Now that we have one or more topics you’d love to pursue, we need to make sure others understand it. We want your audience to *get it*.
When choosing topics to speak about, many speakers try to be clever. They try to come up with a creative title or way of describing their idea, like:
“How to find your inner sniper”
When we heard this title, we were confused. Did the speaker have a military background? Was he going to talk about marksmanship? Was it about being calm under pressure? Ultimately, his proposal was rejected.
In this lesson, I aim for “clear”, rather than “clever”. Make sure people understand what you’re talking about. Fancy titles do not make a new angle on a topic, they simply convolute the message so it sounds new (but is really just confusing). TEDx organizers see right through this.
After all, there’s a reason my site is called “Get Your First TED Talk” – the aim is to help people…get their first TED Talk. Simple enough. I tested other names (like “speak at TEDx” “speak at TED” and so on, but ultimately, the phrase “TED Talk” was the clearest).
The list of the most popular TED Talks is similarly revealing – each of the titles is very clear as to what the talk is about (“Your body language shapes who you are”, “How great leaders inspire action” etc).
The Teenager Test
How can you clearly communicate what a topic is? I’m not talking about what it’s called, but what it is or what it’s about. To do this, let’s use something I call the Teenager Test.
Imagine a 16-year-old asked you about your idea (or typed something into Google). Would you try to use fancy language? Complicated terms? No. They’re smart, so they don’t need baby talk, but they’ve also got other things to worry about (like dating for the first time, parties, and homework). How would you describe it?
For example, a dictionary is called a “dictionary”, but it is an alphabetical list of definitions of every word in a language.
If a chapter of your book is called “unleashing the dragon: how to find passion in your business”, it’s about “how to get passionate about your business so you love what you do”.
A topic can be called many things, but it can only be about one thing.
- Remove jargon from your topic (if you have any). This includes made-up words or phrases, or terms only people in your industry would understand
- Come up with (at least) 3 phrases or sentences to describe what your topic is, then choose the one that is most accurate (remember, clear…not clever).
Your Testing Personas
Now that your topic is in simple terms, we’ll start testing it with real people. But, before we do that, we need to know who these people are. We’ll define personas
Let’s define your Audience Persona and your Decision Maker persona.
Depending on your topic, you may have a broad audience or a narrow audience (eg: you may have a message about health and you don’t need to reach one type of person, or you may have a message specifically targeted at university students).
|If your audience persona is…||They’re most likely to be at these TEDx events||Your Decision Maker Persona Is…|
|Under 18||Youth||A solo-entrepreneur over 30 years old that likes TED Talks|
|A university student||University||A 3rd or 4th-year university student NOT in engineering/computer science, that likes TED Talks|
|A woman||TEDxWomen||A solo-entrepreneur (that’s a woman) over 30 years old that likes TED Talks|
|Anyone older than a university student (regardless of gender)||Standard, Salon, Library||A solo-entrepreneur over 30 years old that likes TED Talks|
Why do we choose these Decision Maker Personas?
If you look at TEDx events, most of them are organized by solo entrepreneurs (rather than founders of billion dollar companies). Most are in their late 20s and older, and all will love TED Talks. This means they’ll have certain unique personality traits, they’ll read certain books, and they would have watched lots of TED Talks in the past.
Imagine how different your results would be if you tested your topic idea with your 70-year-old neighbor that’s never seen TED Talks, the 18-year-old barista at Starbucks, or someone in your field. You’d get drastically different feedback that may lead you astray.
A note for those with business-related topics
If your topic is aimed at businesses (eg: it has to do with running a business well, leadership, team building etc.) and your Audience Persona and Decision Maker Persona overlap (eg: they are both business owners), I suggest you also test your topic with someone that is *not* a business owner, yet is still creative/entrepreneurial.
- Define the gender, age, and/or occupation of your Audience Persona (eg: “my ideal audience is a 30-45-year-old mother”).
- If you’re stuck, try to identify a person that, if your talk DIDN’T resonate at all with this type of person, you’d consider your talk ineffective.
- Based on your Audience Persona and using the table above, determine the best types of event(s) that they’re likely to be at and the Decision Maker Persona (eg: “my decision maker persona is an entrepreneur over the age of 30”)
Determine the Baseline for your Topic
Now that we know who we’ll be testing with, let’s first see what they think of your broad topic. We’ll get a baseline.
You can baseline our audience to determine how to clarify the value that you bring from sharing your topic. For example
- If your message helps people understand a new thing, what do they already understand?
- If you’re recommending a new approach to solving a problem, how do they currently solve the problem (or how would they solve it)?
- If you want to share lessons from a story of yours, what do people expect the lessons to be?
- Talk to at least 5 people in each of your personas (Audience Persona and Decision Maker Persona) and determine their baseline understanding of your topic.
- If this step is tricky for you, you can talk to people you know or ask in the student’s Facebook group until you get the hang of it
- If you’re stuck on where to find your Decision Maker Persona, look for the people with a laptop at Starbucks (or a coffee shop near you that attracts the same type of person), or try Facebook/LinkedIn groups for entrepreneurs
- Take note of the people that you’ve tested with – you can get their feedback later in the course (or even send them your TED Talk once it’s online. They’re likely to be keen to share it since they helped you create it!)
The Echo Test
Now that we’ve found the baseline, let’s clarify the new approach or idea you’ll be spreading.
The ultimate test of clarity isn’t a thought experiment (though, it does get us close). It’s whether or not someone understands it.
Unfortunately, asking someone if they understand it can be misleading. People don’t want to look foolish, so they’ll bias towards telling you they get it (its the same reason people rarely ask clarifying questions even if something isn’t clear). They also won’t want to tell you your idea is confusing.
You can test the clarity of your ideas by asking a friend to echo back to you what your topic is about. For example, ask them:
- “If there was a book/article about [insert your topic here], what would you think it would be about? What would some of the chapters/sections be?”
- “How would you put this phrase in your own words: [your topic]?”
- “What does [your topic] mean to you?”
If they’re confused or don’t know, your topic isn’t clear enough. If they’re on the right track, you’ve nailed it!
- Do the Echo Test with people in your Audience Persona and your Decision Maker Persona (make sure these people are unfamiliar with your work and don’t have an expectation about what your topic would be about)
- You can post something on Facebook (in a group related to your Persona), or chat with people online or in person (eg: a stranger at a bar or coffee shop)
- I like to do the Echo Test with a medium that allows a chat (eg: Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, SMS, phone call) rather than email. A chat interface allows you to ask about multiple options and brainstorm as you go.
- Pay attention to the common misunderstandings. Repeat the Echo Test until people can successfully “echo” back what your topic *is*.
- Take note of the people that you’ve tested with – you can get their feedback later in the course (or even send them your TED Talk once it’s online. They’re likely to be keen to share it since they helped you create it)
- Move on to the next lesson when you’ve talked to 5 people each from your Audience Persona and your Decision Maker persona and most of them understand your topic (e.g.: they echo back a correct understanding of your topic)