you can start many thousands of conversations

#31 – TED talks : the official TED guide to public speaking by Chris Anderson

“There is no one way to give a great talk.”

Presentation literacy – the new superpower. It’s a skill all of us can build.

“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. We’ll call that something an idea.”

Good question – What matters deeply to you?

Good question – “If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one idea you’d most love to spread to other people’s minds?”

Misconception – Some speaking coaches focus heavily on voice and body language because of research by Professor Albert Mehrabian that shows “only 7 percent of the effectiveness of communication is down to language, while 38 percent depends on tone of voice and 55 percent comes from body language.” That research is misunderstood. It applies to communicating emotion and not speaking in general. Words matter.

“…the speaker’s job is to give to the audience, not take from them.”

Do not do these when giving a talk – 1. Sell yourself or your company. 2. Ramble due to lack of preparation. 3. Bore the audience by talking about your company. 4. Attempt to “inspire” the audience in a way that’s not true to who you are.

Every talk must have this: a throughline – a connecting theme that ties in the different elements of your talk.

Some examples of throughlines in TED talks:
“More choice actually makes us less happy.
Vulnerability is something to be treasured, not hidden from.
Let’s bring on a quiet revolution—a world redesigned for introverts.”

A throughline should not have more than 15 words.

“The key is to present just one idea—as thoroughly and completely as you can in the limited time period.”

When you rush through a talk saying many different things, you lessen its impact.

“TED Talks have a maximum time limit of 18 minutes. (Why 18? It’s short enough to hold people’s attention, including on the Internet, and precise enough to be taken seriously. But it’s also long enough to say something that matters.)”

“leave space and SAY LESS”

Sir Ken Robinson uses this structure in his talks:
“A. Introduction—getting settled, what will be covered
B. Context—why this issue matters
C. Main Concepts
D. Practical Implications
E. Conclusion”

Audiences have weapons that you as a speaker need to disarm: “skepticism, mistrust, dislike, boredom, incomprehension.”

How to disarm: make eye contact and smile; show vulnerability (I’m a little nervous); make them laugh; self-deprecation; tell a story.

Again, what’s your central idea in your talk – “One of the biggest reasons we turn down applications to speak at TED is when we’re offered compelling anecdotes but no central idea that wraps the narrative together. ”

“You can’t give a powerful new idea to an audience unless you can learn how to explain. That can only be done step by step, fueled by curiosity. Each step builds on what the listener already knows. Metaphors and examples are essential to revealing how an idea is pieced together. Beware the curse of knowledge! You must be sure you’re not making assumptions that will lose your audience. ”

“Persuasion means convincing an audience that the way they currently see the world isn’t quite right.”

Talks that are “reason-based” are not always popular but TED believes they are the most important because “reason is the best way of building wisdom for the long term.”

“dreamscape speakers have been among TED’s most thrilling. They speak not of the world as it is, but as it might be. When these talks are done right, they get an audience’s hearts to pound and their minds to explode with a sense of possibility.”

Which is more effective as a slide? One that reads “A black hole is an object so massive that no light can escape from it.” or “How black is a black hole?”

“One of TED’s favorite speaker coaches, Gina Barnett, believes the key is to be able to recite the talk at double speed (when you’re practising). When you can do that comfortably, giving the talk at normal speed will be automatic and you can focus 100 percent on meaning. ”

“Harvard professor Dan Gilbert advises his students to speak their talks into a recorder first, then transcribe them, and use that as the initial draft of their talk. Why? “Because when people write, they tend to use words, phrases, sentence structures, and cadences that no one uses in natural speech. So when you start with written text and then try to adapt it for performance, you are basically trying to turn one form of communication into another, and odds are that your alchemy will fail.”

During rehearsal, “Your goal is to end up with a talk whose structure is second nature to you so that you can concentrate on meaning what you say.”

“You want an opening that grabs people from the first moment. A surprising statement. An intriguing question. A short story. An incredible image… Starting strong is one of your most important weapons.”

Examples of strong openings –
Jamie Oliver: “Sadly, in the next 18 minutes . . . four Americans that are alive will be dead . . . through the food that they eat.”
Alice Goffman: “On the path that American children travel to adulthood, two institutions oversee the journey. The first is the one we hear a lot about: college. College has some shortcomings. It’s expensive; it leaves young people in debt. But all in all, it’s a pretty good path . . .Today I want to talk about the second institution overseeing the journey from childhood to adulthood in the United States. And that institution is prison.”

