WHAT’S YOUR “THROUGH-LINE”?
The number-one reason for this tragedy is that the speaker never had a proper plan for the talk as a whole. The talk may have been planned bullet point by bullet point, or even sentence by sentence, but no time was actually spent on its overall arc.
There’s a helpful word used to analyze plays, movies, and novels; it applies to talks, too. It’s “through-line,” the connecting theme that ties together each narrative element. Every talk should have one.
Since your goal is to construct something wondrous inside your listeners’ minds, you can think of the through-line as a strong cord or rope onto which you will attach all the elements that are part of the idea you’re building.
This doesn’t mean every talk can only cover one topic, tell a single story, or just proceed in one direction without diversions. Not at all. It just means that all the pieces need to connect.
Here’s the start of a talk thrown together without a through-line:
I want to share with you some experiences I had during my recent trip to Cape Town, and then make a few observations about life on the road . . .
Compare that with:
On my recent trip to Cape Town, I learned something new about strangers—when you can trust them, and when you definitely can’t. Let me share with you two very different experiences I had . . .
The first setup might work for your family. But the second, with its through-line visible from the get-go, is far more enticing to a general audience.
HOW TO CRAFT A POWERFUL THROUGH-LINE
A good exercise is to try to encapsulate your through-line in no more than 15 words. And those 15 words need to provide robust content. It’s not enough to think of your goal as, “I want to inspire the audience” or “I want to win support for my work.” It has to be more focused than that. What is the precise idea you want to build inside your listeners? What is their takeaway?