“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

This quote from Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden can help us with the third part of TED’s 4-step presentation structure that we’ve been unpacking.

For those of us who tend to view public speaking as a more creative endeavor, presenting evidence may be one of our least favorite parts of the process. But evidence is the foundation of our ideas. All that creative work, all those “castles,” need solid evidence to support them.

The TED organization, a well-known institution in the field of public speaking, offers a helpful speaker’s guide in which they offer an easy-to-follow 4-part presentation structure. Here’s the structure TED offers: “1. Start by making your audience care, using a relatable example or an intriguing idea. 2. Explain your idea clearly and with conviction. 3. Describe your evidence and how and why your idea could be implemented. 4. End by addressing how your idea could affect your audience if they were to accept it.”

Today, we’ll be breaking down what TED means when they say to “describe your evidence and how and why your idea could be implemented.” We’ll break this third step into three parts: proof of purpose (why), evidence description (what), and implementation process (how).

WHY: Proof of Purpose

It’s important to start by answering the question of “why?” You can present the most convincing and powerful statistics, but if the audience doesn’t understand why they matter, well, they won’t matter. Your ideas and the information you are presenting is tied to an underlying motivational purpose. You need to make this purpose clear to your audience.

This link to purpose is why the Enneagram test has become such a cultural phenomenon. Unlike other personality tests, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator which answers what we do, the Enneagram gets at our underlying core motivator to try to uncover why we do what we do. Answer the question of motivation first for your audience. It could be cost savings, greater safety, better relationships, innovation, or more efficient practices. Just make sure to offer a clear proof of purpose. Communicate clearly the motivational why that is the foundation of the rest of the information to come.

WHAT: Evidence description

After you’ve offered proof of purpose, you need to describe the evidence you have to back up the claims you’ve just made. In order to have a strong foundation to build on, you need strong evidence. After all, as author and research expert Jim Foster reminds us, it’s statistics that help us make discoveries, decisions, and predictions.

I like that TED uses the word “describe” rather than “present.” “Presenting” evidence can feel like a data dump. You simply lay it out and expect the audience to make sense of it on their own. However, “describing” evidence is quite different. Think about this. When you introduce your evidence to your audience, you are asking them to process in minutes what it probably took you week or months to research and gather. That means, you need to spend some time catching them up.

You should rely heavily on visuals for describing your evidence. Your audience will need to see it while you are describing it. But don’t just show them the numbers. Tell them what the numbers mean. Tie it back in to your purpose—attach the what to the why. Otherwise, you’ve got castles floating in the air.

HOW: Implementation Process

The final step in the third part of TED’s presentation structure is to tell the audience how your ideas or information can be implemented. If you have clearly communicated why this matters and what evidence it’s based on, your audience should be ready to learn how to make it happen. Why does how come last? Well, it’s a matter of neuroscience. Brain research has proven that we understand information and patterns best when they are attached to context. So once your audience understands the context, they need a clear, step-by-step guide of the implementation process.

Audience analysis is important here. Remember who you are talking to and pay attention to the process from the audience’s view rather than your own. Avoid any technical jargon or steps in the process that aren’t crucial to what the audience needs to know. Some audiences will need the full behind-the-scenes tour. Others won’t. For example, if you work for a company who provides a computer program to make medical billing codes more universal, you might present the implementation process differently to medical professionals than you would to the administration and billing specialists. When it comes time to cover the how, evaluate who your audience is, and meet their specific and unique needs for implementation.

Once you can clearly explain the why, the what, and the how of your presentation to the audience, you’ve communicated clearly. In the words of TED, you have described “your evidence and how and why your idea could be implemented.” In the words of Thoreau, “your work need not be lost.”

We’ve got one last part of TED’s 4-part presentation structure to cover. In the meantime, check out our full line of presentation design and training services available at Ethos3.com.


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