Have a theme, have a point: TED boss tells how to talk the talk

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - @jay­robb serves as di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Mo­hawk Col­lege and lives in Hamil­ton.

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


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