Building Modular Talks

Last week, I told the story of how I discovered the power of building modular talks when I had two talks to do in one crazy week. This week, I want to go a bit deeper into how to recognise a good module.

First off, I don’t think that a PowerPoint slide in itself counts as a module. There are all sorts of technical reasons for this but at heart, it is very simple. If a slide only works for a very specific audience, it won’t work as a module.

Imagine this, you have just done a talk to a bunch of engineers on a product. Now you are doing a talk to salespeople. You decide, to save time, that you will reuse some of your slides without editing them. So, you walk in front of a room full of salespeople  and show them a slide with nothing on it but a diagram with labels of parts.

No matter how well you talk, you are instantly going to struggle. The information that engineers need is very different to the info needed by salespeople. The way that they take it all in will differ too.

The parts of talks that work as modules will therefore be the ones that “speak” to more than one group.  In my own experience, I have found that the modules in my talks tend to be found in the parts when I am justifying my work, giving examples or summing up. At the points when I am showing why people should be listening and what they have heard, I tend to be speaking in a way that is usable for another audience.

Other people might find that their modules appear when they are giving explanations, or showing the logic of their argument or using images. Whenever these modules appear, they are recognisable by one trait: you can take them out of the presentation and they make perfect sense on their own.

A neat experiment is to rip some parts out of recent talks and see how much background is needed. The more background required, the less modular the section. The less background required, the more you can reuse what you have done.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the needs of your specific audience can be ignored. Every talk should be done with some kind of audience in mind. On the other hand, in even the most specialist talks, there will be parts that can be reused, sometimes after a little tweaking.

Recognising reusable material is a rarely discussed part of being a speaker. When several talks are queued up in quick succession, however, it is a vital one!


About Jonathan Downie

I am a conference interpreter, public speaking coach, preacher and researcher.
This entry was posted in Audience, Delivery, Preparation, Public Speaking. Bookmark the permalink.

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