle, which means, we can build it,” she explains. She goes on to say, “That if it’s a muscle and we can build it, that means, we can build resilience in ourselves. We can build it into our loved ones. And we can build it into the communities around us.” And if you’re wondering why those pieces were included? It’s because the clip editor knew that we were trying to get to, or she needed us to get to, the Change that the talk is really all about.
And the Change the talk is really all about is this concept that Sheryl calls collective resilience. She wants everyone at that commencement address to think about how they can do their own part to build collective resilience. So that’s the Change. She gives them specific Actions for that. And then, the clip closes out with a wonderful call to emotion that says, “Let’s go beyond just looking at how do we overcome things and start to find the joy, and the gratitude, and the love in the world around us.” It’s a beautiful call to action and a call to emotion, as I like to say, at the end of the talk.
So what’s the lesson for you from all of this? Well, the lesson from you is that, if you have a talk, or a message, or a pitch that you are trying to build, build it up from these statements, this Goal Statement, Problem, Idea, Change and specific Actions. Because if you do that, then you can expand from those statements to a larger, longer talk or presentation.
It also means that if you’re caught by surprise, and you suddenly have to shrink it, you can without losing any of the intellectual or emotional importance or rigor of the message that you’re trying to get across. Now that, I think, is a pretty powerful tool and that’s why I want you to find your Red Thread. So go to findyourredthread.com, and there you’ll find a Red Thread worksheet, something you can download to start working on building your own Red Thread.