The Wonders of Reduction: Creating a Pithy Speech Just Like a Cook Concentrates the Sauce
by Claudia Brogan
One of the perpetual quests of good speakers is to create and deliver a pithy speech that “packs a lot of punch” without taking extra time. A speech that makes its points clearly and engagingly without becoming redundant.
Ironically, the best speeches can sometimes be the shortest ones. Trimmed and culled. Just like the cooking practice that is called “boiling something down to its essence,” an effective speech takes its ingredients and cooks them together until they are concentrated, well-combined and full of zest. When a cook boils down a sauce or stew, the water or other liquid is decreased and is boiled off and evaporates in the steam rising from the pan. Another way to say this is that the cook reduces the sauce. Great cooks do this to make something thicker and more flavorful.
Recently I worked with a speaker as she prepared her remarks for an upcoming presentation. When we began our work on it, the speech had several portions and parts, as if she aimed to tell the audience all that she knew about this topic. Just to be clear, it was exciting to work with her enthusiasm and her passion for the topic. But as I listened to her rehearse her presentation, it felt like a whirlwind. As a listener, I found myself overwhelmed with all the various parts and ingredients.
As we sat together for our debrief meeting, I asked her to give me a good pithy headline and a descriptive Topic Sentence. She chuckled at that and then wrestled with that question for several minutes. We sat together afterwards and I asked her to tell me, in as few words as she could, the main driving point that she wanted the audience to come away with.
What happened next is that we had a very positive and energizing work session, trimming from the variety of points in her speech. Just like a good cook working to create a well-reduced and tasty sauce, we created a clear, focused, pithy version of her speech. Though at first she was reluctant to “let go” of any of her points, she was pleased to see that the key points came into the spotlight. And she was delighted when the trimmed, edited version delivered sturdy, first-rate points that all worked together to illustrate her pithy headline and topic sentence.
Next time you find that the speech you’re writing feels overly-long, think of the cook who persists until a concentrated, tasty sauce is created: reduce the sauce and see how the robust flavors come shining through!
Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you.