TED presenters are some of the top public speakers in the world, but what makes them so different from the rest of us? Whether you’re a professional speaking at conferences with thousands of people, or you just want to share an important message with your friends and family, the nine secrets you’ll find in this book summary of Talk Like TED will help you unlock the power of influential rhetoric.
Learn how to deliver presentations your listeners will remember.
READ THIS BOOK REVIEW IF YOU:
- Are preparing to give a big speech at an event
- Wish to share your passion with others
- Want to be a confident, memorable speaker
TED speakers are very impressive. They captivate live audiences of thousands of people, while their videos get replayed online by millions each day.
Although the speakers come from a variety of diverse backgrounds, all TED talks share a few things in common. If you want to give a presentation that rivals one of the top TED talk speakers, you must learn the nine secrets that all great public speakers know:
- Find your inner passion. Don’t expect your listeners to be interested if you’re not interested.
- Tell great stories. Stories help your audience relate to you and trust you more.
- Engage in conversation. Your presentation isn’t about you — it’s about the opportunity for dialogue.
- Teach your audience something new. Your listeners are sitting in the audience because they believe you have something to offer them, so don’t let them down.
- Build shock and surprise into your presentations. Create emotionally charged moments to maintain your listeners’ attention.
- Use humor. Don’t be boring!
- The 18-minute rule. Keep your presentations under 18 minutes — this is enough time to get in the right amount of information without boring your listeners.
- Create multisensory experiences. Visuals matter, and they help listeners remember up to six times more information.
- Be authentic.
By incorporating these nine secrets, you’ll captivate your audiences and share meaningful messages with them.
Good public speakers know how to relate to their audiences. Great public speakers take this a step further and arouse emotions in their audiences with their own passion.
The most important thing about evoking emotions is that they must come from a genuine place. Everyone can spot a phony, and if you’re not truly passionate about your topic, it shows. Only when you’re inspired by your subject can you inspire others to feel the same. Think about it: Why should someone be interested about a subject you, the speaker, must feign passion for?
There are three steps you can take to build this passion into a compelling narrative that invigorates your audience:
- Establish a strong connection to your topic.
- Learn how to craft a story.
- Reframe speech-giving as an opportunity for dialogue.
To establish a strong connection to your topic, you must already be interested in it. Think about what makes you truly excited. Is it education? Food? Helping others? Everyone feels strongly about something, even if it’s not obvious at first. And there are various avenues through which you can explore your interests.
For example, say you’re interested in helping others reach their potential. This interest can manifest itself in many ways. Maybe you think education is the best way for others to reach their potential, or maybe you believe it’s through sports. You can narrow these down further to higher education or team sports. It doesn’t matter what vessel you choose to explore your interest in helping others, as long as this connection is established.
On the other hand, you may find yourself interested in objects or things but not in anything emotional. Helping others reach their potential is a very emotionally engaging pursuit, but what about something concrete, like cars? If this is the case, dig a little deeper. What is it about cars that you love? Is it how so many individual mechanical parts come together to form a moving vehicle? Is it the opportunities cars offer you by letting you go places you couldn’t otherwise go?
Both examples have strong emotional elements, even if they’re not immediately apparent. If you’re interested in the intricate mechanics of cars, you’re inspired by human engineering and the process of creating something useful from scratch. If you love the distances your car allows you to travel, you’re an explorer who’s curious about the world outside the confines of your bedroom.
Many of TED’s speakers build their presentations on their professional experiences and draw heavily upon personal experiences in successful careers. This is not a coincidence. Long before these speakers even knew what TED was about, they identified what they were enthusiastic about and pursued it as a career. Their passion was what allowed them to have a great career and inspiring stories to tell. Their TED presentations are inspiring because their emotional connections to their topics are evident.
Once you have a topic you feel strongly connected to, you must learn to be a good storyteller. Neurological studies have shown that stories trigger the human brain and activate the areas associated with engagement. When you tell a story, your audience relates to you better, trusts you more, and empathizes with your perspective.
There are three effective ways to tell a story:
- You can tell a personal story that relates to your topic.
- You can recount someone else’s story and the lessons they learned that are relevant to your audience.
- You can tell a story of the rise and success of a brand or product.
For example, perhaps your topic is how food brings people together. You could share how dinners with your family gave you a sense of stability when you were growing up. You might share some of your Christmas dinner traditions and how you continue to keep these traditions with your children even today.
Or you could recount someone else’s story and share how a celebrity used their food and nutrition blog to build a community of healthy eaters. You could recount how their blog grew and eventually hit millions of subscribers, and then, tell the micro-stories of those who follow the blog.
Or you could focus on a brand or product by finding a corporate example of how food brings people together. Take, for example, the story of Conflict Kitchen, a take-out restaurant in Pittsburgh that introduces ethnic foods from countries the U.S. is in conflict with. Their goal is to humanize citizens of these countries and unite them with the citizens of America through delicious food.
Lastly, to evoke emotions in your audience, learn to make your speeches about an exchange with the audience rather than about yourself. It sounds silly, but people don’t attend speeches to hear someone else speak — they attend to learn something new and engage in innovative ideas. Your speech is an opportunity to have a dialogue, not to talk about yourself or lecture others. You should comfortably deliver your presentation as if it were a conversation with a close friend. If not, your presentation will be too formal and inauthentic. Note that there’s a difference between being professional and being formal — the former is about respect, while the latter can seem superficial and reserved. You can be candid while still being professional.
Teach Something New
Your audience is coming to listen to you speak because they want to learn. They’ve made the effort to come hear you because they believe your presentation will expose them to innovative ideas. If you simply tell them things they already know, you’ll waste their time — so, it’s important for your presentations to teach your audience something new.
