Most powerful thing I learned from a minister I met at a Unitarian Universalist conference over ten years ago: always make ’em think, make ’em laugh and/or cry, and give ’em a gift to take away. I used this philosophy in all my successful talks to the congregation I was part of back in Houston (we didn’t have a full-time minister, so I, along with other members of the congregation, got to speak regularly on Sunday mornings).
The most successful writers and speakers whose work I’ve seen include these elements.
When I first started writing my talks, I got focused too much on the thinking part; that’s my forte in a lot of ways. I was always the student who raised her hand to answer questions in class (“I know, I know!”). My soul sisters and brothers existed all over the schools of America, and probably elsewhere, continually charming teachers and alienating peers as they begged for attention for their mental achievements. It was a good strategy for the future, although the backlash from peers at the time was sometimes fierce (I still remember being taunted and physically attacked on my way home from school in junior high—being an “egghead” could be dangerous).
If I’d known better then, I might have been able to appeal to their hearts, or at least address the fears that fueled their persecution, but my twelve-year-old self was not capable of grasping the importance of all the elements of presentation. That emotional maturity and generosity would not develop until much, much later. 🙂
And much later it was. In my forties, I finally began to get connected with not only my own emotions, which had always been sensitive to others but suppressed, but with the joys and agonies of others. Life experience is like that, when you let it. It can alienate you from others if you don’t embrace your own emotional experience, but if you do, it can transform you through empathy into compassion (often a trial by fire, but there it is). Remember, if you want to write or speak about something, you have to be able to connect emotionally with it in order to truly communicate that experience to others.
But if you stop there, with just the make ’em think and make ’em feel parts, you will have missed the punchline of the story. And this last is the part I often find missing in inspirational writing. It is definitely present in the writing and speaking of those who are successful at building an audience, though. Think of Tony Robbins or the even more in-your-face Work of Byron Katie. They both create internal shifts in their audiences that the participants take away with them to their real lives in the world away from workshops and classes. This is where the value is that keeps folks coming back to get more and to recommend these folks to their friends.
I’m not saying you have to work your writing, speaking, and workshops to be just like Tony or Byron Katie. They’ve each got their own angle, their own style, of presenting what is ultimately the same transformational invitation; the common theme is what marketers label as a “call to action.” In this case, though, when we integrate the call to action into our text or speech, its purpose is not to get someone to buy something, but to get someone to shift their way of thinking, feeling, and being such that they attract more of whatever it is they want (peace, love, and joy, perhaps?) into their lives.
It’s kind of like the morals in Aesop’s fables, but instead of just telling us what they are (which he does do at the end), Aesop integrates his takeaway into the narrative of the story by using the allegory of animals having an adventure and learning the lesson along the way. We remember the moral because of the whole story.
So, all three elements are required for a successful tale, workshop, or speech: make ’em think, make ’em feel, give them a takeaway.
Your next question, is, of course, where is the takeaway in this little article? Good point. I’d love to hear in the comments about how you include the takeaway (along with the other two elements) into your work. Give me an example of something you’ve created that has these three elements, especially the takeaway. As my contribution, I’m including the link here, to my talk on what our children have to teach us as parents.