Updated: Aug 21, 2019
When it comes to communicating your ideas, do you sometimes feel like you’re taking a shot in the dark, gambling with your core message?
Early in my speaking career, I needed to brainstorm ideas for a keynote speech for an event in Las Vegas. I was asked to address an audience of several hundred CEO’s following a highly paid thought leader and speaker, Seth Godin (no pressure!). This was both a rare privilege and promise of a good time in the Entertainment Capital of the World.
Besides the excitement of Vegas night life and the opportunity to address a prime audience, the desert climate, to a Pacific Northwesterner, was hard to beat. I really looked forward to basking in the bright sunshine and escaping the long gray days of winter in Seattle, if only for an extended weekend. I packed my tennis racket, an under-used pair of swim trunks and ordered-up tickets to a glittering show I’d been wanting to see.
Before I could get on a plane, though, I had to confront the blank slate in front of me. I had to write a speech.
In my early career, writing the bones of a keynote speech was tough for me, enough to create butterflies in my stomach and sweaty palms. How do you choose what to talk about from a world of ideas? How do you illustrate the points you want to make so they are memorable? How do you create laughs, but still be taken seriously by a group of CEO’s?
Whether you’re tasked with giving a high-pressure speech, addressing a conference room of people at work or even telling stories at a holiday party, your chances of being completely understood are pretty slim if you don’t have the right approach. Sometimes the odds of getting your point across to your audience vaguely resemble a Vegas style pari-mutuel game of chance.
Unlocking the Right Communication Combination
It’s true! There are times when communicating with your audience can be reminiscent of throwing your money away on a lottery ticket, with odds of 100 million to 1 of making a significant impact. If you’re not connecting with the people you’re talking to, hitting your mark is, at best, a shot in the dark.
So, how can you buck the odds and bring your point home? Like so many other things in life, it’s easy when you know how. In other words, it’s simpler when you have a system.
Dr. Iliya Bluskov, a noted mathematician, is an expert on “combinatorial systems” or figuring out different ways to win the lottery. In fact, this is the topic of his doctoral thesis and his best-selling book Combinatorial Systems with Guaranteed Wins for PICK-5 Lotteries. (And you thought mathematicians were boring!) His dexterity with number crunching has allowed him—and lots and lots of happy gamblers—to buck the odds and win small pots of lottery money around the world.
Bluskov’s systems increase the odds of winning and turn luck into a matter of logic. Using his tables can reduce the odds from, 100,000,000:1 to less than 1,000:1. There’s certainly no such thing as a sure bet, but by using a system, you can tip the scales in your favor.
But how does Bluskov’s system for beating lotteries relate to creating ideas for a speech or a book?
Trusting the Story Inventory System
Just as you can increase your chances of winning the lottery by using a system, you can take the guesswork out of developing your core content as a speaker or author. It starts by trusting an established system to bring you consistent results.
I use a system called the Story Inventory System. Developing new ideas for writing a book or speech is easier than you might think when you follow the steps that have worked so well for countless others.
When I talk about trusting a system, one of the best things any speaker or writer can do is to brainstorm a story inventory. The pros in the professional speaking industry leverage their key ideas for speeches by creating an inventory of their key stories. They develop these ideas from brainstorming, interviews, life experiences, and studying other thinkers. Then from the inventory of key stories they choose to communicate, the pros select which stories support their core ideas for each keynote speech.
If you are working up ideas for a speech or a book, you can use this system to develop and illustrate your content. The concept to remember is this: you never tell a story without making a point, and never make a point without telling a story. Here’s how:
Brainstorm an inventory of ideas that you want to write or speak about. Don’t stop until you get a list of 25 to 50 ideas.
List three bullet points for each idea, which are the main points you want to communicate for each idea.
Craft a story that encapsulates each point you want to make. The stories can come from your own life experience, or you can borrow stories from friends, celebrities or even historical figures.
Rehearse telling these stories in 2-4 minutes per story. I find little pockets of unused time to practice these stories, such as in the shower or behind the wheel of my car.
Writing a speech with this system is easy. First, take a look at the master theme of the event where you are speaking. Next, look at the inventory of stories you developed—your story inventory. Then pull stories from your inventory that work together to support the flow of your speech.
If you are writing a book, the steps in the system are equally simple to follow. Come up with a Table of Contents based on your best ideas followed by three supporting points. Pull in a supporting story for each of the supporting points. Then write 800 words about each bullet point. Voila! Your chapters will unfold quickly and easily, and your audience will love your clarity.
If you want to communicate clearly, get good at telling your stories both in writing and speaking. Then you can craft your key points and illustrate them with the stories that best support your key message.
So the next time you are asked to speak or generate ideas, all you have to do is trust the system. The Story Inventory System is an evergreen tool to become a thought leader, which will level the odds of winning in your favor!
Bryan Heathman is the CEO of Made for Success Publishing and the author of #1 Best Seller: Book Marketing Reinvented, a book for authors with his best-selling book launch formula. Bryan’s Fortune 500 experience includes Microsoft, Eastman Kodak and Xerox.