Memorable ideas: the microwave

“Of course I remember you!” the PR executive exclaimed. “You wrote the piece about the microwave.”

It’s true; I did—hundreds of thousands of words and probably a dozen years ago. And, to be clear, it wasn’t about a microwave; it was about the culture of fast-action, fast-answers, and how that related to certain business problems.

I don’t even remember the piece, to tell you the truth. I mean, I remember the ideas; I could reconstruct it for you if I needed to. But it doesn’t matter if I remember it—my reader did. And that’s the whole point of imagery. It makes ideas stick.

Especially when you’re writing about a business issue—or, really, any topic your audience may have heard about before—you need to give them a way to form a new impression. So find a novel way of discussing the subject. A metaphor, an allusion, a pop-culture reference—anything surprising can activate the “what did she say?” response in your readers. And once you’ve got them listening in new ways, they’re ripe to receive your message

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TED talking

TED Talks have made speeches chic again. (Hallelujah!) Everyone who doesn’t dream of giving one dreams of writing one.

Yep, we’re all eager to climb on the internet-enabled soapbox. But what do we do once we get there?

Chris Anderson, Curator of TED, reminds us that it’s not about the platform; it’s about the content:

“Your number one mission as a speaker is to take something that matters deeply to you and rebuild it inside the minds of your listeners. The only thing that truly matters in public speaking is not confidence, stage presence or smooth talking. It’s having something worth saying.”

I love the idea that our words can “rebuild” an idea in our listeners’ minds. The image is specific, visual, and powerful. It’s a little intimidating too. And it should be, I think.

Words have consequences—well-crafted and well-delivered speeches may have even more power than written words. They build new structures in our brains, create neural pathways that weren’t there before. Will you fill those pathways with corporate jargon and techno-babble? Or with new ways to problem-solve, new insights and ideas to contemplate?

It’s not about giving a TED Talk. Wherever you speak, however you communicate: It’s about having something to say.

Quote-Unquote

I recently came across this post on “How to Use Quote in Your Speech.” I’m assuming you don’t need convincing about the benefits of using quotations—if you do, check out an earlier post of mine on the subject. I agree with a lot of what this writer says, but of course I have my own opinions too. Hope you find these helpful:

1. Make sure you get the phrasing correct.
Absolutely. But if you present the quotation as a piece of wisdom you’ve carried with you for years, don’t read it from your notes. I once watched in horror—on live TV, no less—when my client spoke about something Abraham Lincoln said as the guiding principle of his life. And then he looked down at his notes. Guiding principles live in your hearts, people, not on paper. I knew right then he was sunk.

3. Beware quoting out-of-context.
I once saw a Bible-Quote-of-the-Day calendar with a little gem that went something like “Worship me and all the riches of the earth will be yours.” (I’m paraphrasing.) Problem: That wasn’t God talking in the Bible story; it was Satan. So yes, check the source. And check the backstory too. That Chinese saying “May you live in interesting times” had a big resurgence after the financial crisis hit in 2007. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant as a blessing—it’s a curse.

4. Quote a well-known expert in the field.
Yes…and no. The writer says “Quote Aristotle on philosophy or Serena Williams on tennis—doing the opposite gets you in trouble.” But if you are not credible quoting Aristotle, you’ll only seem like a fraud. Much better to quote something philosophical that Serena Williams said—especially if you’re speaking to tennis fans. I’ve blogged about this before, here.

17. Quotation compilations keep quotes within arm’s reach.
The writer recommends Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. It’s the first place everyone turns when they’re looking for a quotation—and that’s exactly why you want to avoid it. I also do my best to avoid Online quotation search engines—his tip #19—for the same reason. The surest way to find something fresh to quote is to keep your own quote file, making note of interesting and inspiring things you read.

The seven words I never want my clients to hear

I was sitting in a conference room with a dozen strangers a couple of nights ago, waiting for a presentation to begin. One of the women in the audience told the speaker she’d seen another of his presentations and decided to come see him again.

Before he could react to what we all assumed was a compliment, she added:

“I don’t remember what you talked about then. Is this going to be the same presentation?”

I’m sure the questioner was just looking for information. But of course she wrapped her question in one of the most insulting things anyone can say to a speaker:

“I don’t remember what you talked about.”

To his credit, the presenter kept the smile frozen on his face. (Do not play poker with this man.)

I found his presentation both memorable and useful. But that woman’s statement has stayed with me, too.

It’s a reminder of what my clients pay me for: To make their ideas memorable.

And it’s a reminder of the challenge we face in this world multitasking: How do we break through the clutter of other claims on the audience’s attention (whether it’s email or Facebook under the table or, in this woman’s case, a take-out dinner on top of the table) to deliver a message that resonates?

The answer may be that sometimes we can’t. Someone who is determined not to hear you will always find a way to succeed. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.