TED Talks is an instruction manual to become a great public speaker and deliver talks that are unforgettable, based on over 15 years worth of experience of the head of TED, the most popular speaking platform in the world.
Chris Anderson’s had his ups and downs. Riding the entrepreneurial wave all the way through the dot-com bust where he built Imagine Media and a little website called IGN. At its peak, his company employed over 2,000 people. And then the bubble burst. For about 18 months, Chris saw his bank account decline by about $1 million – a day!
Having founded a private non-profit organization a few years before, Chris decided to go all in to that – and bought the existing TED conference in 2001, leaving his prior company to take care of it full time.
The abbreviation stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and the conference is held annually in Vancouver, Canada, with TEDx being independently organized events under the franchise, which happen all over the world. Since 2006, all talks have been put online at TED.com, where they’ve been viewed over one billion times by 2012, including many famous speakers, such as Bill Clinton, Bono, Bill Gates, Larry Page and many nobel-prize winners.
In this book, Chris lays out his recipe for great public speaking, crafted from over 15 years of working with people to deliver world-class speeches about ideas worth spreading.
Here are 3 lessons learned from TED Talks:
- Make eye contact and show that you’re human by being vulnerable.
- Use a five step process to explain complex ideas.
- Think about what to wear, but not too much – make it comfy!
Want to overcome the #1 fear of humans? Let’s do this!
Lesson 1: Pick a few people in the audience to make eye contact with and show your vulnerability.
Every audience, every talk is different. Even if you use the same slides and deliver the same speech 100 times, it’s never quite exactly the same. The people will always be different, so of course you have to adapt to changing audiences.
Some things, however, help with any public speech. Two of these things, according to Chris, are:
Making eye contact.
Showing that you’re vulnerable by sharing something personal.
Both of these things are aimed at making your talk more personal. The reason it needs to be, is that we tend not to trust strangers to protect our own worldview. But if you open up and show others your human side, you’ll disarm the audience, gain their trust and they’ll be more receptive to your ideas.
People can often tell truth from lies and confidence from nervousness just by looking at your eyes, so taking their gaze head on earns you their trust. And if you let down your guard by turning red or sharing a personal story, so will those listening to you.
Only then do you have a real shot at delivering a life-changing speech.
Lesson 2: Explain complex ideas in five steps.
Over the years, Chris has watched, organized and prepared hundreds of TED talks, some of which tackle very complicated topics. Those, that are successful in getting their ideas across to listeners, follow a simple five-step process, says Chris. Let’s look at what this would look like if you tried to explain willpower.
Find your audience’s starting point. You need some common ground, something to make your talk relevant to everyone in the room. To do this with a topic like willpower, you could start with: “Man, I’m glad I’m the first speaker of the day, because since all human willpower is limited, you couldn’t pay attention to me if I was the last one, even if you wanted to.”
Make them curious. Give them an interesting fact or mental image, for example by saying that their willpower works like a soda dispenser: the more decisions you make, the less you have left.
Go over your concepts one at a time. Don’t tell them all at once about how food, exercise and motivation affect willpower. Take it one idea after another.
Use metaphors. An empty willpower tank is like a discharged battery. By tying new ideas to well-established ones, you help people understand your points.
Give lots of examples. This’ll make your speech vivid and memorable. For example if you tell them the story of how you went grocery shopping hungry after a long day at work and bought a lot of candy, because you couldn’t resist, they have something to explain willpower to their friends with, after your talk ends.
Pretty straightforward, right? So is dressing for the occasion, by the way.
Lesson 3: Make sure what you’re wearing is comfortable and reflects who you are.
Here’s your dress code for any public speech you ever do in one line: Wear what makes you feel comfortable.
Sure, picking an outfit deserves some thought, but it’s definitely not worth stressing out over. Just ask if there’s a dress code at the event already, because sticking to it is the easiest way to pick an outfit, and makes sure you won’t stand out like a sore thumb, because you’re wearing orange when everyone else wears black (which makes people judge you as a weirdo, before you even open your mouth).
If there isn’t, just be sure to wear neither all black or all white in case your talk is recorded, because you’ll look like a floating head or light bulb, respectively.
Other than that, if you feel awesome in a suit, wear that, and if you’re comfortable in a t-shirt and jeans, then go for it. Feeling comfortable on a stage is hard enough as it is, and your outfit is a big part of that – no dress code in the world is worth giving that up.
My personal take-aways
There’s a reason for the format TED talks are in. The stage, the lighting, the red dot, the 18-minute time limit, they designed it this way on purpose. It’s safe to assume that Chris knows what makes for a good talk, so if you’re in a position where you have to (or want to) present to an audience one day, then grab yourself a copy of this one!