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How to Deliver a TED Talk (or Any Important Talk)

Author ryan.drawdy Category Uncategorized

This post is based on a podcast with James Carbary and myself. If you’d like to listen to more #FlipMyFunnel Podcast episodes, you can check them out here and listen to this episode below!

Sangram Vajre has delivered more than 30 talks since 2018 began. Recently, he picked up a copy of Jeremy Donovan’s book How to Deliver a TED Talk: Secrets of the World’s Most Inspiring Presentations. The book inspired Sangram to change his public speaking habits.

Sangram decided to share the five key elements of the book on the most recent episode of the #FlipMyFunnel podcast. He and James Carbary talked about what works and what doesn’t in public speaking whether you are in an intimate boardroom setting or delivering a keynote address to an audience of thousands.

How to Open Your TED Talk

Donovan presents three types of openings that work.

  1. The Personal Story – This opening works great for any speaker. Even Steve Jobs and other globally known speakers open with a story to create a personal connection with their listeners. As a way to get people’s attention, a real-life story of what happened to you can’t be topped.
  2. Shocking Statement – Another way to arrest people’s attention is through a shocking statement. Start with “Did you know …” For example, in a talk on the world water crisis, ask “Did you know that one billion people lack access to a secure supply of clean water?” Use this approach if you don’t have a relevant personal story.
  3. The Very Important Question – Ask a very important question that will get people thinking. For instance, “In B2B, the value of marketing is defined by what?” This approach makes everybody lean in to answer the question.

How NOT to Open Your Talk

Knowing how not to open your conversation is just as important as knowing what you’ll say.

  1. Don’t open with a quote. It’s the most cliche thing you can do, and it will draw eye rolls.
  2. No jokes. Getting a laugh in the first 30 seconds is a good thing, but don’t force it.
  3. No cartoons. Avoid anything cutesy or content that doesn’t add value to your listeners.
  4. Don’t start with a thank you. As counterintuitive as that sounds, your audience already knows you are there, and they have chosen to hear you. They don’t want you to waste their time with thank yous.
  5. Don’t start with the phrase “Now, before I begin …” As soon as you step on stage, you have begun.
  6. Don’t introduce yourself. An introduction fritters away audience time so either get someone else to introduce you first or work the introduction into your personal story.

Use Pauses and “You” Effectively

In the book, Donovan includes paragraph after paragraph of examples from speeches by Brene Brown and Simon Sinek. What makes these speakers stand out is that each of them uses an attention-grabbing pause more effectively than anyone else.

If you tend to have a monotone voice, be especially sure to add pauses. They convey a dramatic effect to anything that comes after.

Now, about using “you.” Today’s great speakers rarely use “I” or “we.” Many of us feel comfortable with these terms because they sound less directive or bossy. But Jeremy says to use “you” a lot more. Something special happens in your brain when someone says “you.” Each person in your audience connects with that.

Listen to any Steve Jobs or Apple presentation, they use “you” almost every two sentences. It was “1,000 songs in YOUR pocket” not “1,000 songs in MY pocket,” after all.

Make Someone Else the Hero

Remember when we discussed the book Storybrand by Donald Miller on the podcast? Miller talks about making the customer the hero. That’s one good approach.

Another is typified by Malcolm Gladwell who uses tons of examples in his talks, not to sound super smart himself but to connect the dots and thereby make heroes of the people in his examples.  

When You Close Your Talk

Leave your audience with a feeling. No one will remember all your statistics and quotes. But they will remember how you made them feel.

By the end of your talk, your audience is wondering if the time they spent was valuable. Is there some action they can take after the talk concludes?

So, instead of wrapping up with “thank you,” you could end with a statement like this one: “And I think in a world like this the idea that I just shared is worth spreading and can have a great impact on what you do today.”

Give people a challenge, a question, or an action item.  

For breakout sessions, it’s okay to end with questions. In fact, for small groups, questions can leave a powerful impression. As the speaker, you can walk around the room, generating conversation and dialogue. That way, everybody engages and draws value from listening to each other.

On a larger stage or when speaking to a bigger audience, however, you have to be selective in what you can end with. Questions are logistically complicated in those settings. Better to end a keynote with a summary, a question, or an action item.

None of these are easy things to do. But they are all important. Consider nailing just one of them, and then go on to the next thing. If you focus on making a few improvements at a time, your whole speech will soon see much better reception.

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