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Hayli @ Rise Smart

Great tip! This can have a way of making a presentation seem shorter, even if it's not. Increase audience engagement by throwing in another strategy - providing the audience with a road map for your presentation up front (three points, five points, etc.) They'll know where you're going and will likely find your entire presentation more memorable and enjoyable.

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Wally Bock

Yowza!!! More ink (pixels?) for one of my heroes. As I type, my original copy of Confessions of an Advertising Man sits next to my laptop. The spine is broken, but I can't part with a book that has a cover price of .75. Yup. Seventy-five cents.

Here is Ogilvy's advice on copy. "Imagine you are talking to the woman on your right at a dinner party. She has just asked you, 'I am thinking of buying a new car. Which would you recommend?' Write your copy as if you were answering that question."

Not bad advice for preparing a presentation. Two other bits of Ogilvy advice about writing copy. "Don't beat around the bush. Go straight to the point." And "Avoid superlatives, generalizations and platitudes. Be specific and factual. Be enthusiastic, friendly and memorable. Don't be a bore. Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating."

Mike Wagner

Wally is reminded of Ogivy, I'm reminded of Prof Haddon Robinson. He was my preaching professor at DTS and preaching the "big idea" was his mantra.

And, great recommendation around 10 words. The creative power of well-chosen constraints is awesome!

Keep creating...with abandon,

Steve Roesler


I hadn't thought about the possibility of it "seeming shorter". If that is the case, audiences everywhere would be thrilled.

Steve Roesler


Clearly, that .75 has made a lasting impression. The other Ogilvy-isms you offer up are candidates for wall posters.

He nailed the notion of conversational writing 50 years ago and his results proved its value. One would wonder why many executives, most of whom had to at least have been exposed to his work, continue to bore their constituencies with jargon-laden prose. (Sort of like this sentence).

Lisa Gates

Steve, a tangential thought: I just listened to a podcast at Escape from Cubicle Nation with Nick Morgan, author of Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma. He's a public speaking guru guy. One of his big ideas is that the old dictum "tell em' what you're gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, and tell 'em what you told 'em" was first developed by the Army in WWII as a way of dealing with the vast range of intelligence levels. He goes on to say that, well, it's an old dictum, and doesn't honor the intelligence of the audience.

In other words, get to the point, the big idea. What do you think?

Steve Roesler


Robinson's book on expository preaching has been a valued resource here for quite a long time now. It's lessons are applicable to any genre and his passion for the subject shows through in all of his writing.

And, indeed, he is an unabashed proponent of "the big idea." It must have been a treat to have that kind of first-hand exposure and interaction.

Steve Roesler


I have an immediate answer and it is, of course, the correct one:-)

Here we go:

1. I spent part of my life as a Drill Instructor and as a trainer of other D.I.'s. As a result, I feel comfortable addressing the issue of repetition in that context.

In WWII and through my own years of service the military consisted of draftees and enlistees. That meant on Day 1, you would stand in front of a platoon of 40 guys whose backgrounds ranged from, "Would you witness my X on this document?" to "I received my Ph.D from Yale yesterday" to "I'm here because the judge gave me a choice of the Army or prison."

Part of the reason for repetition is simple: Multiple exposures stick in your mind. Duh. That is why you see commercials repeated (even though you don't like it), why you hear a product mentioned 6 times in a sixty second radio spot, and why I can still sing the "Pepsi Cola hits the spot" jingle all the way through even though it has not aired since 1954 and was on radio, not TV.

2. Repetition is not meant to honor or dishonor assumptions about intelligence based upon formal education. I can cite numerous studies regarding the impact of repetition but won't here; however, that's probably a good idea for a future post. Repetition in the military is designed to take a person to the point where, in a life and death situation, one responds to a stimulus automatically as a result of numerous prior exposures to the same situation. This can range from the seemingly mundane (stripping and cleaning a weapon blindfolded) to the exotic (rappelling a cliff under fire). You get the idea.

3. I didn't hear the totality of the podcast but will see if I can get to it. Having coached and trained a thousand or so managers, execs, and politicians with their speeches/presentations over the years:

a. You've got to have a single big idea or theme.

b. If no one hears it enough to remember it and *act* on it, then it's nothing more than an idea.

c. To state that because something is "old" it is no longer applicable or worthy is akin to suggesting that we should blow off Isaac Newton and his "old" observations about gravity. To say that
audiences are dishonored by repetition assumes a knowledge of all people in all audiences and how they learn, respond, and feel about repeated exposures to a topic.

I would offer that we should all focus on "how" we present our Big Ideas and "how" we expose/involve people enough to have the desired impact.

Clearly, I have no strong feelings about this.

Chris Witt


I think you've got it exactly right.

Eisenhower, who wrote speeches early in his military career for Douglas MacArthur, said that you should be able to write a speech's central message on the inside of a matchbook cover. I tell my clients the same thing, although I substitute "back of a business card" for "inside of a matchbook cover."

If I can't sum up my speech in a single, simple sentence, how can I possibly expect my audience to do so? And I know -- it's hard to admit, but I know -- that people aren't hanging on to my every word. Most of the time they don't even realize that I'm repeating myself.

I'm going to check out Ogivy, whom I've heard so much about but have never read.

Thanks everyone for a great discussion.

Mike Wagner

More on the "big idea" has occurred to me as I thought about Professor Robinson and how many students responded to his "big idea" sermon structure.

Many of us resisted what he was teaching us.

Part of it was our youth.

But part of it was the effect of what I might call "expert culture".

We were being taught how to examine the Bible in a very geeky way. Maybe the term out to be "nerd" instead of geek; but the effect was we took pride in our analysis and detailed knowledge. Plus, we were rewarded for detailed knowledge.

Then we would go to Professor Robinson's preaching classes and be told to find and preach the "big idea".

It seemed to undervalue our expertise. And some (me included) thought this was mistaken.

Our focus was on "the something" we mastered rather than on our audience and the importance of their deriving value.

Am I making sense, Steve?

Keep creating,

Steve Roesler


I had actually forgotten about the Eisenhower/MacArthur connection. Good example.

Ogilvy should simply be required reading for everyone in every discipline in college.

Now you know how I feel about him!

Steve Roesler

Mike, that is, exactly, the issue!

We all--regardless of our area of knowledge--become caught up in the supposed importance of our knowledge. Since you are using the example of Had Robinson and the Bible, I recall someone asking me a simple question about my faith. By the time I realized that I was actually boring myself to death I think he had disappeared to get a cup of coffee (and probably an aspirin). Everything I said was accurate; none of it had to do with what he needed.

And that's the key issue in communicating. People don't want to know everything you know. They want to know about the part that is helpful to them and how to use it. It's not about our knowledge; it's about their felt need.

Your phrase "the something" points to the solution. When we start by looking at "the someone" across from us, then the right "something" can be determined. If we start with our own "something", everything that follows is either about information or us.

Try starting a speech with, "Hi, I'd like to talk with you about me and everything I know." That's how many well-intentioned people approach speeches and presentations without realizing it.

Mike Wagner

The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone? Ecclesiastes 6:11 NIV

I can't improve on the above.

Such a good, humbling conversation; thanks for starting it with your post.

Keep creating...words worth hearing,

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