Recently, as part of my day job, I organized a track of speakers for our company conference in New Orleans. It went about as well as a day of eight PowerPoint presentations in a hotel ballroom could go. But after the lunch break we lost a few people to lure of the sunny fall day outside, not to mention the city’s unique sights and sounds and tastes. At the end of the conference I wondered what big idea I needed to make next year’s event something more, something better?
When I returned to my office, I had an email from one of our corporate advisers with comments on the conference. Overall, it was pretty good, said the adviser, but the presentations contained too much corporate overview information for his tastes.
Duly noted, I thought. To help my speakers prepare for the conference, I’d given them a suggested outline for their talk that started with them introducing themselves and their company or organization. After all, not everyone in the room knew each other or worked in the same industry or profession.
The adviser’s comment recalled to my mind Simon Sinek’s admonition to start with “why.” Many of us start a presentation by telling who, or what, or how. Sinek advocates starting with the why, your why. That way, people will know your motivation, have a chance to connect with you, and possibly be inspired. (You can download several useful free tools for storytelling at Sinek’s website.)
For my conference next year, I don’t know that I’ll have my speakers start with “why.” Somehow that doesn’t feel right for the context. I might point them to Sinek’s website for inspiration for a memorable presentation.
Instead, I think ask my speakers to start off with their Big Idea. Keep in mind that this is a corporate conference, so no one’s big idea will be solving world hunger. The big thoughts might center around money saved or processes improved or customers satisfied. But each speaker leading off with his or her best piece of information or insight or advice might transform my conference into day of eight Big Ideas, which sounds worth postponing playing tourist for just a couple more hours.