Write better talks – in just 4 steps (by @HughCulver)

Muslim girl writing the word "better" on a blackboardSometimes, do you have trouble engaging people when you’re presenting?

Here’s a great way to fix that:
Give your talk a strong structure.

If you use the structure shared in this post:

  • You’ll engage people right from the start.
  • You’ll keep them hooked right to the end.
  • They’re more likely to think the content you’re presenting’s just what they need.

Actually, you’ll find 2 things in this post that you can use to build a better talk:

  • A strong structure for the content you present.
  • A 4-step method for writing your speeches (and e-books, newsletters, etc).

Both are set out in the 15-minute video below, by speaker-coach Hugh Culver:

In a hurry? You can skip the video’s intro (of 3½ minutes).
And if you watch on Vimeo, you can even speed up playback.

 
I came across Hugh’s video a while ago, and was really impressed with how audience-focused the structure is that he presents. I also like that he uses just 4 steps to map out the writing process:

  1. Form your topic
  2. Build a structure
  3. Give it time
  4. Get feedback

Let’s dig into each of those in more detail

 

1. Form your topicScroll to Contents ↑

As Hugh puts it:

“The number one thing that I would encourage you
to do is to listen to what people ask you”
Hugh Culver – at 3:38

When you give a talk, you likely get questions from your audience. Ask yourself, what common questions (or themes) keep coming up?

Most likely lots of your listeners want to know the answer

If you hear a question often, most likely lots of your listeners want to know the answer. So questions like that are great topics to speak on (or write about).

After you’ve picked a question to speak on, list all the content you have on that topic, like:

  • Related talks or courses you’ve given before
  • Articles you’ve read or written
  • Content from books on the topic
  • Quotes
  • Statistics

It’s vital to focus back on the question you started with

Still, it’s vital to then focus back on the question you started with. (Otherwise, your talk can easily swell into a “brain dump” on the topic – which would overwhelm your audience.)

Here’s a great way to focus back on the question: Structure your talk as a problem and solution. We’ll look at that next

 

2. Build a structureScroll to Contents ↑

The structure Hugh uses has 5 parts:

  1. Problem – vividly describe people’s issue
  2. Your story – show you’ve faced that problem
  3. Solution – give an overview, then details
  4. Do’s and don’ts – share tips to overcome objections
  5. Motivation – end on a high

Let’s briefly check out each of those parts

 

a. Problem – vividly describe people’s issueScroll to Contents ↑

When you describe the problem, you want people to strongly relate to what you’re saying. Hugh puts it this way:

“People will pay attention if you’re
speaking about them
Hugh Culver – at 7:31

Tell a story of someone… who suffered from the same problem

But how can you seem to be speaking about them (your audience)?

Here’s a great approach: Tell a story of someone you’ve helped who suffered from the same problem. At this stage, though, don’t mention your involvement. (You can get to that later!)

That way, you frame the topic in human terms, not just in the abstract. So people connect with your message on an emotional level, which really grabs their attention.

Next, transition into showing you’ve suffered from the same problem, too

 

b. Your story – show you’ve faced that problemScroll to Contents ↑

Put yourself alongside your audience

By sharing about how you’ve faced that problem, you put yourself alongside your audience. You’re showing you’re just like them, so they see you as a person they can relate to and trust. (Not some “perfect” expert who’s not like them at all!)

All this speaking about the problem creates tension in people’s minds. And that’s good, because it makes them yearn for the relief they’ll get from your solution, which you give them next

 

c. Solution – give an overview, then detailsScroll to Contents ↑

Here, the idea is for you to start with an overview of your solution. Then, give people the details – describe the 3 to 5 steps in the process you recommend. (You can use more than 5 steps, or less than 3, but that’ll make your solution harder to remember.)

Using a 2-tier “overview-then-details” approach has 2 benefits:

  • You let people grasp the “big idea” first, so they don’t get lost in the details.
  • Yet you also give people some “meat” (so you’re not just a shallow, “motivational” speaker, and they’re more likely to seek you out after your talk).

Use either a very simple diagram or a short acronym

To me, a great way to present an overview is to use either a very simple diagram or a short acronym. With either of those, you can show people that your solution fits together into a cohesive whole. Then, you can drill down into the details of each part.

 

d. Do’s and don’ts – share tips to overcome objectionsScroll to Contents ↑

Whenever you present a solution, some people will be sceptical. So here, you think of objections people might have, and you share tips to overcome those even before people raise them.

Pre-empting objections is a powerful way to persuade people

For instance, imagine you’ll be speaking about mindfulness, and the process that you’ll present gets people to practise several times a day. Someone might say they’ve tried that, but they keep forgetting to be mindful in their daily lives. So, as a very visible reminder to people to practise (rather than them knotting their hanky), you could suggest they put an elastic band:

  • Around the shower head, so they practise mindfulness in the shower
  • On the handle of their work bag, so they practice on the train each morning

This tactic of pre-empting objections is a powerful way to persuade people, because you dismantle their argument even before they’ve said it. What’s more, it helps people to make your solution work in the real world, where they’ll face similar roadblocks.

 

e. Motivation – end on a highScroll to Contents ↑

To end your message, go out on a high. Remind your audience how good they’ll feel when they solve the problem you’ve been speaking about. (It also helps to use emotional content here, as you did when you described the problem.)

A useful technique I suggest you try is returning to something you mentioned earlier.

Make sure every-thing you use clearly links to the question

For instance, suppose you’d talked about how someone you’ve worked with had suffered from the problem you’ve been discussing. You could mention them again near the end of your talk, saying how following your advice helped them solve the problem.

You’ve now got to the end of setting out your talk’s structure, so you can slot in the rest of the relevant content you gathered (back when you formed your topic). Just make sure everything you use clearly links to the question that you started with.

 

3. Give it timeScroll to Contents ↑

After drafting your talk, put it away and work on other projects for 24 hours or more. Then when you come back to it, you’ll have a fresh perspective and can refine what you’ve written.

 

4. Get feedbackScroll to Contents ↑

The last step is to send out your draft to friends or colleagues for feedback. To give them an incentive, offer to review a draft of theirs in return, or to do them some other favour.

 

Over to youScroll to Contents ↑

Like I said at the start, I think the 4-step method and the structure that Hugh presents are really helpful.

What do you think? By all means, have your say in the comments. I enjoy hearing your perspective.

Here’s a reminder of what you saw in the video:

  1. Form your topic
  2. Build a structure
    1. Problem – vividly describe people’s issue
    2. Your story – show you’ve faced that problem
    3. Solution – give an overview, then details
    4. Do’s and don’ts – share tips to overcome objections
    5. Motivation – end on a high
  3. Give it time
  4. Get feedback

 

Also check outScroll to Contents ↑

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