Presenting

089: The Power of Brevity | with Bill Holston

by Joe Sherwood on June 2, 2014

Human Rights InitiativeSome of the most memorable speeches and documents have been much shorter than the norm. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was only 2 or 3 minutes long, and we remember it much better than the other speaker that day, Edward Everett, who spoke for two hours. John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural address – “Ask not what your country can do for you” – was only 15 minutes long, one of the shortest up to that point in history. And TED Talks have taken the world by storm with a maximum length of 18 minutes.

Our guest today has discovered the power of brevity firsthand. For 30 years, he was a lawyer persuading judges and juries. Today he is executive director of a nonprofit, and as you can guess, a big part of his position involves spreading the word about his organization’s mission and asking people to donate money. He’s found that being short but memorable has made a real difference toward those goals.

Bill Holston is Executive Director of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas. In 2012, he left his law practice of 30 years to lead this non-profit organization that provides pro bono legal services for people who come to the United States seeking asylum from political or religious persecution, abusive relationships, or other reasons.

In this interview, Bill shares three experiences:

  • Persuading judges and juries in court.
  • Presenting at a PechaKucha event, which requires the speaker to follow a specific format: 20 images, each for 20 seconds (six minutes and 40 seconds in total). The images advance automatically and you talk along to the images. Don’t miss the video of Bill in his flashy jacket.
  • Making a fundraising appeal for his organization. Bill was invited to speak at a local church for no more than three minutes. The response was overwhelmingly positive, raising over $4,000 for the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas.

Jesse and Bill discuss three reasons brevity works:

  • Forces you (the speaker or writer) to be disciplined and clarify what your key point is. “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” ~ Mark Twain
  • Prevents cognitive backlog, which is when too much information prevents the listener/reader from remembering or even paying attention. The longer the presentation, the more the listener has to organize, comprehend, and remember.
    Leaves listeners/readers with energy and brainpower to think about the information, share the ideas, and act on them.

Jesse and Bill also discuss four tips for being brief yet powerful:

  • Be very clear about your main point
  • Use an outline or message map
  • Follow the Rule of Three
  • Use stories or examples to make a concrete point faster than abstract explanations

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If you like our show, please rate us on iTunes. That makes a huge difference in helping more people discover it. We love to know your thoughts about this episode. Please submit your comments below! You can also email comments to Jesse at jesse@engagingleader.com, subscribe to him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.

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Talk Like TedIdeas are the currency of the 21st century. You can have brilliant ideas—truly revolutionary ideas—but if you cannot persuade others to act, those ideas don’t matter.

In 2006, the famous TED conference began streaming 18-minute presentations from the world’s top minds for free. Today TED talks are viewed more than two million times a day and have become the gold standard in public speaking and presentation skills. Like it or or not, your next presentation will be compared to a TED talk.

Carmine Gallo is communication coach for some of the world’s most admired brands, including Intel, Coca-Cola, Cisco, Google, Disney, and more. He writes the Forbes.com column “My Communications Coach.” He’s the author of seven books, including the recent bestseller, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.

Carmine’s latest book is Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds. Carmine studied over 500 TED talks and interviewed scores of TED speakers, as well as leading researchers in the fields of neuroscience and communication. His findings explore the art and science of persuasion and public speaking and reveal techniques that you can use immediately to radically improve your very next pitch or presentation.

In this episode, Jesse and Carmine discuss three of the nine common elements to all TED talks. Each of these elements is scientifically proven to increase the likelihood that your presentation will be successful, whether you’re pitching to one person or speaking to thousands.

  1. Unleashing the master within
  2. Mastering the art of storytelling
  3. Having a conversation
  4. Teaching something new
  5. Delivering jaw-dropping moments
  6. Lightening up
  7. Brevity (especially following the 18-Minute Rule and the Rule of 3)
  8. Painting a mental picture (favor pictures over text)
  9. Staying in your lane

Bonus: The #1 habit that transforms a merely good presentation into a TED-worthy performance … practice relentlessly

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

Subscription Links

iTunes Stitcher RSS

Your Feedback

If you like our show, please rate us on iTunes. That makes a huge difference in helping more people discover it. We love to know your thoughts about this episode. Please submit your comments below! You can also email comments to Jesse at jesse@engagingleader.com, subscribe to him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.

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081: 18 More Ways to Engage Your Target Audience

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080: 8 Ways to Engage Your Target Audience

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When we have an opportunity to influence or lead people, we can’t assume that sharing information is enough. That’s simply table stakes. Once you know what you want to communicate, you need to think about how to engage your audience and keep them engaged for the duration of the event. Many people believe their positional […]

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26 Ways to Engage Your Target Audience

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Ever feel that leading in the 21st century is like herding cats? Knowledge workers in particular remind me of our two cats, Maple and Jack. The other evening, I saw Maple walking by and felt the rare (for me) desire to pet her. I called her to me, but her attention was focused elsewhere. Switching […]

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036: 4 Ways to Improve Face-to-Face Impact | with Stacey Hanke

May 9, 2013

Are you consistently able to influence people to take action? Do people trust what you say and follow your recommendations? When you speak, do people pay attention or do they start to check their iPhones? If you don’t have the impact you’d like, you probably need to improve your face-to-face communication skills, whether you are […]

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026: How to Improve Your Public Speaking and Be a Leader Worth Following | with Kent Julian

February 28, 2013

In this episode, Jesse talks about how to improve your presentations and public speaking skills, and how that can help you be a leader whom other people think is worth following. Jesse is joined by Kent Julian, who is a speaking coach that delivers speeches to thousands of students, educators, and business professionals all across […]

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