As a kid, I was full of ideas. I mean, FULL of ideas. As a result, I had trouble organizing my thoughts and communicating them to the world.
Then, a great teacher taught me four strategies that helped solve the problem. These strategies are built around the analogy of a river. You start on one bank, and need to get to the other side. There are several ways to cross the river, each valid, and each tailored to a different situation.
The third strategy, Rock Hopping, is my favorite—but it’s easier to explain if we take all four in order:
Strategy #1: Load the Boat
Think about everything you want to say, practice it, refine it, and master it. Nail down every last detail so your delivery is polished from start to finish.
This works great when you have time to script and rehearse exactly what you want to say. It’s especially well suited to video, when you are reading words off of a prompter, or when your words are translated live.
There is always the temptation to overload the boat by putting in every fact and story possible. Just remember, heavy boats are more likely to flip over in the middle of the river.
Strategy #2: Go with the Flow
Start talking and keep it up until you get to the other side. Don’t try to aim for a specific spot on the far bank, just try to get close and don’t fight the current too much.
As you have guessed, this is the flipside of Load the Boat. It works best in short, casual situations when you are talking about your area of expertise and don’t need to think as much about how to express your ideas. Of course, there is always the risk of getting swept away so don’t forget about the other bank entirely!
Strategy #3: Rock Hopping
Break down what you want to say into individual points, or “rocks,” and space them out across the river. When you are standing on a rock, don’t worry about the ones behind and in front of you, just focus on the one thing you planned to say when on that rock. When done, pause, and hop to the next.
This is my favorite because it combines the best of Load the Boat and Go with the Flow. It does not bring the mental load of the former, while containing the chaos of the latter. You don’t have to remember the whole story at once, you just need to know what to say on each rock. You don’t even have to think about where you are going, as long as you have put the rocks in the right places ahead of time.
Strategy #4: Frog eyes
Make eye contact with the audience (with great, big, metaphorical frog eyes), and use their reactions as a guide. Look for clues for when you should skip ahead, when to go back and clarify, what’s working, and what’s not.
This is not necessarily a strategy in its own right, as it’s best when combined with one of the first three, but I include it because it’s such great advice.
Of course, if you have stage lights in your eyes, are presenting to a conservative culture, or are on video, this is hard to do. In those situations, it’s best to do the work ahead of time to understand what your audience cares about, where they are coming from, and how they might react to what you are saying.
Even after many years I still have these strategies running in the back of my head. They have been tweaked and they have evolved as I have gotten older, and have always served me well.
The next time you, or someone you know, is so full of ideas they come out in a jumble, give one of these strategies a try!