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Get all the thoughts out of your head on Post-its, tap it out on a keyboard, or use your thumbs on your smartphone—whatever’s most comfortable for you.
Talk as fast you can and record your voice, then transcribe it.
Come up with as many ideas as you can, as fast as you can.
Don’t judge your ideas. Just record them as they come. If you’re worried about saying dumb things, you might end up saying nothing at all.
Imagine you’re debating someone who thinks you’re off base, and you have sixty seconds to defend your position. Record yourself.
Start anywhere. You don’t have to start at the beginning of your presentation.
Brain scientists now know that new insights come at moments like these. The “aha!” moment we often experience is accompanied by a “gamma spike”—a sudden flash of gamma-wave activity across the neocortex, the brain’s creativity center. These gamma spikes happen at random, usually when you “let go” of the problem and just free-associate around it. That’s how rapid brainstorming works. With all the great information gathering you did already, your brain is ripe to synthesize and get your best ideas out—exactly what you need to support your purpose.
For his new presentation, Tad chose to write ideas rapidly on Post-it notes. The advantage of this approach is that he could group and arrange the notes when he finished brainstorming. See Tad’s notes on the next page.
Now Tad’s job was to give these ideas some structure.
First, he put them into logical groups and gave a label to each group.
Then he arranged the ideas in each group in an order that seemed logical to him: start with the data, tell how he got the data, and then explain the data (see his final order on the next page).
At last Tad had his ideas organized, and it took him only about a half hour to do this work. Although the details were technical, the presentation would be simple: His new racing suit was faster than any other suit, he could prove it was
faster, and he could tell you why it was faster. This was all his listeners needed to shift their paradigm. Anything more would only clutter their brains, muddy the impact of the data, and delay a decision.
Try it yourself. Brainstorm your own ideas and then group them. Where do you see the connections among your ideas? Shoot for no more than three main groups, then arrange the ideas in order within each group. These groups will become the main topics of your presentation.
Three’s the Charm
Why did Tad come up with three groups of ideas? Why not four or five or six?
Because he’s smart. He knows the power of “three.” Psychologists have found that, when you’re trying to persuade someone, three claims are persuasive, two are often not enough, but four are too many. Professors Suzanne B. Shu and Kurt A. Carlson say, “More claims are better until the fourth claim, at which time [listeners] see all the claims with skepticism.” The researchers call this effect the “charm of three,” and suspect it has something to do with how much the average person can handle in short-term memory.
Of course, great communicators have always known about the charm of three; that’s why they often present three ideas, three main points, or three findings to support a claim. Lincoln spoke of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The French speak of “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” Caesar said, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” (Notice we just gave you three examples.)
“No one can remember more than three points.”
Stories, songs, and jokes are full of threes (“Three guys walk into a bar …”). Naturalist Diane Ackerman reflects on this pattern: “We’re so in love with patterns that we obsessively create our own, often in threesomes, such as morning, noon, and night; Macbeth’s three weird sisters; the three wise men; ready, set, go; a sonata’s three-part form; the genie’s granting three wishes; small, medium, and large; ABCs; Goldilocks and the three bears; the three little pigs; and so on. Three seems to be our pattern of choice.”
Remember, we said your presentation is in three parts; the intro, the body, and the conclusion. So now, you have three key points in the body to support your purpose. Now you decide what order to put them in.
Triple S Formula
How should you present your points?
We know that people remember the first and last things they hear. They also remember repeated information. The principle is simple: Make your point first and last—the repetition will help people remember and understand it.
We all know that memory is leaky, that we remember only bits and pieces of what we hear, and that a lot of what we think we remember is wrong. Psychologists say, “From perception to memory there are multiple opportunities for information to be incorrectly encoded”—in other words, the audience just won’t get it right unless you cut back on their opportunities to misunderstand you.
That means saying first what you want people to remember—and repeating it last. This gives the key points emphasis. You should also slow down and speak clearly when you deliver the key points. According to CUNY professor and expert in digital communication Cathy Davidson, “When you introduce the product at the beginning of the commercial and when you deliver the punch line at the end, your diction is much slower and your words are carefully e-nun-ci-a-ted.”
You should state each key point, support it, and summarize it. We call that the Triple S Formula.
Which of these two examples is easier to understand?
“The zippers and seams are placed to raise the permeability factor by about 2 liters per meter squared per second. Additionally, the suit is slightly undersized because force measurements are sensitive to suit size and make a difference of about 7 percent in aerodynamic drag, as this slide indicates. By undersizing we can enhance permeability by at least 2 liters and maybe more. But the real breakthrough is a textured, dimpled-knit sharkskin structure. Under an electronic microscope in the wind tunnel this structure appears to enable about 7 liters of additional permeability over a 250-meter glide course.”
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