Why you shouldn’t start with your big idea

A few weeks ago, I took a small group of brilliant professionals away from their homes and families and deep into the Pennsylvania woods for three days.

They asked to go, of course. Why?

So they could go off their grid, and plug into a different grid altogether: The one that powers their creativity and genius. It was the maiden voyage of Tapped to Speak INTENSIVE—a Gateless retreat designed to help access their best stories and ideas and craft them into the talk they’re dying to give.

Now, some of the people there identify as writers, but most of them didn’t. In fact, half the group had never even been on a retreat like this, which was very much a writing retreat, very content focused.

I’ll tell you why:  Because giving a killer talk doesn’t start with delivery; it starts with content.

This is a step many speakers skip. In fact, they get into speaking because they think it means they don’t have to write anything at all.

In fact, whether you identify as a writer or not, the act of writing is what helps you access the ideas, the scenes, the rich detail, the sparkling moments of discovery, that light up a talk, make it real and relatable, moving and memorable.

Problem is, many people and instructors use the traditional academic “essay” model, where you start with a “big idea” box and then start putting stuff in it. It feels very top-down and linear and like work. I hate it. 

Instead, we did not start with any kind of “big idea” box. We started with scenes.

Vivid details. Moments. Turning points.

You might say, “But I’m not trying to write a novel.” Doesn’t matter. This is the practice that makes your talk stand out. Hell, it makes the world stand out to you in a whole new way. 

One woman had never written a personal piece of anything in her life. She felt shy about doing it, about sharing it. But since that’s what we do in Gateless (write on the spot and share it right away), she did it—and man, we were blown away! She shared moving scenes and demonstrated a high level of craft by shifting from one scene to another, and revealing some very powerful truths about her life. We were watching a TEDx talk take shape before our eyes.

The scenes will tell you SO much. Starting with a scene takes you away from cliche, from platitude. It starts you in what’s real, what happened, and what matters. Even the smallest scenes can form the foundation of a powerful talk.

Bottom line: You’re probably not giving yourself enough credit for your own creative and writing abilities. I guarantee it. It was schooled out of you, it was graded out of you. Scared out of you. Imagine if you gave it half a chance.

Try it: I’m about to give you a prompt to write to.

You’ll have 20 minutes, and these are the only rules:

  • Take us to the scene.
  • Show us a specific place in time—that means use at least 3 of the 5 senses (if not more) to illustrate where we are, what’s happening, what you’re experiencing, and why.
  • You can flash back to past or future if you like, too—the key is to show us, not just tell us. Paint the picture for us so we’re there, too.

OK, here’s your prompt:

“Think of a specific moment in time when you seriously questioned a decision.”

Set a timer for 20 minutes. Go!

(Tell me: what happened?)

P.S.: The next INTENSIVE will be in late spring…but in the meantime, hold the dates for Tapped to Speak LIVE – April 4 & 5, 2019! We’re still figuring out details, but tickets go on sale very soon!