How to Develop the Best Big Idea for Your Presentation

By Nancy Duarte

Woman harnessing her best idea within the reach of her hands

When it comes to choosing the content in your next talk, it’s important to remember: less is more.

While planning a presentation, it’s tempting to include everything you know. All of the facts, ideas, and fascinating anecdotes probably won’t yield an audience raptly entertained.

For an effective talk, focus only on one central notion: the critical takeaway you want your audience to leave with; then, surround that takeaway with other information and material that supports it.

At Duarte, we call this central idea—or takeaway—of a presentation the Big Idea.

The Big Idea is a succinct, concise sentence that sums up your talk’s main message, it helps you identify what would be most effective to share with your audience.

If you have a lot of information in your next talk, and you struggle to determine what stays in and what to cut, try taking the following steps. Pinpoint a Big Idea, frame it appropriately, then communicate it clearly so that your audience members leave ready to take your requested action.

Determine the Big Idea You Want Your Audience to Walk Away With

The point of a persuasive talk is to make sure that audience members leave ready to accept, adopt and act on the ideas they heard.

The facts, numbers, and stories that you’ve compiled for your presentation are interesting and persuasive—but most likely, you have elements that can be cut. Only include things you need your audience to be able to recall when they leave the room.

Establishing a Big Idea before you build a talk will help you hone in on what you want people to remember when the presentation is over. Articulate what you believe is the essential information for them to hold onto. Then, write these central ideas down. When it comes time to craft your specific Big Idea, these key takeaways will form the crux of your talk.

How to Develop the Best Big Idea for Your Presentation - Build a Distinct Point of View

Build a Distinct “Point of View” About Your Topic

Determine why you are uniquely qualified to be delivering the idea you’re trying to get the audience to embrace. Then, frame your message in a way that makes it clear why you’re communicating it.

To develop a unique point of view, ask yourself what your stance is on a topic. Then, analyze how this unique vantage point allows you to deliver a message that is distinct. Determining a unique stance on a perspective helps make your Big Idea clear and makes you distinct, specific and relevant—not overly generalized.

Determine the Stakes for Your Listeners

In order to get others to commit to the ideas in your presentation, make it clear what’s at stake for them. People need to know why they should do what you say—and what will happen if they don’t.

The stakes of your Big Idea communicate what an audience can expect if they say no to what you’re proposing. The stake could be a negative or positive outcome that could occur if they do or do not adopt your idea.

The stakes included in a Big Idea are an energizing part of any talk. They help grab the attention of the audience because it reveals why the subject matters to them specifically and how their lives will be impacted based on their decision to adopt or reject your idea.

How to Develop the Best Big Idea for Your Presentation - Determine the Stakes

Craft the Big Idea as a Sentence

Once you’ve determined the desired takeaway for your talk, your unique point of view, and the stakes for your audience, distill all of this into one succinct, memorable, and complete sentence that will stick with listeners.

This one sentence is your Big Idea.

Ultimately, your Big Idea should be memorable and repeatable enough that people remember it and even tweet it. When your audience is asked after your talk, “What was that presentation you attended the other day about?” they should be able to easily repeat your main message and help reinforce it—or, maybe even spread it further.

When you need to create a presentation, hone in on a Big Idea first, then craft the rest of your talk around it. Use your Big Idea as a filter for all elements of your talk. All of your facts, anecdotes, images and slides (as well as everything else you choose to include) should serve to directly support what you’re trying to impart. So, choose a clear central idea and communicate it through the lens of a Big Idea. Then, you can deliver a talk that changes minds and moves your ideas forward.

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Illustrated by Michelle Shepard, Oscar Chacon, and Stephanie Garcia

Topics Covered

Presenting, Storytelling

Written by

Nancy Duarte

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