Can Your Talk Pass the $300,000 Challenge?

Let’s say that you’re about to give a presentation to 20 people. And I approach you prior to the talk with a briefcase.  I open the briefcase to reveal $300,000 cash. I explain to you that the money is yours under one condition.

When your presentation is done, I explain, I’m going approach five people who heard you speak and ask them the following question.  “What were the speaker’s three core messages?”

If all five can repeat back to me your three key messages without prompting, then you get the money.

If that’s the condition for getting $300,000 cash, what would you do? 

I can tell you exactly what you’d do. You’d carefully limit your message to three simple points. Then you’d find a way to pound away at the those points. You’d hit those points at the beginning. You’d hit them at the end. And you’d hit them all throughout the presentation.  You’d tell stories illustrating the three messages. You’d give handouts focusing on the three messages.  Your slides would hammer away at those messages. You’d give everyone a quiz, making sure that the listeners’ all took away your core messages.

The point is this. I think getting your listeners to reliably remember a few core ideas is a fundamental test of a presentation. If your presentation can’t get three messages to stick, then your presentation is a failure.  What can possibly be more fundamental for a presentation than to simply get some ideas to stick in your listeners’ heads?

Here’s what I think is interesting. As the $300,000 challenge illustrates, passing this test isn’t that hard. If we are really motivated to do it, we all know how to get ideas to stick.  We limit the ideas and then we pound away. Most of us, however, don’t have the discipline to do it.

The vast majority of presentations don’t pass this test. Why?  Because most presenters don’t take the time to ask themselves the simple question “What are the few key messages that I want my listeners to really remember?”

Next time you put together your presentation, ask yourself this question: “Will this presentation pass the $300,000 challenge?”

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