Meaning Guide

How to make a talk unforgettable …

There’s plenty of material out there on giving a talk no one will forget.  But how do you avoid forgetting it yourself?  For a lot of people, that’s their number one fear of public speaking.

Well exactly a year ago today I gave a TEDx talk in Oxford.  The best and worst bit of advice I was given beforehand was to imagine I was going to be run over by a bus on leaving the auditorium, and then prioritise my material accordingly.  The trouble was I had quite a lot of things I wanted to say before being run over by a bus.  How could I not only remember them all, but squeeze them into 18 minutes?

Answer:  I got my pencils out and drew a map of the whole thing.  It looked like this (click for a larger version):

With the map, I got the whole talk mentally imprinted in my head.  I rehearsed a few times with the map until I didn’t need it, because I had a real embodied sense of navigating through the landscape as I talked.  My biggest fear – getting lost – became an impossibility, because I always knew I had a map in my head to refer back to.  Timings were strict, but I had a time check associated with each landmark on the map, so I knew where I was each step of the way.  If you look closely you’ll see there’s a small chunk of the talk that I ended up not giving for this reason.

There’s another big advantage to doing things this way.  The best public speakers give you a sense of “hospitality” – of inviting you into their world and sharing their ideas and insights with you.  Abstract ideas become shared experiences – the basis of shared meaning.  I found that having a mental landscape in my head made it easier to get into this mindset – of being like a humble guide, enthusiastic to share exciting places and views with a new group of friends.  I can’t say how successful I was at this, but you can judge for yourself!  The talk itself was all about using systems thinking and visual maps to make the world more meaningful, and you can watch it online here.

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