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Before You Present, Find Your Zombie Sentence

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Imagine you're giving a presentation. Suddenly, a group of zombies smash through the windows, attack your audience, and eat most of their brains before lumbering away moaning and groaning. Being a committed speaker, you continue your presentation but decide to wrap things up just in case the zombies return.

Problem is, with most of their brains missing, your audience members will now be able to remember just one simple sentence about your presentation.

What is that sentence?

There's an old adage that if you can't explain something in simple terms, you don't truly understand it. That's good advice when trying to identify and simplify your core idea into a short, coherent statement – your 'Zombie Sentence.’

This is what journalists sometimes call “finding the lead.” Take this paragraph for example. It’s from a high school newspaper. Your job is to find the lead. What is it?

The lead is that there’s a colloquium on new teaching methods on Thursday, right?

No, wait. It’s that famed anthropologist Margaret Mead and others will be speaking on the topic, isn’t it?


The lead is: There’s no school on Thursday (because all of the faculty is going to Sacramento).

To try to get to a place of clarity about your presentation's core idea, try out different sentences and, after each one, ask yourself, "But why does that matter?"

You may find that what you think is your core message is really just an upper layer.

The Zombie Sentence for this article, for example, is: Before giving any presentation, find a sentence that conveys its core idea.

Once you have your 'Zombie Sentence,' use it as a recurring theme throughout your talk to maintain the focus of your presentation.

Finally, consider only presenting in windowless rooms. Zombies rarely use the door.

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