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The pandemic has taught speakers that our virtual/hybrid performances need to be shorter than their physical peers. But one structural challenge remains, the art of finding the optimal length for a sequence that is both exciting and provides enough depth. In this blog post, you will learn how to create an anchor for each sequence and master the delivery of 3-minute modules.
Aim to cover a set of different bases in your speech
A good starting point is a gross list of topics that could be interesting for your audience to listen to:
- trends or novel technologies
- well-defined issues you want to influence
- opportunities for your audience to take action
- a collection of short stories
When selecting which topics to go with, speakers weigh the different options against each other. Which topics are relevant now? Where do you have something new to talk about now? How many issues should I aim to cover?
I think about each virtual/hybrid speaking opportunity as a baseball ⚾️ field. You are aspiring to cover a few bases, related but far enough from each other, to stretch your audience’s mind. Topics that are too close deliver easy home runs but do not maximize value delivery, and bases too far apart are hard to close the loop on in one session. A good base strategy is to pick four topics covering four related areas, and this approach is feasible and maximizes the value you can deliver.
Create modules anchored in a succinct question
The next job is to turn each topic you have selected into a delivery module. Your ultimate goal is that your audience should remember something from each module. You can cover two to three talking points in a module, and it needs to contain something that stands out.
The best anchor is a succinct question you can help your audience answer. Aim to choose the type of questions that can set you apart from other speakers. What is a good explanation for X? How can I realize Y? When can we expect to see Z? I find it easiest to prepare for a 🔥 side chat, a format that by definition consists of a set of well-formulated questions.
Beyond anchoring each module in a question you can answer, you need something making your answer stick in your audience’s mind.
- An eye-opening fact
- A powerful one-liner, picked up by a journalist in the audience
- A metaphor visualizing a complex context
Sequence modules into a logical flow
Modules and talking points must flow logically and naturally for both speakers and listeners. Speakers need it to memorize and deliver, and your audience needs a flow to follow your story.
Play around with the order of your modules until you have found the best flow. Test the order of your talking points. Read them aloud and record when you type up a talk track and listen to how it comes across. Great speakers spend a great deal of time getting the flow and sequence right. A tedious job that also affects the layout of your visual support.
3-minute punchy modules
The last and perhaps largest decision point is to find the optimal length for each module. If you see each module as unique and assume that it can take any form, you are likely to run into one or multiple of the following challenges:
- your sessions are hard to memorize
- you struggle in meeting allocated delivery times
- you tend to go off script and ramble instead of delivering your story
- you struggle to get facts and examples right when stacking too many messages into a module
Excellent virtual/hybrid deliveries are like Swiss watches, where each module is close to equal in length. Speakers working with a predefined and finite time for each module can develop a “3-minute instinct”. You give them ten minutes for a keynote, and they come in at nine, plus intro and outro. You give them eight questions for an extensive fireside chat, and they click in at 24 with a few minutes for open questions.
Three minutes is short enough for a speaker to memorize the scripted talking points and keep the audience engaged throughout each module and long enough to offer depth even for more complex topics. Four bases, three minutes each, is a good strategy for consistently delivering home runs.
Take some time to measure your comfort talking speed, usually varying between 125 to 150 words per minute. Let your natural pace and a 3-minute frame 🖼 shape how much you aspire to cover.
Additional questions yo ask yourself and your support team
- How do we usually build a gross list for what to cover?
- Can we define each topic into a succinct question?
- What is the most logical sequence, between modules and between talking points?
- How do you best script a talk track to make it possible for you to memorize?
- What kind of cues for modules and talking point support do you have access to during delivery? Classic cue cards is still a good benchmark.
- How far have you advanced in the predictable delivery of 3-minute punchy modules? Expect this to be a challenging but precious skill to master.
- How do you modify your 3-minute script between work both for keynote and fireside chats? Where a moderator eats 30 seconds in the fireside chat format.
Additional reading suggestions
- Average speaking rate and words per minute [BLOGPOST] – Dom Barnard, Virtualspeech
- 6 tips for writing a persuasive speech (on any topic) [ARTICLE – Adam Frankel, Time
- A 4-step plan to make your Q&A more audience-friendly [ARTICLE] – Lauren Weinstein and Matt Abrahams
- 7 ways to write a better speech [BLOGPOST] – Daphne Gray-Grant, VisualThesaurus
- Shortening a speech [BLOGPOST] – Hamilton College