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5 Tips to Master the Art of Public Speaking from Talk Like TED

If the thought of public speaking leaves you shaking in your boots—it’s one of the world’s most common fears—then try these presentation tips from Talk Like TED
by Carrie M. King | Oct 17 2019

The thought of public speaking leaves most people feeling nervous, but for many, it is a genuine fear. In fact, the thought of standing up and speaking, not only coherently, but engagingly, is one of the world’s most common phobias. That means we stand in awe of those who can take to the stage and command our attention with little more than charisma and a few powerpoint slides. That’s not to say that everyone who undertakes public speaking is actually good at it, but there are certainly some shining examples of excellent public speakers that stand out in our minds. The TED stage is no stranger to outstanding public speakers.

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a conference series about “ideas worth spreading” that started in 1990. In 2006, after several TV networks rejected a series pitch, TED started posting videos of their talks online and within a short space of time, TED was a household name for anyone who cared about ideas, innovation, what makes us who we are, and what will contribute to our futures. Not only were people captivated by the ideas shared, but by the way the speakers delivered them. Communications expert, Carmine Gallo, was one of these people.

In his book, Talk Like TED, the key insights of which you can read on Blinkist in just about 15 minutes, he examines over 500 popular TED talks and breaks down the common features that set those talks apart from the over 2,000 others free to view on the site. In our video above, Page and Turner talk through some of the key things that make a talk worth watching, according to the author. For more on these key ideas, check out Talk Like TED on Blinkist.

1. Be Passionate

Think back to your high school days and the teachers that you loved the most, the ones that really engaged your brain. There’s a high likelihood that those teachers were passionate about their subjects, rather than the ones who seemed to be counting down the minutes of the class just as much as you were. When it comes to engaging an audience of any kind, whether it’s a classroom, a group of your colleagues, or audience members at a conference, passion is infectious. If you can get across how much you care about a topic, people will stop and listen. And passion, too, has been seen to be the foundation of success. When you really, deeply care about something, you’ll work hard to achieve it. In 2012, researchers observed that passion was the biggest factor that influenced investors when they were deciding on which startup to invest in. It won out over experience, education, or age of the entrepreneurs. So, the next time you have to give a speech, whether it’s at work or at a wedding, don’t forget to inject a little passion into your address. Feel like that’s tough to do? Practice. The more opportunities you have to practice public speaking, the better you’ll get at gauging your crowd, and the more natural it will feel for you to share your passion with them.

2. Use Story to Connect to Your Audience’s Emotions

Human beings understand the world through storytelling and narrative. Stories connect us to our compassion and help us to put ourselves in the shoes of the storyteller. That’s why many speakers will often start with a story to engage and connect with you so that they can be sure they’ve captured your interest before they go on to make their crucial point. Whether it’s a personal story, a story about someone else, or a tale of successful brand or organisation, these narratives awaken pathos in us. However, stories need to be accompanied by the right delivery to wield their maximum impact. To do justice to your story, you need to think about speed, stature, and body language. The most engaging story in the world will have no power if you race through it in a bored voice. In Carmine Gallo’s study of TED talks, he found that the most successful presenters spoke at a rate of about 190 words per minute—this will likely vary depending on the language you speak. He also found that it’s important for speakers to stand tall as this quietly communicates confidence in their ideas. Finally, gesturing is extremely important and you should save your biggest, boldest gestures to emphasise your most important points.

3. Understand the Power of “Wow!”

In Talk Like TED, the key insights of which you can read on Blinkist in 16 minutes, Carmine Gallo writes about how a great speaker understands the power of new information to engage their audiences. Think about the last time you heard new information that made you think, ‘Wow!’ You were completely engaged in that moment and in that information because it made you sit up and take notice. You’re also more likely to remember novel information because learning something new coincides with the release of dopamine in the brain which essentially functions like a ‘save’ button in your memory. For example, when Susan Cain, author of Quiet, wanted to engage an audience about the power of introversion, she said that there was “no correlation between being producing good ideas and being the best talker.” This tidbit felt new and shocking in a world that rewards extroverts and shattered a common belief that those who share their ideas in meetings are those with the best ideas. Her clever way of getting this across made her audience sit up and take notice, and made a self-described introvert one of the most powerful TED speakers of all time.

4. Be Funny

Personally, one of my favorite TED Talks is that by Sir Ken Robinson. I love it because a) he speaks about how the education system needs to change, and b) he’s extremely funny. Humor positively affects how we perceive other people—we’re more likely to see funny people as friendly, intelligent, and emotionally stable—can diffuse difficult situations, and engages our attention. When you’re giving a presentation, using humor can make all the difference to whether or not people engage with it or not. You don’t have to be a stand-up or go for big laughs, but if you can get a smile or a little chuckle out of people, then you’re onto a winner.

5. Stimulate The Senses

We are sensual creatures, and a surefire way to making a crowd of people remember what you’re trying to get across is by engaging their senses. Richard Mayer at the University of California at Santa Barbara found that students are better able to recall information if they’re exposed to it in a multi-sensory environment—e.g. video, audio, and text. Most TED speakers’ slides tend to be primarily image-based rather than text-heavy powerpoints, so that their audience can engage two different senses simultaneously without missing out on any crucial information. A powerpoint that has a lot of text will distract and overwhelm the audience and make it difficult for them to remember all that was said. Using rhetorical devices such as selective repetition, too, can help you to hammer home the key points that you really want people to take away.

Becoming a masterful public speaker takes time, practice, and learned techniques. The above are just a few of what you can learn from the rich and rewarding read that is Talk Like TED. If you want to check out the key ideas that Carmine Gallo shares in the book, as well as that of many TED speakers themselves, you can check out the key insights in text or audio on Blinkist.

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