‘Controlling idea’ keeps presentations on track

Before you sit down to write a speech or build a presentation, be clear about one thing: your controlling idea.

The ‘controlling idea’ is the big thought you want to plant in the mind of your audience. Sure, you’ll be talking about a whole lot of things… but they all need to lead in one direction.

In our presentation skills training sessions, we show people how the controlling idea helps to limit the focus of the speech or presentation. Without a clearly-identified focus in mind you are in danger of confusing your audience.

Keep your controlling idea to one short sentence.

Let’s say you are explaining what your company is doing to support a clean environment. You want to tell the audience all the good things you’ve done, and why they’re important. That mass of facts is an important part of the speech.

But it’s not a controlling idea.

The controlling idea has to be one clear simple sentence that expresses what you want the audiences to understand. Your controlling idea should be something as clear and simple as “We strongly support a clean environment because it’s good for business.”

Or “We’re good business-people but we’re also good neighbours.”

Or “Our green credentials help us hire the staff we want.”

Once you decide on your controlling idea, keep coming back to it throughout your talk. Let it guide all your arguments and all the points you want to make. You can even say it out loud at an appropriate place in your speech. The simpler the controlling idea, the easier it will be to do this.

Figuring out the controlling idea will save you time in the long run. It provides focus for your whole presentation. It’s the glue that holds your speech or presentation together, helping it make sense for the audience.

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