So I’ve got news: I’ve been invited to speak at a local TEDx event in October. I’m really excited about it on many levels, not the least of which is the fact that I’ve been working toward this goal for a while:
- Engaging with a speaker coach to nail down the elements of performance.
- Visualizing myself standing in the red circle of TED on stage, facing a friendly audience (yes please).
- Writing and refining a speech that meets the very deliberate 18-minute time limit, as designed by the TED engine.
I was so excited to get my formal “YES”. And then, the TEDx organizers lowered the boom: They told me I have just 10 minutes to talk. Not the 18 minutes that my speech is now. TEN.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I am super appreciative of the opportunity and ready to bring my A game, of course! But 10 is practically half of 18 and that, my friends, is the challenge.
As a writer, I’ve always known that it’s harder to write short than long—but that the end result can be most powerful. And this is no exception. You simply cannot write the same way for all lengths and mediums. In fact, writing for live performance—where you can use words AND real-time body language, facial expressions, and tone to convey information—requires different muscles and word counts than writing for video, email, traditional print, presentations, social media, and podcast.
Knowing the difference—and how to work each medium to its fullest—is what we do every day to help our clients meet the information needs of employees. Since the 21st century offers us a myriad of ways to communicate, we have to be very thoughtful and grounded in our approach.
We do that by asking a series of pointed questions up front and letting the answers guide our direction. Like, for example, who’s our audience? What do they need to know and how? What’s in the message for them? How can we meet them where they are? What can and can’t we do with the media and the time we have?
As far as my speech, I think I’m there. But it was a total rewrite. When it comes to writing short (or even long, since you want to make sure every word is working hard), sometimes it’s a matter of simply paring back a few words or playing Kerplunk with your sentences, making sure nothing falls through the cracks. But other times, it can be a matter of stepping back and rethinking things entirely.
In either case, it has to be done. And if you need help, well, you know who to call.