The importance of curiosity – “If a talk’s goal is to build an idea in listeners’ minds, then curiosity is the fuel that powers listeners’ active participation. Neuroscientists speak of questions creating a knowledge gap that the brain fights to close.”

“Every talk needs mapping—a sense of where you’re going, where you are, and where you’ve been.”

You need to end strong. Peak-end rule states that people judge an experience based on how they felt as it’s peak and how it ended rather than the average sum of feelings throughout.

An example of a strong ending. Bryan Stevenson: “I’ve come to TED because I believe that many of you understand that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. That we cannot be fully evolved human beings until we care about human rights and basic dignity. That all of our survival is tied to the survival of everyone. That our visions of technology and design and entertainment and creativity have to be married with visions of humanity, compassion, and justice. And more than anything, for those of you who share that, I’ve simply come to tell you to keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.”

When you feel nervous, breathe and exhale deeply. You can also do push-ups to get rid of excess adrenaline.

Drink a third of a bottle of water five minutes before speaking. Eat some healthy food an hour before speaking or have a protein bar.

“Early on in the talk, look out for faces that seem sympathetic. If you can find three or four in different parts of the audience, give the talk to them, moving your gaze from one to the next in turn. Everyone in the audience will see you connecting, and the encouragement you get from those faces will bring you calm and confidence.”

“Monica’s suggestion to write THIS MATTERS on your notes is wonderful. This is the single biggest piece of advice I can give you. It’s not about you, it’s about the idea you’re passionate about. Your job is to be there in service of that idea, to offer it as a gift. ”

Why is a hearing a talk better than reading a transcript? – “It’s the human overlay that turns information into inspiration.”

How to inject variety in the way you speak:
“If your talk is scripted, try this: Find the two or three words in each sentence that carry the most significance, and underline them. Then look for the one word in each paragraph that really matters and underline it twice more. Find the sentence that is lightest in tone in the whole script and run a light wavy pencil line under it. Look for every question mark and highlight them with a yellow highlighter. Find the biggest single aha moment of the talk and inject a great big black blob right before it is revealed. If there’s a funny anecdote somewhere, put little pink dots above it. Now try reading your script, applying a change in tone for each mark.”

When speaking, go faster rather than slow as the latter allows people minds to wander.

“There have been so many times in TED rehearsals where we’ve encouraged these speakers to relax and to simply stand still. The difference in impact is immediate.”

“It’s an easy trap to get so caught up with the how of giving a talk that you forget what’s more important, and that is—giving your talk in your own authentic way.

“Twenty years ago I saw a talk about the need to continue to fight for nuclear disarmament. I can’t remember the name of the speaker. Nor his organization. Nor much of what he said. But I will never forget what he did. He took a single dried pea and held it up. He said, “I want you to imagine that this is a thermonuclear weapon, a hydrogen bomb. It is one thousand times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.” He tossed the pea into a large metal bucket that had a microphone attached to it. The scratchy ping when it landed and bounced was shockingly loud. Then he said, “And how many thermonuclear warheads do you think there are on Earth today?” He paused. “Thirty. Thousand.” Without saying anything else he reached down and picked up a sack of dried peas, and tipped them into the bucket, first one at a time, then as a torrent. The sound was deafening, terrifying. At that moment, every person in that room understood deeply, viscerally, why this issue mattered.”

“Bill Gates gained headlines across the world by releasing a jar full of mosquitoes during his talk on malaria, joking, “There’s no reason why only poor people should have the experience.”

“a speaker’s goal isn’t to exhaustively cover a niche topic. Instead, it’s to make her work accessible to others. To show why it’s interesting. To show why it matters. That can usually be done in less than 20 minutes.”

“The most amazing thing about a talk, for me, is its potential for impact. The short talk you’re about to give has the potential not only to reach hundreds of thousands of people, but to start many thousands of conversations. And so the central advice I would give is to push yourself as hard as possible to be bold and brave, to try to step outside the comfort zone of what you know for sure or what others have said already, and to give the world questions and inspirations that deserve a thousand conversations. It’s not about being right, or safe—it seems to me—so much as about having a staggering opportunity to create something that will breed further ideas.”

Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. Subscribe to my newsletter.



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