It was either Winston Churchill or Mark Twain who said “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter so I wrote you a long one.” As is the epic journey of creating a TEDx talk with a pretty rigorous time limit.
The editing process goes something like this:
I show up for session 1 and begin brainstorming. I’m told I have 9 minutes to give my talk (because people don’t listen to talks longer than 9 minutes). I’m to deliver it to 3 audiences—one of close friends & family, one of acquaintances, one of strangers. It’s to be extemporaneous. As in NOT memorized word for word.
I start to develop my talk and it’s coming in between 14-15 minutes. I dial in and hone down and….it still comes in at 14 minutes. I show up for my second coaching session and it comes in at 12 minutes.
“You’re gonna have to cut 3 minutes off,” the coaches say.
“Can you suggest which 3 minutes?” I ask.
“Well, don’t cut the arms, and don’t cut the legs, and you definitely can’t cut the belly.”
“I know. I get it. So what should I cut?”
They send me off and assure me I’ll figure it out. Then later I get an email saying “You can go with 12 minutes if you need it.”
Phewsh. I don’t want to cut the arms or the legs or the belly or any of the parts of the body of this talk.
At home I’m still coming in at 14. I must have been rushing at that coaches session. I pinch and I tweak and I massage and I tuck in service of making it shorter. It’s getting shorter, but every time I go with the extemporaneous version it, it expands!
Noooooooo! I don’t have minutes to spare!
I start to show it to my audiences. It’s soooo helpful to hear their feedback, but as I start to reveal gaps & holes & missing pieces in the talk, of course, you guessed it, it gets longer. Each time is longer than the last. It becomes the ever-expanding talk.
I remember the first year I grew a garden. I had all these tiny baby lettuce plants, and I didn’t want to kill any of them. Each little seedling had the potential to grow up to be a full & hearty lettuce plant. I couldn’t bear to see them die by my hand.
My gardening mentor said “Thin ruthlessly. You have to thin ruthlessly so the plants that do live thrive.”
Thinning my lettuce that first year was unbearable. But I did it. I thinned ruthlessly.
Now when I work with clients I use that story a lot. I encourage them to thin ruthlessly when they’re crafting their talks: The less you say, the more your audience will hear. Keep it simple. Keep it short. Cut any unnecessary words. Get to the essence.
But I confess I’m glad it’s them not me doing the thinning.
It was either Allen Ginsberg or William Faulkner or Oscar Wilde or Eudora Welty or Stephen King or all of them or someone else who said Kill your darlings.
So here I am, writing the short letter instead of the long one, thinning ruthlesslly, killing my darlings.
Ouch. My arm. My leg. My belly. Ouch.
12 minutes here I come!