We give talking much less credit than we should. Consciously or unconsciously, our major intake of ideas come from talking to people around us and a lot of it depends on the way the speaker chooses to talk. Done right, a talk can electrify a room and transform the audience’s perspective.
I have come to learn of it by binge watching on TED Talks to get my daily dose of inspiration. Often left with a wish to talk like them, I wondered how all of them are brilliant orators. But reading Chris Anderson’s ‘TED Talks – An Official TED Guide To Public Speaking’, I discovered that they aren’t. It’s what goes behind these talks that make them seem so inspirational and it’s no easy talk. So, coming directly from the man who works behind the scene with all the TED speakers, here are some of the takeaways from what is to become a 21st century manual to public speaking.
Is your idea worth audience’s time?
“The only thing that truly matters in public speaking is not confidence, stage presence, or smooth talking. It’s having something worth saying.”
What you think is the most brilliant idea there ever was, might be of least interest to you audience. So, you have to make sure that what you say should be worth people’s time. You might be a born orator but if the idea you are talking about isn’t enticing, neither will be your talk. “Style without substance is awful,” Chris says.
While you might have millions of experiences to share, you will have to figure out which ones are relevant to the moment and then take the audience on a journey. It shouldn’t sound like a sale pitch where you keep talking about the idea hoping the audience picks something interesting to hold on to. No! You have to pick ONE idea and present it in an angle that leaves the audience thinking about it.
Build a connection
“Knowledge can’t be pushed into a brain. It has to be pulled in.”
Here Chris guides how to enter the audience’s minds with their permission. And for that they need to trust you. So, how do you overcome boredom, scepticism and mistrust they have in you? You build a connection.
The best way to make a first impression is to make regular eye contact right from the start and a natural human smile. People have the tendency to take first impressions very seriously. As a matter of fact, when two humans look at each other for a prolonged time, their minds sync. Take that instinct and add a smile to that to show that you can be trusted. Pick some people out in the audience from each side and deliver you speech to just them. Shift to each one of them from time to time or just ask your friends to join the audience.
Showing ego will be your doom, but you can count on showing your vulnerability. There’s no point hiding that you’re nervous from the audience. They understand it. Instead, let them know about it and they’ll root for you. Adding a little humour can do wonders because then the audience, as a whole, bonds with the speaker and you know you’ve won your audience.
The art of storytelling
“Stories helped us make who we are... The best evidence from archeology and anthropology suggests that the human mind co-evolved with storytelling.”
Everyone can relate to a story, if told in the right way. It must be like a journey for the audience and it must be enticing enough for the audience to embark on it. Apart from building a connections, these tools will make sure your story stands out – Narration, Explanation, Persuasion, and Revelation.
While narrating the structure must be kept in mind. You don’t want to give away the suspense in the beginning leaving nothing for the audience to stay for the rest of the talk. Neither should you add irrelevant details that have no part in the consequence.
Explanation doesn’t simply means getting your idea across; it’s about intriguing the mind, teasing a bit and then opening up their minds to new horizons. Use concepts to unfold the idea one by one, metaphors to shape that concept by explaining through existing mental model, and lastly, through examples to help lock it into place.
“Before construction, it first requires some demolition,” Chris says. Persuasion, Chris states is convincing an audience that what they currently believe is not true and once you’ve demolished that belief and then make your argument by using an old fashioned philosophical tool called Reason. An idea planted with reason ‘will lodge in the brains [sic] and never let go'. A more compelling way is to by helping audience figure it out themselves by making them detectives and asking then questions so reach to the conclusion themselves.
Lastly, you reveal you work in a way that delights and inspire them. There are three ways (though do not limit to these) to get that perfect ending to your talk. One way is to show a series of images from the project to take the audience through the walk with you. Another way is to give a ‘dynamic demo’ of your product and fill them with awe. The last kind is using imagination. Help build the product in the audience’s mind and give them a trip into the future.
Before getting on stage
"There are many ways to prepare for and deliver a talk, and it's important to find the one that's right for you."
So utilize this time and think what all you want to add. You don’t want to just depend on slideshows but you can surely use them to say a thousand words with just one picture. Choose wisely if you even require it or not. If you do and you’re not good at making one, hire a designer. Another part of this is how you script and memorize. Your opening and closing lines should make a statement and leave an impression.
The speech can be half improvised by learning the pointers, but if you know that you can’t do that on stage, just cram it up. But whatever you choose, practice it enough times, alone and with a small audience, so that you know what you’re saying, or at least look like it.
The big talk
"Nerves are not a curse. They can be turned to great effect, Make friends with your nervousness, pluck up you courage - and go."
By the time you actually reach here, you are almost done, but few things remain. One of them is your wardrobe. Your clothes should be the least of your worries when leading up to the talk so get them out of your way beforehand. Take help from a friend if you’re not good at it, like Chris does in the book by taking Kelly Stoetzel’s assistance. Whatever you choose, make sure you rehearse in them once so you know you’re not uncomfortable during the talk.
Getting nervous when you're up on stage is very natural. Often it comes with an adrenaline, so let your body help you and use your fear as motivation. Breathe deeply, meditation style or even meditate before the talk. Drink a third of the water bottle but not too ahead of the talk that you need a bathroom break just when the talk is about to start. Avoid an empty stomach and remember the power of vulnerability.
And lastly, speak with meaning. Speak like you mean it and with your words you can undoubtedly get a standing ovation.