Creating Memorable Short Presentations 8 Powerful Secrets from TED Talks, NPR, Aristotle and Michael Masterson

For most people, next to the fear of dying, public speaking is their greatest fear. And what’s more difficult than giving a long speech?

Giving a short one!

“It’s such a little thing,” you tell yourself. “It should be easy.”

Problem is, with a briefer presentation – whether spoken or written – you have less time/space to make your point. (I’m reminded of the quip attributed to Mark Twain, among others: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”)

 So next time you have to write a short-but-important letter… or make a persuasive business pitch… or deliver a brief wedding speech or eulogy, consider the following advice:

 From the guy who has coached thousands of TED Talk presenters:


  1. Restrict your talk to one idea.
  2. Begin with a statement – a single sentence or two – that arouses curiosity. (This is important. Listen to some TED Talks and you will see that this is commonly done and done effectively.)
  3. Build your idea one clearly defined step after another. (This is very, very important. I don’t do it very well, but I am working on it.)

From Alex Blumberg, who learned it from Ira Glass (on NPR’s This American Life):


  1. Begin with three single sentences that situate the story. As in: “He was on Fifth Avenue in Miami. He looked uptown. And to his surprise he saw…” (I like this very simple trick. I intend to use it.)
  2. Then present the protagonist’s problem or challenge.
  3. And then, in telling the story, say something slightly unexpected every 30 seconds to hold your audience’s attention. (This was new to me but makes perfect sense. Thirty seconds, by the way, amounts to about 100 words.)


From Aristotle in The Poetics:


  1. Begin in the middle. (That is, don’t warm up. Start off with the hero facing his challenge/journey.)
  2. Make the hero’s challenge/journey a universal one, one that in some way represents a problem your audience has or can relate to.
  3. Make the resolution one that helps your audience understand and accept the difficulties and challenges of life. (I’m extemporizing here.)


From Michael Masterson (me) writing in Early to Rise 15 years ago:


  1. “Michael Masterson’s Rule of One”: Limit any essay/speech to one and only one good idea.
  2. Introduce that idea with an emotionally compelling fact or story.
  3. Structure the essay/speech persuasively, so that it concludes with a point or call to action that the reader/listener has no choice but to accept.


Now let’s try to combine all of the above into some simple rules for making short presentations:


  1. Identify a single good and useful (to your audience, not to you) idea.
  2. Research that idea, looking for emotionally compelling stories and facts to illustrate and support it.
  3. Begin with a single sentence that grabs your audience’s attention and arouses curiosity.
  4. Then tell – as concisely as possible – the best story or fact that illustrates the point you intend to make.
  5. Build your argument persuasively, using step-by-step logic.
  6. Avoid jargon. Avoid complexity. Make sure your FK readability score is no more than 7.5.
  7. Make sure you say something every 30 seconds (about 100 words) that piques your audience’s interest and makes them want to keep listening/reading.
  8. Leave your audience with one useful, novel and memorable “takeaway.”


Try it. I think you will be happy with the result.