Talk Like TED

“Ideas are the currency of the twenty-first century.” – Carmine Gallo

Lessons learnt: Presentations should touch the heart. Presentations should teach something new. Presentations should be memorable.

In Talk Like TED Carmine Gallo takes the reader on an exciting journey through his analysis of over 500 TED Talks. He carefully examines these inspiring, jaw-dropping and informative presentations in minute detail. He covers everything from speech pace and humour to emotional appeal. Many of the conclusions may be stating the obvious, but Gallo also touches upon many novel observations. Talk Like TED covers three keys to successful presentations: emotional, novel, memorable. The book is a great resource for new public speakers and helps seasoned presenters to further improve their game.

The key part of the TED format is that we have humans connecting to humans

A presentation is as strong as the emotions you are able to convey. Without passion, a story behind the facts and a conversation with your audience, people will not remember you for long. Speaking about your passion can transform anyone into a great presenter. This was also the case for Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts. As an introvert herself, she took on the TED stage and used her passion to overcome her fears and give a stellar presentation (watch it here).

A story can have a much bigger impact than cold hard data. This has two reasons. First, it taps into our pathos (versus logos or ethos), the appeal to our emotions. Second, it activates our mirror neurons which allow us to feel the same emotions the presenter feels. A suitable story can be a personal story, a lesson you’ve learned or a business success/failure.

Presentations are not a one-way street. A conversation with your audience is essential if you want to connect with them. This conversation already starts when you are preparing your speech. Bounce of ideas on friends and family, ask for feedback and practice. During your presentation talk like you would do with friends. This means you should speak at about 190 words per minute, use gestures and build in strategic pauses. To create a sticky presentation, speak about your passion, use stories and have a conversation.
Novelty recognition is a hard-wired survival tool all humans share

Being novel (strikingly new, unusual, or different) can be achieved via three methods. These are 1) presenting something new, 2) packaging something in a new way, or 3) finding a new approach to an old problem. Gallo states that “learning something new activates the same reward areas of the brain as do drugs and gambling”. In a world where there is way more information than we can process, being novel is the only way to stand out and be remembered.

One way to do this is to create jaw-dropping moments (it’s even a subcategory on A prototypical presenter who mastered the novel (and emotionally charged) presentation format is the late Steve Jobs. When first presenting the iPod he didn’t speak about boring specs or meaningless numbers, he just stated that it’s smaller than a pack of cards and can hold more than 1000 songs (a big number back then, watch it here). Another great example is how Bill Gates released mosquitoes into the TED audience when speaking about malaria and his fight to stop it.

Lighten up, don’t take yourself too seriously. Incorporate humour into your presentations and give your audience something to smile about. Please do note that this doesn’t mean you should tell jokes (this is best left to stand-up comedians), but use humorous observations. Use a story to tell about something stupid you did when you were young or use a tactical quote to lighten up the mood. Being novel doesn’t mean that you have to reinvent the wheel, you only have to give it your own twist.

What makes things memorable is that they are meaningful, significant, colourful

TEDsters have a maximum of 18 minutes to give their presentation. This constraint helps the presenters to cut through the fodder and only provide the essential information. It also helps the listeners to most effectively process the information (our attention span doesn’t reach much further than 18 minutes). On a side note, Gallo advises people who speak for longer periods to have a mini-break every 10 minutes (i.e. with an anecdote or short video).

A presentation also benefits from the rule of three. Our brains are very good at remembering things in sessions of three (because it’s the smallest pattern we can recognize, read more here). Use it to divide your presentation into three topics, your paragraphs into three paragraphs or wherever appropriate. A story should have one topic but feel free to support it with three key messages.

Speaking (and listening) usually only involves the employment of one sense (auditory/sound). To make presentations stick also engage the other senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell), create a multisensory experience. Use visuals instead of slides with words whenever possible (Gallo advises to use less than 40 words in your first 10 slides). Let people participate, show data in a way people have never seen before or let people touch your feelings. Be concise, use the rule of three and be creative to create a memorable presentation.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein

Through the 9 chapters of the 3 key messages, Gallo explains how to give a great presentation. He uses his analysis of TED Talks to give you vivid examples from the best speakers in the world. Some of the tips and tricks from the book may be a bit obvious. Gallo also holds on too dearly to his rule of three, somethings there are just only two supporting arguments. In the end, the book is an easy read and you are compelled (and dearly recommended) to watch the TED Talks he mentions. Talk Like TED is a great resource for the beginning lecturer and an informative read for the seasoned orator.