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Snappy Summaries

Summaries can take a variety of forms; trailers, news headlines, executive summaries, tweets, and advertising slogans. In this article, we look at a few simple structures for articulating your ideas. First impressions count. Making the right impression with your idea means your initial explanation needs to be compelling.

Structuring any presentation is important, but especially if you’re summarising. You haven’t got long to get the idea across and you want to make sure it is coherently framed so your listener can then respond to you in a way that is helpful to both you and them. If they’re left baffled, they might struggle to respond meaningfully.

Traditionally, when introducing an idea for the first time, you might use the following structure:

  • Who am I?
  • What is the overall idea?
  • Who is the idea for?
  • Why is it needed, or why is it better than whatever currently exists?

Note that how it works may not be necessary or it may be paraphrased into what it is or who is it for.

Many would-be innovators would launch straight into describing specific technical features of the idea, sometimes without even describing who it’s for or what it achieves in totality. They’ve failed to create a structure and probably misjudged their listeners’ interest and ability to comprehend.

There is nothing wrong with introducing the ‘what’ so early, but some people get hung up on the level of detail. The author and speaker Simon Sinek famously suggests we “start with why” (Sinek, 2009) and proposes the following model:

  • Who am I? - We would still suggest you need to introduce yourself first!
  • Why do we need this idea? - Set out the purpose first. (This might include setting out the problem)
  • How will it work - including who for?
  • What? - explain what it actually is.

This model is powerful when you’re addressing a problem that is sufficiently compelling for the listener to be hooked. By starting with the purpose of the idea it helps contextualise your proposed solution.

However, there is a potential danger here too; that the speaker spends too much time outlining a problem and leaving the listener wondering what the actual idea is. Sometimes by the time the idea is described the listener is already bored or the idea is underwhelming and anti-climactic compared to the problem.

One solution is relatively simple. Remember to sell the benefits of an idea, not just the features. Features are the details, for example: the car has air conditioning, goes from 0-60 miles per hour in 10 seconds, has built in satellite navigation, and a clever auto-parking function. The benefits are the advantages and opportunities that derive from the features; the car offers the driver comfort, speed, and pre-packaged support to find their destinations and park up easily. Some people like to know the details, the features, others like to know how it will affect the problems they face; they want benefits. This is something you will need to judge depending on who you’re pitching your idea to.

Sinek, S. (2009). How great leaders inspire action, TED talk filmed at TEDxPuget, 16 September 2009

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This article is from the free online course:

Unleash Your Potential: Innovation and Enterprise

University of Bristol

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