Friday, May 20, 2016

How to Give a Speech According to the Head of TED

Most of you have heard of the famous TED Talks. For the uninitiated, TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a global set of conferences run by the private nonprofit organization Sapling Foundation, under the slogan "Ideas Worth Spreading". TED's early emphasis was technology and design, consistent with its Silicon Valley origins, but it has since broadened its focus to include talks on many scientific, cultural, and academic topics. TED events are held throughout North America and in Europe and Asia, offering live streaming of the talks. They address a wide range of topics within the research and practice of science and culture, often through storytelling. The speakers are given a maximum of 18 minutes to present their ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways they can. Past speakers include Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Al Gore, Gordon Brown, Billy Graham, Richard Dawkins, Richard Stallman, Bill Gates, Bono, Mike Rowe, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and many Nobel Prize winners. TED's current curator is the British former computer journalist and magazine publisher Chris AndersonSince June 2006, the talks have been offered for free viewing online. As of March 2016, over 2,400 talks are freely available on the website. In June 2011, the talks' combined viewing figure stood at more than 500 million, and by November 2012, TED talks had been watched over one billion times worldwide.


On May 16, I attended a talk given by Chris Anderson, the head of TED entitled TED Talks. As a member of Toastmasters International since 2003, I wanted to learn more about how to create an unforgettable talk. The typical Toastmasters speech is only five to seven minutes long, compared to an 18 minute TED talk, but surprisingly, I discovered that it's much harder to craft a seven minute talk compared to an 18 minute talk. I view a Toastmasters speech as a light snack -- something that can be easily consumed in just a few minutes whereas a TED talk is more like a robust salad or a hearty bowl of soup. 

When I attended the talk, the $28 ticket included a copy of Chris Anderson's latest book, TED Talks: The Official Guide TED Guide to Public Speaking. Anderson was only scheduled to speak for 45 minutes, but here are the key takeaways from his talk:

When Anderson first took over leadership of TED in 2001, he struggled to persuade the TED community to back his vision for TED. He was not a naturally great speaker, but when he spoke from his heart, Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon, rose to his feet and started clapping at the end of his talk. And the whole room stood with him and started clapping too. The lesson I learned: Speak from your heart.

Start strong. Don't say you're grateful to be giving this talk. It's boring. Give people a reason to come along for the journey.

Be human and show vulnerability. One of the best ways to disarm an audience is to first reveal your own vulnerability. Share an anecdote. Talk conversationally to your audience. 

Give your audience a gift of an idea that could potentially change who they are. What is an idea? It is a super power because with ideas, we can create new worlds. Find a way of speaking up if you have an important idea to share. Your number-one mission as a speaker is to take something that matters deeply to you and to rebuild it inside the minds of your listeners. An idea is anything that can change how people see the world. The only thing that truly matters in public speaking is not confidence, stage presence, or smooth talking. It's having something worth saying. And what matters is that you do it your way. 

Words matter. It's the words that tell a story, build an idea, explain the complex, make a reasoned case, or provide a compelling call to action. You can't just use your language. Use the audience's language. Use metaphors to explain something that is complex. To say something interesting you have to take the time to do at least two things:
  1. Show why it matters. . . What's the question you're trying to answer, the problem you're trying to solve, the experience you're trying to share?
  2. Flesh out each point you're trying to make with real examples, stories, facts. 

Every talk should have a throughline, the connecting theme that ties together each narrative element. Try to encapsulate your throughline in no more than 15 words. And those 15 words need to provide robust content. Your throughline should have some kind of intriguing angle. What is the precise idea you want to build inside your listeners? What is their takeaway? What is it that you want your audience to have an unambiguous understanding of after you're done? The key is to present just one idea -- as thoroughly and completely as you can in the limited time period. You should then build a structure so that every element in your talk is somehow linked to this idea. 

Make eye contact, right from the start. Eye contact, backed by a warm smile, is an amazing technology that can transform how a talk is received. Don't give a talk with your head buried in your notes. Look at your audience. Be warm. Be real. Be you.

Make them laugh, but not squirm. Humor hacks away the main resistance to listening to a talk. Audiences who laugh with you quickly come to like you. But be careful. Ineffective humor is worse than no humor at all. Telling a joke that you downloaded from the Internet will probably backfire. What you're looking for instead are hilarious-but-true stories that are directly relevant to your topic or an endearing humorous use or language. 

Several years ago, a man I used to work with told an off-color joke at a money manager seminar in front of our top clients. Perhaps the joke would have been funny if you were hanging out with him in a bar on a Friday or Saturday night, but the joke had absolutely nothing to do with the investment topic and it was inappropriate for an audience of mostly sixty to seventy-year-old couples. 

Park your ego. Would you want to trust your mind to someone who was completely full of himself? Ego emerges in lots of ways that may be truly invisible to a speaker who's used to being the center of attention:
  • Name-dropping
  • Stories that seem designed only to show off
  • Boasting about your or your company's achievements
  • Making the talk all about you rather than an idea others can use
Tell a story. We're born to love stories. They are instant generators of interest, empathy, emotion, and intrigue. The stories that can generate the best connection are stories about you personally or about people close to you. You can use stories to set up your ideas. But be careful. Some stories can come across as boastful or emotionally manipulative. The guideline here is just to be authentic. Is that the real you telling the story? A good test is to imagine whether you would tell this story to a group of old friends. And if so, how. Be real, and you won't go too far wrong. 

Persuade. Take something down that is out there and replace it with something else. Show the absurdity of the idea you're trying to replace. 

Unleash your voice. You have this whole other layer of communication by what your voice can do. You can really transform the meaning of what you're trying to say through your voice. Use your voice to pull people in.

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