Some books are so powerful and inspiring that they become a part of you forever. On Writing Well by William Zinsser is one such book for me in the craft of writing. The advice that Zinsser gives in the book is mirrored in the way he writes it. The book is a live demonstration of good writing in itself. I recently finished reading Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo, a well known author and communication coach. And while I was still reading it, I knew that this was going to be another such book. Gallo has put in great amount of work to to draw learnings from the best TED Talks. In his own words:
“After analyzing more than 500 TED presentations (more than 150 hours) and speaking directly to successful TED speakers, I’ve discovered that the most popular TED presentations share nine common elements. I’ve also interviewed some of the world’s leading neuroscientists, psychologists, and communication experts to gain better understanding of why the principles that underlie these elements work as well as they do.”
I have already discussed the power of three on my blog earlier and how that number appeals to us the most. And Gallo uses the power of three in his book. The book is divided into 3 parts – the 3 main components that make a successful talk – and each part is further divided into 3 elements that the component is made of. It’s not only easier to remember this way but the whole book falls into perspective just as you look at the index page.
Before I get into the details of the book, I want to mention 3 things that stand out for me in the book. Apart from the scientifically appealing structure, of course!
1. All the tips/techniques that lead to a successful talk are backed by research. He doesn’t just say that stories are a great element to engage the audience or that passion can have a huge impact. He also explains why.
2. He discusses each aspect with ample relevant examples. TED talks, statistics, research conducted, references from books – all this add to further references to the book.
3. He makes the points relevant to any presentation. If you think that the book isn’t for you since you’ll never be a TED speaker – which I too thought when I started the book – you are wrong. The concepts that make a TED talk popular are the same as those applicable to any impactful communication.
Even though a blog post cannot do justice to the brilliance this book is, here is the gist of it. There are 3 main components to an inspiring and engaging presentation/talk:
PART I: EMOTIONAL
The quote: “The key part of the TED format is that we have humans connecting to humans in a direct and almost vulnerable way” begins this section. The emotional aspect is the most important part of any successful communication. As humans, we connect best when our emotions are appealed to. The 3 important emotional aspects are:
1. Unleash the master within: Passion is the No. 1 secret to success. The speakers who connected instantly with their audience were the ones who were very passionate about the topics they spoke about. Passion is the foundation of success in any business or career. There is scientific evidence to prove that passion sets people apart when they pitch for funding for their business. “A passion is something intensely meaningful and core to your identity” and it’s hard for people not to connect with something so strongly felt at an emotional level.
2. Master the art of story telling: Our brains are more active when we hear stories. Brands have found success through telling stories about themselves. There are 3 kinds of powerful stories that you can try in your talks: Personal stories, stories about other people and stories about brand success. “A powerful narrative can persuade customers, employees, investors and stakeholders that your company , product or idea can help them achieve the success they desire”
3. Have a conversation: “Practice relentlessly and internalize your content” so that you can present it like you would to a close friend. Put the four elements of verbal delivery – pitch, volume, rate of speech and pauses to good use to keep people interested in your story. Use the right gestures to add credibility.
PART II: NOVEL
The human brain loves something that’s novel and stands out. We sit up and pay attention to something new.
4. Teach me something new: The “unfamiliar, unusual or unexpected” jolts us out of our complacence. Learning something new triggers Dopamine, a strong feel-good chemical that makes us feel high. Add a new spin or a hook to your next business presentation and see the difference. Hans Gosling’s TED talks are a must watch for the novelty in presenting data in his presentations.
5. Deliver jaw-dropping moments: Bill Gates released mosquitoes from a jar during his talk about malaria. That became the highlight of the talk. Emotionally charged ‘wow’ moments like these are more memorable. Unexpected, shocking statistics, visuals, personal stories are a few effective techniques to achieve this effect.
6. Lighten up: Humour lowers our defenses and makes us come across as likable. It helps convey difficult messages to employees. Anecdotes, personal stories, observations, analogies, metaphors, quotes, videos and photos are a few ways to inject humour in your communication.
PART III: MEMORABLE
Despite all the useful techniques in your presentation, if your audience cannot recall what your ideas were, your presentation is not a success. Some of the points mentioned earlier – wow moments, humour, passion – are also contributors to making a speech memorable.
7. Stick to the 18-minute rule: To quote TED curator ChrisAnderson, 18 minutes “is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention.” Listening is draining and a long, unconnected presentation can only add further strain. It is good to punctuate it with demonstrations, stories, videos and other such elements to break the monotony. The rule of three is the best way to keep it structured and memorable at the same time.
8. Paint a mental picture: This ties back with how much we love stories and new facts. A multi sensory experience is more impactful than appealing at just one level. Images, stats, demos, stories, videos, props engage us at many levels of sight, sound, smell, touch or taste. Just narrating a story with brilliant intonation and painting a picture with it can also do the trick!
9. Stay in your lane: “Be authentic, open and transparent.” Be your true self. Use all the techniques you want but the story you narrate should be your own. Emulate the best speakers but merge that learning into your own unique style. Keep practicing your stories till your passion for your cause becomes a part of your personality and you are genuinely inspiring no matter where or who you talk to about it.
To sum up, this book is our window to the best TED talks of our times. We can view them and co-relate the lessons gleaned from them in the book. If you want to be great at presenting your ideas to your audience, this book is a must read.
I will confess that it took me more time than usual to put this post together. This is because summarising a book like this is no easy task. I was tempted to share so much more wonderful and insightful content from the book. But I had to respect the length a blog post should be. I am now looking forward to watching TED Talks mentioned in the book. (of which I have made a list while reading the book). Watch this space as I share some of them with you here.