David Ogilvy wrote the book on modern advertising methods. The impact of his pioneering work and thinking about how to convey messages to vast audiences still register some 50 years after he began helping his clients become household names.
A core principle for great advertising is something he called the “Big Idea” and it fits spectacularly well for presentations, too, which is why I’m always keen to help guide my clients through the process.
It works like this: First, wade through all the fact and figures and themes of a subject and distill everything down to an idea that can be expressed in fewer than 10 words.
Next, shape your message around those 10 words.
We’re not talking about a topic here, but an objective. When your audience hears your presentation, what is it you want them to remember above all else?
That’s the Big Idea.
Why is this useful? For starters, it’s the core of your presentation, the reason you’re speaking in the first place. Moreover, it keeps your remarks focused, which is a great thing when there is a lot of supporting information involved.
Think of it as the bottom line of your presentation.
Audiences typically remember as little as 10 percent of a presentation, after all. Under the best of circumstances, with all the right tools and techniques put to work, retention likely will never surpass 50 percent of what you said.
That’s why an effective presentation communicates only what the audience needs to see and hear to be persuaded, nothing more.
In other words, if they cannot remember the big idea you’re trying to express, then what was the point?