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The Chunking Method: From Chaos to Clarity for your Message

Posted on March 14, 2016

From Chaos to Clarity for your Message

In last week’s blog we went through the brainstorming process and ended up with piles of notecards. We laid them all out and sorted them into stacks based upon an ever evolving set of criteria.

Have you ever played that sliding puzzle where there are tiles in a slotted square box that you have to move around until you solve the puzzle? Chunking is a bit like that.

Chunks can be determined by a myriad of criteria: chronological, topical, pros/cons, before/after, cause/effect, proof of concept, etc. As with the sorting process in the previous blog, there is no right or wrong way to chunk EXCEPT you must never force a group of notecards into a chunk that it doesn’t really belong with.

So as I start to move my stacks of notecards around, I slide entire sections from here to under there, or out from this chunk into a new chunk. I think about my audience and what they may or may not already know, and I think about what order makes the most sense to approach this information. At last I have all my stacks organized in some fashion, but it has become clear that not everything really fits into my chunks.

And now it’s the moment of truth.

EDITING (and benching some of your darlings)
So far everything we have done has been without limits, without boundaries, and without judgment. But now we have to face the fact that there are some stray notecards and some stray stacks. These just don’t belong in this talk! In fact, we may discover that we have brainstormed our way into more than one talk!!

I believe in selecting ONE key message to deliver to your audience. People can’t absorb everything you know, so give them clarity on one thing. The chunking process helps reveal what our key message is (and it’s sometimes different than what we started with!). Once you have this defined, your talk should include no more than two-four sub-points that tie directly to your one key message. Those other points? Bench them! Save them in a file for the next talk you have to write.

Now it’s time for the next set of cuts. Go through each stack and test each point against your one key message. Is it necessary, it it helpful and is it useful? If it doesn’t fit, bench it. If it’s “nice to have” but not “need to have”, put it to the side for now.

At last, you have the outline for your lecture, a lecture that matters!

In next week’s blog we will go over classic storylines and how we can use them to shape our talks with a proven formula.