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How Many Messages Should You Cover in a Speech?

Learn how many messages you should cover in a speech from media coach TJ Walker in this Howcast public speaking video.


How many messages should you include in your speech or your presentation?

Before we talk about that, let's step back and let me ask you a question. Think of the best presenter you've seen in the last year. Someone in your field, not just somebody you saw on TV, not a professional comedian or a politician, but somebody in your field. Or you saw them in person at a conference, preferably not somebody who works in your company. Think of this person. Think of this presentation.

Now, think of every specific message point you remember from that speech. I don't mean that they were funny or you liked the way they walked around or their style, I mean actual content, actual message points. If you had to get up in front of a whiteboard and diagram their speech, tell me every message you could remember from that speech.

I've asked that question for years and years of my clients all over the world. For years, when I ask people that, sometimes they'll say, 'I don't know. I don't remember anything.' Or they remember one message or two. Again, this is from the best speaker they've seen in the last year. Occasionally, three. Every once in a while, people will remember four messages. Once every six months, somebody will remember five messages. Five key points. Five things. In all the years I've been asking this question, I've never had anyone come up with more than five ideas that they remember.

That's why I just start from the assumption of, 'Don't try to communicate more than five key ideas. Five things. Five messages in your speech.' Because you're not going to be successful. Do you really think everyone you speak to has a memory better than yours? If you can't remember more than five from the best speaker you've seen, why do you think anyone will remember more messages from you?

People are always, 'Hey, TJ, I understand. I get it. It makes perfect sense. But my audience is different. They expect me to do the blah, blah.' No, they're not. Your audience is not different. Your audience is not smarter than you. Your audience is not going to remember more than five ideas.

People think in the real world their choice is, 'Am I thorough or hardworking and really show everyone how smart I am by covering 80 points? Or am I kind of lazy and laid back and just cover a handful?' That's what people think their choice is. Obviously, if that is the choice, you go with the hardworking 80.

I live in the real world. In the real world, the choice is 'Are you communicating five points?' Remember, it's not communication unless people, not only understand it, but remember it. The real world choice is 'Do you communicate a handful of ideas, five? Or do you communicate absolutely nothing?' Because that's what happens to most speakers. So, when you're coming up with the number of points, number of messages, for your presentation, focus on five or fewer.

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