You don’t need to be an inventor of a new product or a space explorer to teach your audience something new. If you are, great! But if you’re not, you can still teach your audience something by showing them a new way of perceiving the world around them. For example, you take two things that most people are familiar with but seemingly unrelated — such as chocolate and cars — and show them how they’re connected by telling a story of how the history of transportation influenced the consumption of chocolate in America.
Or you can present boring information in a creative way. The late Hans Rosling, professor of global health in Sweden, managed to captivate his audiences with information that most would find tedious: statistics. Rosling created a software called Gapminder with the goal of animating statistics with bubbles and colors, allowing others to visualize global health trends over the course of a century. His presentations are some of the most popular on the TED website, not because everyone loves statistics, but because his compelling visuals reveal a new way of looking at global health.
You can make your presentation more memorable by incorporating moments that shock or surprise your listeners and make your presentation unforgettable. Researchers call these types of moments emotionally charged events. Events where you’re shocked or surprised stay longer in your memory and are remembered with more accuracy than mundane moments. You’re more likely to remember John F. Kennedy’s assassination than what you had for breakfast last Tuesday.
To incorporate emotionally charged events in your presentation, deliver shocking or surprising facts at key moments. Tell a story with an unexpected twist or get physical. For example, in one of Bill Gates’ most watched TED presentations to date, he launched a few mosquitoes into the audience!
Your audience is there to be inspired and entertained with fresh, innovative content. By presenting your information creatively, you’re more likely to capture the attention of your audience and stay in their memory long after your presentation.
Make it Unforgettable
Humans have limited attention spans. How many times have you struggled to study because the information wasn’t interesting enough? But even if it’s your favorite subject, you likely lose focus after an extended period of time and need to take a break.
Keep this in mind when you’re creating your presentation and limit it to 18 minutes. This is the optimal duration for a presentation: It’s short enough to keep your audience’s attention but also long enough to pack in substantive information. Go over 18 minutes, and you risk creating cognitive backlog — your listeners will be bombarded with too much information and get bored. It’s not you; it’s merely the length of your presentation.
The 18-minute rule is also about discipline. Similar to Twitter’s word limit, the 18-minute rule forces you to be concise in your communication. Your presentation time is valuable, so don’t waste your words. You should only present the most important information, and this rule helps you determine what that is. You shouldn’t view the time constraint as limiting — instead, it’s an opportunity to refine the core elements of your message without compromising its quality.
If you’re having trouble condensing your presentation to under 18 minutes, follow the rule of three — most people can only remember three facts or figures well, and anything over three causes information retention to significantly decline. If you find yourself with more than three key principles, you likely need to narrow down your topic further.
Psychologists and neurologists have a significant amount of evidence that supports the power of visuals when it comes to understanding concepts. When you only hear information, you’re unlikely to remember more than 10% of it after three days. On the other hand, if you hear information alongside visuals, you remember up to 65% of it after three days. This is because visuals are processed in several different channels in your brain, making seeing a multimodal learning experience, whereas listening is only processed in one channel of the brain.
Even if you don’t have access to a projector, you can still go beyond verbal information by offering vivid descriptions that allow you to paint images in your listeners’ heads, even when the subject you’re presenting is abstract. If you break down a complex topic into concrete, visual examples, your audience is more likely to remember your presentation.
For example, if you’re giving complicated driving directions to a friend without a GPS, you use identifiers and visual descriptions to help them. You might tell them that they’ll have to cross a road surrounded by trees, or they need to look out for a bright yellow billboard before they take an exit. Your friend is more likely to remember these types of instructions than simple directions, such as a just street name where they should turn left and another where they should make a U-turn.
Similarly, if you’re a company representative presenting a new, physical product, pass it around in the audience to let them see and touch it for themselves. This is why car dealerships allow buyers to take cars out for test-drives.
By creating multisensory experiences and employing conciseness, you allow your message to continue to resonate with your listeners weeks after your presentation.
We love listening to great speakers because their passion inspires us. They’re great storytellers and entertainers who care about sharing topics that matter. Their enthusiasm can’t be faked, and their messages continue to inspire us, even after they leave the stage.
All top speakers share nine secrets, and by employing them in your own presentations, you can also captivate audiences. The next time you have an important message you want to share, remember to:
- Find your inner passion. You shouldn’t present on anything that doesn’t really matter to you. Remember that even the most seemingly boring things, like concrete objects, have emotional elements.
- Tell great stories. People love stories, and they allow others to relate to you. There are three types of great stories: personal stories, stories of role models, and stories of brands and products.
- Engage in conversation. Your presentation is an opportunity to exchange information with your audience. No one wants to be lectured — everyone wants to be engaged. Make your presentation as intimate as a conversation with a friend.
- Teach your audience something new. Your listeners made the trip because they want to learn something from you. Don’t disappoint them by recycling information everyone already knows. Even if you haven’t discovered anything new, you can present new ways of thinking about and perceiving phenomenon.
- Build shock and surprise into your presentations. Emotionally charged moments help keep your listeners’ attention and stay in their memory longer.
- Use humor. Don’t be boring — lighten up.
- The 18 minute rule. Your presentation should never be more than 18 minutes. This rule teaches you to be concise in your message and only share the most important principles with your listeners. If you’re having trouble with the 18 minute rule, remember the rule of three: Most people can only remember three things well.
- Create multisensory experiences. Visuals help listeners remember up to six times more information. You can also use the power of language to create detailed visual descriptions. Or if you’re Bill Gates, you can launch some mosquitoes into the room!
- Be authentic.
About the author
Carmine Gallo is a communications expert and President of Gallo Communications Group. He is a regular contributor of leadership articles on Forbes.com, and he previously worked as a news anchor at CNN and Tech TV.