Create and deliver a "laser talk"
This article is part of Advocacy Basics: Growing as an Advocate.
The Impact of Powerful Speaking
Learning how to speak powerfully about our issues is one of the most important tools we possess. RESULTS has created an easy format for our volunteers to use to create powerful “laser talks” – short and compelling talks, less than 2 minutes long, that are the backbone of our advocacy work. We use them when we meet with our members of Congress and their aides, when we call our editorial boards, when we invite people to a RESULTS event. We also use them when an unexpected opportunity arises – like running into a member of Congress at the airport.
We’ve created a simple acronym, EPIC, to help you remember the basics of creating your talk. The letters in EPIC stand for Engage, state the Problem, Inform about the solution, and give the Call to action.
E for Engage Your Audience
Here, you want to get your listener’s attention with a dramatic fact or short statement. Keep this opening statement to one sentence if possible. For instance, you could say:
The COVID-19 pandemic has made America’s housing crisis far worse. This is hitting families in our community, especially low-income Black renters, along with Indigenous families and other people of color, hard.
P for State the Problem
Here you present causes of the problem you introduced in the first section. How widespread or serious is the problem?
While the recent national eviction moratorium helps, without funds to help renters get current on their rent, America will face a wave evictions when the moratorium ends in January.
I for Inform about Solutions
Here you inform the listener about a solution to the problem you just presented. Develop your solution with examples of how and where it has worked, how it is proven and cost-effective and how it has benefited the poorest. Or, you could cite a recent study, or report or tell a first-person account of how the solution has impacted you or others you know.
Millions of Americans have lost their jobs in this pandemic. As a result, they are struggling to pay for basic needs like rent. Economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s analytics estimates that “tenants already owe nearly $25 billion in back rent, which could reach $69.8 billion by the end of the year.” Furthermore, half of all U.S. landlords are small businesses who cannot meet their own financial obligations when no rent is coming in. Keeping low-income renters in their homes must be a national priority [include your own experience and/or why you care].
C for the Call to Action
Now that you’ve engaged your listener, presented the problem and informed him or her of a solution, what do you want the listener to do? Make the action something specific so that you will be able to follow up on whether or not the action has been taken. Present the action in the form of a yes or no question and in one sentence.
Renters and landlords cannot wait any longer for relief. Will you tell leadership to pass a robust COVID-19 relief bill that includes $100 billion in emergency rental assistance? How can I follow up with you on this?
Delivering Your Laser Talk
Any good musician, actor, or speaker knows never to go on stage without rehearsing first, and it’s no different with public speaking. Being an active member of RESULTS requires that we get out of our comfort zones and commit ourselves to practicing powerfully speaking about our issues to others. After your first experience of using an effective laser talk with a member of Congress or the media, you’ll never go back to winging it again.
It’s important to speak naturally rather than to read your talk word for word. As you get familiar with your talk, you’ll discover where you need more practice or where you may want to make changes. These talks will develop and change as you learn new information over time, so be flexible and always keep on the lookout for interesting facts and powerful stories so you can make updates.
Tips for Delivering Your EPIC Laser Talk:
- Practice your laser talk out loud several times before practicing in front of another person.
- Memorize as many of the details as possible.
- Practice your laser talk with another member of your RESULTS group.
- Identify the audience you imagine you are addressing – for example, a member of Congress or a potential new RESULTS volunteer.
- Deliver your talk without stopping, even if you make a few stumbles along the way. The more you practice, the better you will get.
- Once finished, critique yourself. Pick two things that you liked about the talk and one thing you would like to improve upon. Ask your partner to critique your talk next and listen with an open mind.
Tips for Listening to and Providing Feedback on an EPIC Laser Talk:
- Ask your partner who the target audience is.
- Listen intently to the talk and gauge how natural it seems.
- Identify which elements of the EPIC format were present and which were missing.
- Prompt your partner to critique his or her talk.
- Tell your partner two things you really liked about the laser talk and one thing you think he or she could improve upon.
Develop Your Public Narrative
Public Narrative is a tool developed by Marshall Ganz at Harvard University to translate values into action. This tactic helps connect the head to the heart, and helps to link your own personal “calling” to a call to action for your community. Check out our Powerful Speaking workbook to get started on your own story.
Prepared to be Powerful
Remember that conversations vary, so you may not always deliver your laser talk exactly as you learned it. But if you learn it well, you will be able to use all sections of the talk as you need them. Then take a look at our U.S. and global poverty laser talks. Learning a good repertoire of laser talks that you can pull out at any time will help make you a primed and powerful speaker for the end of poverty!