#5: Your big idea

Bob Ewing
February 26, 2021

Talking Big Ideas.

“Have a crystal clear understanding of your central idea before you do anything else.”
~ Jeremy Donovan

I remember as a little kid going to my grandparent’s house.

Like me, my grandma loved to talk. So like Maryrose, my grandpa got good at listening. One of his favorite things was relaxing in his chair at the end of the day and watching TV. I can still smell the tobacco he chewed as he sat and laughed at the Three Stooges and their iconic catchphrase:

Hey, what’s the big idea?

This is the perfect question to keep in mind as you prepare to speak.

Your big idea is the most important message that you have to share. It’s the key insight you want to make certain your audience remembers. Even if they forget everything else, you succeed if you get this idea — this one thing — to stick inside their heads.

How do we clarify our big idea? The best book ever written on messaging explains:

[T]he first step is this: Be simple. Not simple in terms of “dumbing down” or “sound bites”. What we mean by simple is finding the core . . . stripping the idea down to its most critical essence.

A favorite example of mine: The Institute for Justice deals with complex legal issues. Yet they work hard to make their messaging clear. For a case involving casket licensing, they stripped down their big idea to just four words of four letters or less:

“It’s just a box.”

News coverage on the lawsuit demonstrates the effectiveness of this approach.

Once you’ve clarified your idea, then you can start crafting your proverbs, stories, and analogies. But that’s for another day.



Effective messaging begins with having clarity on your big idea.

Think about an important project your organization has. An upcoming lawsuit, a research paper, a policy proposal. Ask yourself: what’s the big idea? What’s the one thing I want to make sure people understand about this?

See how simple and clear you can get your answer. Share it with a colleague without reading or using notes.


As you work on clarifying your big idea, take Curly’s sage wisdom to heart: If at first we don’t succeed, let’s keep on sucking till we do succeed.

If you find this useful, please subscribe to our free weekly newsletter.

Latest Posts