The Big Short

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A lot of times people ask, “What are the essential components of a speech?” They’re looking for the silver-bullet, the ideal length of time spent, the appropriate level of seriousness, how much humor, how many data points to include, etc. Often, we look to TED talks, popular speeches and commencement addresses as examples of ways to inspire, motivate and shift the way people think or act. Rarely can we look to a movie as an example of how we should give a speech.

That was before we saw The Big Short.

If you haven’t seen it, yet, try to do so before this Sunday’s Academy Awards. It was informative, educational, entertaining, connecting and unexpected – and you’ll feel thankful that you saw it (unless, of course, you were personally responsible for the mortgage crisis).

So often, we need to make the complex simple.

Adam McKay (the director) went way outside the box, presenting the facts and history of the mortgage collapse in a way that fueled ah-ha moments – enabling us to see, feel and grasp the complex concepts of CDOs, credit default swaps and tranches.

How can we do this in speeches?

There are the 3 key things we can learn from The Big Short:

1.    Tell it like it is. Starting at the beginning, one of the main characters (Ryan Gosling) broke the 4th wall to talk straight to the audience. Plainspoken and raw, he showed his involvement – and ours, too. When you’re the one speaking, telling it like it is shows transparency and vulnerability. Add your emotions – show how your own blood, sweat and tears impact whatever you’re discussing. Don’t whitewash the details. You’ll really get to the heart of the issue – and your audience – when you tell it like it is.

2.    Add SHARPs. We talk about SHARPs all the time – and this movie was filled with SHARPs! Looking for a great presentation visual? Think beyond 2-D. Jenga blocks were an incredible visual – and also tactile and audible – representation of the complexity of mortgages. Don’t have the right prop on hand? Share an analogy, or get a celebrity to share one for you (practically speaking, a video clip is a great way to do this). Selena Gomez describing betting on a bet, Anthony Bourdain outlining how three-day-old fish can become fish chowder – these analogies helped these complex financial concepts come to life in a way that most economic textbooks – and professors – do not.

3.    Add a Dash of Unexpected. Whether it’s a blonde bombshell in a bubble bath sipping champagne and explaining sub-prime loans (like Margot Robbie, above), or a false ending that gets the audience to laugh, interrupt the current flow. Crystalize and break – it’s one of the SUCCESs principles from Made to Stick. Business meetings are fairly predictable! To really keep them paying attention and wanting to know what you’re going to do or say next, you must shift gears and bring them the unexpected.

It feels like a huge risk to take a high stakes opportunity and add these SHARP and unexpected elements, or to tell it like it really is. But the fact of the matter is that it’s not fluff; it works. It might even win an Oscar. And it could help you win your next project, client or presentation, too.

 

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One comment on “The Big Short

  1. Great post! What I liked about The Big Short is that it often broke away from the story line to show everyday people as they dealt with the horrors of this crisis. The writers didn’t over explain — they just showed a real world slice of life and then went back to the main plot/characters. This added a human touch to what could have been a very dry story about finance.

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