Duarte – The Secret Structure of Great Talks

Duarte – The Secret Structure of Great Talks is a good listen for all preachers.


This is Nancy Duarte’s TEDS speech (18 minutes) about Great Talks. Although there is nothing really “Christian” about this video, it has made a big impact on me. While I watch this video I realized that a lot of the things she is saying is just good preaching. It parallels biblical preaching, i.e. present the need (sinner is under the condemnation of God), present the end result (sinner saved, living in Christ), and then present the bridge between the two, i.e. how do we get from the first point to the conclusion. Excellent speech!

I would also note that she explains the presentation of ideas, and she is searching for how different great presentations of some idea are done. She looks at Martin Luther King’s speech, I have a Dream, and Steve Jobs iPhone speech. She marks out how he identified with the audience and used the audience to get into and behind his great idea, his dream. In that speech she examines the excellent (skillful) process of presenting a great idea, what is and what could be. This seesaw rocking between the two is what Martin Luther King did to get his point through. This is equally what any great speaker is going to be doing. I think of Christ’s teaching, and this same motion of presenting our present distressful situation, and what is God’s will for us, what is and what could be. This dynamic is what really moves the audience into adopting and getting behind the great idea.

She says you must take the status quo and make it unappealing. Create discontent with what is. People resist change, and “on your way to change the world”, you have to contend with this resistance. They often love things the way they are. You must work what is and what could be back and forth over and over in order to finally convince them that they need to change their life (i.e. accept and adopt your “great idea”). Duarte explains that it is like sailing against the wind. You have to move your boat back and forth, back and forth in order to overcome that resistance to your progress. She makes the point that if you use the wind skillfully, you will actually go faster than the wind. She says that by capturing their resistance to use that, you will draw these people with their resistance into the great idea, and rather than making that an impossible wall you cannot penetrate, their resistance actually is useful in convincing them of the great idea. The idea hinges on repeated comparisons of what is and what could be. In other words, their firmness in the status quo (no change) is used against them by making the possibility (what could be) more distant and “impossible”. When you constantly and repeatedly contrast the status quo and the “what could be”, you create desire for the what could be, and your “great idea” is what moves them from what is to what could be.

Every great presentation has to have a call to action (like every great sermon must have call to change, where you clearly define what the person has to do). Duarte puts it this way, you have to give them a call to action (what to do), and in this you have to describe the “new bliss”. In order words, you must put into their mind how the great idea will change their life. This is clearly an application in a sermon. Apply the spiritual principle so that they focus on the “goodness” (bliss) which results from accepting the great idea.

Another great part of these presentations is the speakers own “marveling” at the idea they have. They express their own awe over it. The speaker “models” how he wants the audience to feel, by actually feeling that way publicly with the audience. This is the embodiment of his “great idea” that he is trying to get across. In the presentation of the “great idea”, the speaker creates a “great moment” that they will always remember. While this is a high point in the presentation, it is also a concrete embodiment of the “great idea”. This is seen in sermons as “the illustration”. Usually a great sermon has (at least one) great illustration. This is an embodiment of the “great idea” in a encapsulated form, and this is what the audience carries away from the discourse. They remember the illustration although not everything else in the speech.

Note that this is a general talk about giving presentations or sermons or talks.