big think

On my drive home from dropping my son off at preschool in the mornings, I listen to NPR. It's my 15-minute daily dose of what's happening in the world (my husband likes to joke that other than this, I mostly have my head in the sand when it comes to current events). I've been enjoying a segment they are currently running as part of the California Report called simply, "Big Think."

In the Big Think series, they ask listeners to share their big ideas in 10 words or less. NPR usually plays a few of these ideas during each segment—wide-ranging ideas on topics as varied as drought solutions, moral philosophy in big business, and legalizing psychedelics—and then they also do deeper stories on a select few. 

When I was listening this morning, the connection between the Big Think concept and the Big Idea that I cover in my workshops (and book) dawned on me. The Big Think is your game-changing idea in 10 words or less. The Big Idea is the main point of your presentation or communication that you want to get across to your audience in a single sentence. In both cases, a drastic length constraint is imposed, which forces something very important: concision.

This sounds counterintuitive, but it is difficult to be concise. It's especially difficult when you are close to the subject matter: if it's something you are passionate about, have worked on for some time, or know a lot about. And yet that's often also when it's the most important to be concise. There might be a lot you want to say about a given topic, but if you can't condense it crisply and clearly in a way that can be understood and remembered by your audience, you've not positioned yourself for success. Forcing a major length constraint and the concision this imposes can do wonders when it comes to clarifying your message into its core and most critical components. Ultimately, this puts you in a better position when creating all of the supporting content, because you always have that main message in mind, making it easier to know what will help reinforce it (and what might be extraneous or unnecessary and is best left out).

When I'm going through the exercise of crafting the Big Idea (or helping someone else do so), it often starts by putting a lot of words down on paper. And then starting to cut. And reword. And move around. And cut. And replace a word with another that better describes what I want. And say it out loud. And reorder. And cut. This can feel a bit like word-smithing as you work through it, but there is something major in terms of clarity of thought that happens during this process. I find this is particularly the case when talking through it out loud with someone else, who can pose questions and help you to refine, making the main point you want to get across to your audience crystal clear.

So when you find yourself needing to communicate something to someone—whether a grand idea or simply the main point of your presentation—pause first and think about what you'd say if you only had a sentence or 10 words. Once you can say it that crisply, you're in a better position for success for ultimately getting this point across to your audience.

By the way, I realized it would probably be unfair of me to end this post without first composing and sharing my own Big Think (which won't be so surprising if you're a regular follower of my work):

Tell a story with data to inform and inspire action.

What is your Big Think? Or where could you envision yourself using a concept like this? Leave a comment!