How to Write Talking Points
Don't abbreviate the big idea. Instead, trigger a memory.
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I don't need a thousand words about the bakery to guide me how to tell you what's inside. All I need is a reminder: a whiff of cupcakes in the oven, donuts sizzling in the fryer, or sweet, fine sugar in the air. Give me that and I can fill in the details myself.
Effective talking points work the same way. Here are a few tips for improving yours.
Don’t explain. Instead, trigger memory. You don’t need every detail about the bakery, just a reminder. If you want the speaker to talk about the kitchen, don’t write “Details and thoughts on kitchen inside the back of the bakery we’ve been discussing.” Write “Kitchen.”
Write for scanning, not in-depth reading. Think of the fewest words you can write to trigger memory, then try to shorten even that. If you’ve written more than three-quarters of a physical line, you’ve written too much. Why? As always, put yourself in the position of the speaker. He’s in front of other people. He must be able to scan quickly and understand while speaking.
Make a list. If I asked you to tell me about your day, you’d start with the first thing that comes to mind, bounce to the next random memory, then do that a few more times before you would run out of things to say, and you would probably forget to draw it all together into a larger conclusion. Talking points fix that problem by simply listing the things to be covered in the order they should be mentioned. That's valuable in itself. Don't try to do more. It will be confusing.
Use the title to set up a feeling. Would you rather hear someone start with “I took a vacation. Here’s what I did,” or “Let me tell you about one of the strangest, best vacations I ever took”?
Make a list. Make it easy to follow. Don't get fancy. It doesn't help.
Indent subordinate details.
We understand intuitively that things that are indented are more detailed and less important than material appearing to the left. For instance, the talking point “Problems at departure” might have a list below it of lost passport, cancelled flight, and flat tire. The "Problems" idea can work fine without those particulars, but now the speaker has a choice. Also: use an indented list for things the speaker is unlikely to remember, such as a list of acknowledgements, cities, or numbers.
Make it easy to look at.
Talking points must be arranged so they are easy to follow down the page. Use plenty of white space and never crowd it up. Talking points are for real-time use, so write with that in mind.
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