Imagine you’re watching a captivating movie or reading a gripping novel. What keeps you entranced from start to finish? It’s the throughline, the central thread that ties the story together. Just as stories need a throughline, so do speeches and presentations. Every talk should have one.
How often have you sat through a business presentation and left the room wondering what it was all about? Lots of charts, graphs, and bullet points but no coherent message, nothing meaningful nor memorable.
A throughline can be considered the big idea, the mental construct that has the power to transform and leaves your audience with something they didn’t have before they listened to you. Think of a throughline like this: a strong cord to which you can attach all the elements and details of the idea you’re building.
Without a throughline what’s the point? TED’s Chris Anderson puts it this way: “Beautiful slides and a charismatic stage presence are all very well, but if there’s no real takeaway, all the speaker has done—at best—is to entertain.”
Think of it this way: the throughline is the backbone of your speech or presentation. It’s the overarching theme, message, or narrative that connects all the elements of your communication. It’s the master plan or a road map that guides both you as the speaker and your audience on the journey from beginning to end.
A good way to create your throughline is to synthesize your idea in 15 words or less.
At a recent workshop I presented on how to create a TED-style presentation, I offered the example of the throughline from my TEDx talk: Slay the dragons of bad communication and change the world with the power of your voice. Every detail of my talk supported that premise.
As you’re developing your throughline, ask yourself these questions:
- What? So what? Now what?
- What is your intention?
- Is it interesting and engaging?
- Why should they care?
- What is the most important concept you want people to remember?
- How will it make their lives or work better?
The biggest obstacle to identifying a throughline is thinking you have far too much information to link to one central idea. That’s the beauty of it: if your data doesn’t sync with the throughline, it shouldn’t be in your presentation. Such is the power of brevity.
Let’s take the standard quarterly state of the business financial report: Q4 Financial Results. A more interesting throughline could be: The ups and downs reveal immense opportunities for change in our accounting. And a human resources summary of employee benefits, Employee Benefits 2024, could become: We have listened to your concerns and acted to better address your work life balance.
Let’s dig deeper into the concept of the throughline in a speech or presentation, why it’s crucial, and how you can create an effective one to motivate your audience to think or act differently. Why is the throughline important?
A throughline provides clarity and structure to your content. It helps you stay on track and ensures that your audience can follow your message without getting lost in a sea of information.
A well-defined through line captures your audience’s attention and keeps them engaged throughout your presentation. It gives them a reason to listen and stay connected to your message until the end.
People remember stories and narratives more than random pieces of information. A through line transforms your content into a memorable story, making it easier for your audience to recall your key points.
Whether you’re informing, persuading, or inspiring, a through line helps you convey your message effectively. It enables you to build a compelling case or narrative that resonates with your audience.
Here are some ways to create an effective throughline:
1. Define your objective:
Start by clarifying the main purpose of your presentation. What do you want to achieve? Whether it’s to inform, persuade, entertain, or inspire, your throughline should align with this objective.
2. Know your audience:
Consider your audience’s needs, interests, and expectations. What will resonate with them? Tailor your throughline to them to make it more relevant.
3. Craft a compelling narrative:
Your throughline should tell a story, even if your presentation isn’t a traditional narrative. It should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Use anecdotes, examples, or metaphors to create a narrative structure that supports your message.
4. Keep it simple:
Avoid making your through line overly complex or convoluted. A simple, clear one is more effective in guiding your audience. If it’s too complicated, they may lose interest or become confused.
5. Use signposts:
Throughout your speech, use signposts to remind your audience of the main idea. These can be transitional phrases, summaries, or visual cues that reinforce the central message and keep your audience connected to it.
6. Reiterate and conclude:
In your conclusion, reiterate your through line and emphasize its importance. Leave your audience with a lasting impression of your central message.
In the world of public speaking and presentations, the throughline is the secret sauce that makes your message memorable, engaging, and effective. It’s the golden thread that ties your content together, guiding both you and your audience on a meaningful journey.
By defining your objective, understanding your audience, crafting a compelling narrative, and keeping it simple, you can create an effective throughline that leaves a lasting impact on your listeners. So, the next time you prepare to speak in public, remember the power of the through line, and watch as your message resonates with your audience like never before.