Dr. Chad Nelsen of Surfrider Foundation is one of the best guys I know when it comes to communicating environmental issues broadly. This is a real gem from him.spicoli

GIVE US THE TRAILER, NOT THE ENTIRE MOVIE. Leave it to a surfer to crack the nut of how to make the most effective presentation. It’s a brilliant rule of thumb.



At the core of our new book, “Connection: Hollywood Storytelling meets Critical Thinking,” is one word: simplicity. That is what effective broad communication is about (as well as most every other major challenge in life) — Keeping It Simple Schtoopid.

In 2004 I gave a joint presentation with my good buddy Chad Nelsen of the Surfrider Foundation at their 20 year anniversary symposium. I talked about the general problem of “shifting baselines” in the oceans, while he applied the concept directly to the surf community. His talk and Powerpoint slides were so perfect that I just sat there thinking, “Damn, that would make a great short video.”

A year later, and thanks to the combined efforts of some of the world’s top surf photographers (who donated photos), professional surfer Pat O’Connell (who provided narration), San Diego City Council Member Donna Frye (who told a great childhood story of the oceans), and Jack Johnson (who let us use his song, “In Times Like These”) we came up with the 4 minute video, “Shifting Baselines in the Surf” — one of the best videos of all for our Shifting Baselines Ocean Media Project which is still worth viewing 8 years later.

It all started with Chad’s communications savvy.



So it really wasn’t a surprise to me a month ago when I was kvetching to him about people who give long, boring presentations, that he said, “Yeah, I like to tell people just give us the trailer, not the entire movie.”

That’s it. So simply put. THAT is the goal of these big talks. And the very trap that academics can’t seem to resist — they want to tell you the WHOLE story. And when I say “they,” I actually mean “we” they — as in I’m one of the worst offenders — constantly looking at my Powerpoint slides like they are all my precious children who must be brought along on the journey. But they can’t.

“You’ve got to be willing to kill your darlings,” is what writers are fond of saying. I’m not sure I like that expression so much, but I REALLY like Chad’s trailer rule. That’s the bottom line. A good movie trailer makes you want to see the movie. A good talk should make you want to grab the speaker afterwards to hear more, rather than making sure you dodge him at the reception for fear he will pick up where he left off when the moderator told him “You’re done,” in the middle of a sentence.

So give Chad’s little rule of thumb some thought the next time you’re assembling a talk. Trailer. Not movie. Movie comes later. Movie is in your written paper or book. Trailer is for talk. Your audience will love you for it.