Setting Clear Goals
To get an to audience make a change in a short presentation you need to know where they already are. Instead of focusing so much on the time slot, we need to focus on the amount of change that is possible in our audience, given the time slot.
Big changes can happen in a short amount of time if we’re already fairly aware of the problem, or if what we’re being asked to do feels like something we’re fully capable of doing. What this means is that, when you’re given a time slot, you need to first ask where your audience is starting so you know how much you might be able to accomplish in your short presentation.
In this episode, we look at what’s realistic to accomplish in a short presentation, from 2 minutes to 20 minutes and everything in between. No matter what length of time you have, you need to start with where your audience is already and understand what is possible in that length of time. You might not be able to get them all the way to your big idea, but you can get them asking questions and make them much more willing to hear the next presentation.
- Ignite 5-minute Talks
- Joe Smith’s “How to Use a Paper Towel” TED Talk
- Max Tegmark’s 16-minute talk, “Consciousness is a mathematical pattern” for TEDxCambridge
- The Red Thread Worksheet
– Has this ever happened to you? You get this amazing opportunity to talk about your big idea, but you only get like two minutes to do it in. How do you do that? How do you fit your big idea into a short presentation? That’s what we’re talking about this week on Find the Red Thread. I’m your host Tamsen Webster of TamsenWebster.com.
If you are a fan of these videos or of me, or of big ideas, would you please like and subscribe? Thanks so much.
How do you take this big idea and fit it into a short presentation? Well, there are two things not to do. The first thing is not to drop out some major point in your presentation. Because if it’s a major point, you should not be able to drop it out. I hope I don’t need to say anything else on that.
The second thing, and unfortunately I say this a lot when I’m working with corporate executives and teams, is you can’t just take the same amount of material and squish it down by either going through the slides faster or speaking faster. Because it’s the still same amount of information coming at people, but when you speed it up, you’re probably taking out the pauses and the breaks that allow people to process that information. You’re taking out their ability to question and their ability to get the answers that they are looking for. You need that in order to truly convince somebody that what you’re recommending is the best course of action.
So what does this mean? Well, it means that instead of focusing so much on the size of the time slot, we need to focus instead on the size of change that’s possible in our audience given the time slot. Because change takes time. It takes time to move someone mentally from one place to another.
And yeah, of course sometimes those changes feel instantaneous, but they feel instantaneous when a couple things are true. When one, we’re already fairly aware of what the problem is and what we could do differently. And then, somebody gives us a clear path that goes, “Yes, this makes sense.”
It also happens fairly instantaneously when what we are being asked to do, the changes that we are being asked to make feel like something that we are fully capable of doing. Or at least trying. See, we have to make sure that people feel capable and willing to make a change. We have to back up when we’ve been given a time slot and ask ourselves first where are they now? How ready are they to hear this? How aware are they of the topics and the ideas I’m going to be presenting? Once they hear those things, how willing are they going to be to adopt them? And adapt as necessary to make that change.
We are really assessing, ahead of time, what’s their level of expertise? What’s their level of awareness? What’s their level of resistance or readiness? It’s only when we know those things can we start to really accurately figure out what can we do in a particular amount of time. Because for somebody who’s ready, willing, and able, you can make a major change for them in just two minutes.
But for somebody who’s never even thought about what you are about to present to them in that way, they may even be resistant. You’re not going to get them all the way to doing something differently in two minutes. But you might be able to get them to ask a question that sets them on a different course of exploration. So this is what you need to be thinking through.
In a short presentation, you can only move them a short amount of space. Which means if they’re ready, you can move them all the way to that change, but if they’re not, what can you do in two minutes?
Two minutes is a great time to get people to ask a new question, particularly those resistant ones. Or what about five minutes? Well, for somebody who’s resistant or unaware or inexpert, in five minutes, you can give a nice overview where you’re not asking them to do anything really difficult or hard at the end. You could also get them to understand a different perspective in a five-minute time period. But again, you may not get them to actually do something different.
But if you’ve ever seen an effective Ignite Talk, all of which are five minutes, by the way, you’ve seen an enormous range in what can happen effectively in five minutes. That’s also true for any number of TED talks that you’ve seen. I know anyone I’ve ever shown Joe Smith’s “How to Use a Paper Towel” talk to, which is 4 1/2 minutes, has permanently changed at least how they think about using paper towels. And some of us still to this day shake 12 times and then fold the paper towel.
So what about 10 minutes? 18 minutes? Now, those are most common TED talk lengths. Well, 10 minutes is a wonderful amount of time to kind of get a pretty diverse audience. Because in 10 minutes, you can get somebody who’s already familiar, already willing to see a problem or a goal in a different way and to give them a different perspective on how to achieve it. They may already be doing the thing you want them to do, but now you’ve given them a different way to talk about it to other people.
To the unaware or the inexpert or the resistant people in the audience, 10 minutes is often time enough to get them to start questioning the way that they’ve seen things before. But about what about an 18-minute talk? Again, that comes back to these same concepts of simplicity and ability. If the audience perceives this talk to be and this idea to be fairly simple, they’re going to get pretty annoyed if you took 18 minutes to get to that point.
But if instead, the talk or the idea is about something like “Consciousness is Math,” which is a talk I worked on with Max Tegmark a few years ago, there are a couple big ideas that have to get out there for people who are inexpert and unaware from the beginning. A: consciousness, and what does he mean by that? And how does it work and why is it important?
And then the second big idea. What’s the function of math and how does that apply? And why might math be an explanation of consciousness? Those two things are both pretty complex. And given the lay audience of a TED audience, these are not people who can immediately apply them. So we had to be very thoughtful about what we could do.
And after about 20 minutes, you start to open up time in what you can accomplish. But no matter what length of time you have, start where they are and figure out what in that amount of time is possible to move them. This means you may not get them all the way to your big idea. But you might be able to get them asking questions that make them much more willing to hear the next presentation on that talk.
So that’s how you fit your big idea into a short presentation. You figure out how big the size of the change can be in that size of space, and you figure out which part of the idea then fits. It’s probably not going to be the whole thing.
I hope that’s helped you answer that question this week. I’m Tamsen Webster of TamsenWebster.com. If you need help figuring out how exactly either what your idea is or how to get it into that time, that’s what I love to do most, both for individuals and for organizations, so reach out to me at TamsenWebster.com/contact. I hope to see or hear you next week on Find the Red Thread.