An effective way to plan a presentation is to start by crafting the Key Message. The Key Message is the one thing you most want your audience to remember.

You could also think of it as the five second version of your presentation.

Al Gore’s latest talk at TED provides some great learning for crafting a Key Message. This presentation represents his latest thinking on how to progress action on climate change.

If you’d like to watch the video on the TED site try this link. This is an  excellent presentation and there is lot to learn about planning effective content – but in this post I’m going to focus just on the Key Message (in future posts I’ll explore other aspects of this presentation). An effective presentation will be built around one Key Message (the term “key messages” is a contradiction in terms). I thought there were two messages running though Al’s talk and that this weakened the impact of the presentation. The first Key Message that I got was:

We can be optimistic – we can solve the climate crisis.

I think this is the one he intended to be his Key Message as he titled the talk “How dare we be optimistic?”

But the message that came through more strongly for me was this:

It’s important to change the lightbulbs – AND it’s important to change the law.

Because both of these messages were running through his presentation, they diluted each other. Neither was as strong as they could have been, if they had stood alone. The lesson is that having one Key Message is more powerful.

I prefer the second message, it’s more concrete and therefore memorable. It’s also simple and unexpected. You may recognise these concepts from Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick (this book is a fantastic resource for creating presentations with great content -see Garr’s summary).

It’s concrete – I can visualise it in my mind – it’s very specific about what we have to do. Contrast this with Al’s first message which is vague and conceptual.

It’s simple – that means I can immediately grasp it. This is particularly important in a presentation – as the presenter you want to be able to say your Key Message without stumbling or looking at your notes. As a listener I want to be able to get it first time and not puzzle over what it means.

It’s unexpected because of the contrast in the two actions – changing a lightbulb and changing the law.

Concrete, Simple and Unexpected – those are the characteristics of a great Key Message. And possibly although Al didn’t intend this message to be the Key Message, it came through stronger for me because of these sticky characteristics.

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