Have a theme, have a point: TED boss tells how to talk the talk
I turned in a performance the other week that’s worthy of a first-ballot induction into the public speakers’ hall of shame.
I managed to inflict death by PowerPoint three times on the same audience in a single day.
Sure, my slides looked good. No bullet points, charts or clip art. Just one exhaustively curated image with a single line of text per slide.
But the slides piled up and buried the audience. The presentations were less a journey of discovery and more a test of extreme endurance.
I had one job at the front of the room and I blew it.
“Beautiful slides and a charismatic stage presence are all very well, but if there’s no real take-away, all the speaker has done — at best — is entertain,” says Chris Anderson, head of TED and author of the Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading great ideas through conferences, videos, books, programs and prizes.
“Your number one mission as a speaker is to take something that matters deeply to you and to rebuild it inside the minds of your listeners,” says Anderson. “If you can conjure up a compelling idea in people’s minds, you have done something wondrous. You have given them a gift of incalculable value.”
To get inside your listeners’ heads, your presentation must have a throughline. It’s the connecting theme that ties together your talk from start to finish. “Think of the throughline as a strong cord or rope, onto which you will attach all the elements that are part of the idea you’re building,” says Anderson.
The best throughlines can be encapsulated in 15 words or less. Those 15 words should speak to your passion, spark curiosity and persuade others to hear what you have to say. “It’s not enough to think of your goal as ‘I want to inspire the audience’ or ‘I want to win support for my work.’ It has to be more focused than that. What is the precise idea you want to build inside your listeners? What is their take-away?”
Here are the throughlines for some of the most watched TED Talks:
More choice actually makes us less happy.
Vulnerability is something to be treasured, not hidden from.
Education’s potential is transformed if you focus on the amazing (and hilarious) creativity of kids.
With body language, you can fake it till you become it.
Let’s bring on a quiet revolution — a world redesigned for introverts.
Online videos can humanize the classroom and revolutionize education.
Once you’ve figured out your throughline, you’re ready to build your talk through connection, narration, explanation, persuasion and revelation. Anderson devotes a chapter to each talk-building tool.
He also makes a convincing case for learning how to stand and deliver at work and in the community. “Presentation literacy isn’t an optional extra for the few. It’s a core skill for the 21st century. It’s the most impactful way to share who you are and what you care about.
“We are physically connected to each other like never before. Which means that our ability to share our best ideas with each other matters more than it ever has. The single greatest lesson I have learned from listening to TED Talks is this: the future is not yet written. We are all, collectively in the process of writing it. There’s an open page — and an empty stage — waiting for your contribution.”
I’ve collected an entire shelf worth of books on how to build presentations, write speeches and give talks. Anderson’s book is among the most practical and insightful. If you have a great idea to share start by reading the Official TED Guide to Public Speaking.
TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, by Chris Anderson, Collins $29.99