From the Harvard Business Review blog, Greg McKeown writes about the best lecture he's ever heard. It is germane since every week we either try to give the best lecture anyone has ever heard or get the opportunity to hear the best lecture anyone is ever heard. In sabha we have some advantages. We have a syllabus topic that gives us much of our research and we have a plethora of resources at our disposal. However unless we do this seva sincerely we may wind up with NOT the best lecture ever, worse yet we may wind up with someone reading off the syllabus topic. Even worse is when the presenter says "hey lets split into groups and discuss this topic" as they walk away to get a drink of water only to return when sabha is over.
So what makes the best lecture someone has ever heard. To be sure many of these aspects overlap with the ideas in Made To Stick. McKeown notes that: You can't communicate what you haven't defined. This really is essentially the first step to making a message stick - figure your simple.
I was once asked to work with an executive team who wanted to find a sticky message for a new initiative they wanted to run. But after interviewing a series of executives involved, all on video, I realized the problem was really a strategy problem dressed up as a communications problem. They couldn't communicate the message with greater effectiveness until they defined their message with greater clarity. And that meant making decisions about what their initiative was and what it was not. I have found that designing a message around the following helps: “I am teaching [this narrow subject] to [this specific audience] in order that they [clear learning objective/call to action].”
Another aspect to creating a great talk is to make sure the rest of our points reinforces this main point. What if we have a really great story, or video clip, or prasang but it just does not fit with our simple? What if our topic is Bhakti and we have a great example of Samp? Then we need to exercise McKeown's third point: Kill your darlings. That means we need to self-edit our talks and remove all stories (even though we really like them) that do not back up our simple.
Stephen King has written that in order for a story to come to life, you must “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” The same type of self-editing can be applied to telling stories. Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Square and co-founder of Twitter, thinks his primary job is to be the Chief Editor of the company in order to “present one cohesive story to the world.”
McKeown's last point is subtle but again points towards keeping our simple message relevant. Be repetitive without being boring. The idea of giving a sticky talk is that everyone leaves with the exact same message. One (admittedly boring) way of doing this, is to just repeat your simple one line message one hundred times and sitting down. Everyone will remember the message, and everyone will hate the talk. So the idea is to weave the simple message through out our talk. After every story go back and show how that story related to our simple message. Better yet explain how the story shows our simple message from another point of view. That is really the art of the simple.
The whole post is worth reading.Alastair Campbell, the communications advisor to Tony Blair for years, explained at a CIPR conference the challenge we face today in getting a message through in our noisy world: You’re in a huge room with a wall on the far side that’s painted white. Your job is to paint it blue using only the paint gun in your hand. You shoot a single ball and it hits the wall on the other side and makes the tiniest blue mark. You’ve got your message out there once, but it’s still drowned out. So you shoot another ball over. Then another and another and another. You keep going with great persistence until you look over there and the wall starts to look as if you aren’t sure if it’s white or blue. This, according to Campbell, is the best you can hope for.But before you can be repetitive, you have to decide on the one message you want to hammer home – which means prioritizing. When the word priority came into the English language in the 1400s, it was singular. What did it mean? The very first or prior thing. It continued to have that useful definition for the next five hundred years. However, in the 1900s we pluralized the term and started speaking of priorities. But can we really have many first or prior things? Words can be potent enough to change the world, but if we try to share too many different messages, we water down the power of our message.