Public speaking secrets of TED speakers

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After recently being invited to do a keynote on youth empowerment at a local university, my mind wandered back to Talk Like Ted, a book by Carmine Gallo on public speaking. He analysed 500 of the world’s best TED talks and worked out the secrets, which made their talks unbelievably captivating.

Being able to communicate your ideas and sell your startup is crucial to the success of any entrepreneur. From landing investment to acquiring users, entrepreneurs need to be able to pitch their idea and captivate audiences.

Be Emotional and Tell Stories

The first thing Gallo discusses is that passion is contagious. When you’re passionate about your topic, your emotions and enthusiasm will inevitably rub off onto your listeners. This enables you  to reach into their hearts with your ideas on a much deeper level than logic. So how do you do this?

One simple way to doing this is by telling stories. Brain scans have revealed that stories are able to stimulate and engage the human brain. In a similar way, entrepreneurs who are able to tell stories connect with their audience in a far more emotional and persuasive level.

Gallo also explains persuasion as an effort of three components within a speech: ethos, logos and pathos.

  • Pathos is emotional appeal (65%)
  • Logos is evidence and data (35%)
  • Ethos is credibility (10%)

Hence, you should always outweigh your logic and evidence with emotional appeal.

So what type of stories should you tell to engage that emotional appeal? Well, there are three main types of stories that work well:

    • Personal stories about your experiences that can take audiences on a journey. Try to make it rich with imagery so audiences can feel like they’re involved on your journey.
    • Stories about other people who the audience can empathise with. Craft the stories so that audiences can put themselves in the shoes of the other person.
    • Stories about a brand success by positioning your brand as the hero. The secret to breaking down audiences’ built up resistance to advertising in today’s world, is by telling an emotional and inspiring story of your brand that is able to capture their attention. Think about how Steve Jobs portrays how Apple as constantly ‘thinking different’, challenging the status quo and even fighting Big Brother (IBM) in 1984.

Powerful stories can persuade every stakeholder from customers to investors of your company. The world’s best leaders and public speakers are able to guide an audience and ignite a movement through storytelling.

After the finalist pitches at Initiate 48, a hackathon I ran for 120 high school students in January 2016, the CEO of one of Australia’s leading venture tech incubators said:

‘The best pitches take you on a journey. You don’t even realise they’re pitching’

  – Sebastien Eckersley Maslin

Having heard thousands of pitches, he further reinforced the importance of storytelling and it’s ability to persuade investors through emotion.

Have a Conversation

The best TED talks do not seem like rehearsed speeches or presentations. They are not one sided. The best TED talks are the ones which seem to speak directly to you and engage you in a conversation. They ask you questions, make you ponder ideas and pull your attention towards the speaker as they move around the stage.

So how do you achieve this? In a fairly counter-intuitive manner, Gallo explains that relentless practice is the key to appearing natural. He advises speakers to ‘practice relentlessly and internalise your content so that you can deliver the presentation as comfortably as having a conversation with a close friend. Being more rehearsed allows you to relax during the presentation and become more authentic to your audience. In fact, Steve Jobs had a practice ratio of 1:750, meaning that for each minute he presented, he spent 750 minutes in practice.

In many instances, speakers are too familiar with their content and their presentation may not resonate well with a naive audience. This makes it necessary to get feedback from fresh minds whilst planning your talk. Gallo explains that it is necessary to do this as early on as possible, in order to avoid more work in the long run.

In terms of physical mannerisms, you should relax and make use of the space around you as you speak. Normal conversations are supposed to be fluid and you need to replicate that sense of casualness. Ensure that at least one hand is outside of your pockets at all times and gesturing as you would if you are speaking to another person. But at the same time, you should eliminate all movement that serves no purpose.

Be Novel

Try teach audiences something new. Surprise them. Scare them! The human brain loves learning something new and intriguing.

‘An unfamiliar, unusual, or unexpected element in a presentation intrigues the audience, jolts them out of their preconceived notions, and quickly gives them a new way of looking at the world’

Carmine Gallo

Bill Gates was able to successfully shock an audience and pull off this trick at a TED conference. In order to teach audiences about the danger of malaria, he brought along a jar of mosquitos before saying:

‘Malaria is, of course, transmitted by mosquitos. I brought some here, just so you can experience this. We’ll let these roam around the auditorium a little bit. There’s no reason only poor people should have the experience’.

The room proceeded to a silent shock after his jaw-dropping revelation. Of course, several moments later, he clarifies they were just ordinary mosquitos.

An emotionally charged event made Bill Gates’ speech exceptionally memorable. Whilst this jaw dropping aspect of the presentation took barely a minute of the 18 minute presentation, yet, that is the part that audiences will use to remember his presentation for years to come.

Any emotional stimulus such as the above that elicit a strong emotional response such as joy, fear, shock or surprise will make your talk incredibly memorable for audiences.  

Keep it Short and Simple

Researchers have discovered that the best presentations are no longer than 18 minutes, coincidentally the length of a TED talk. That provides you with sufficient time to bring across your points but at the same time, prevents ‘cognitive backlog’. This means that there won’t be too much information overloading audiences that they won’t be able to digest the ideas.

From a visual point of view, you must also keep your presentation simple. You think bullet points are alright? No. Go even further than that. Attempt to eliminate bullet points and paragraphs entirely. Instead, favour pictures over text and use heavy imagery to communicate your ideas. This is reflected by a concept called ‘picture superiority’ that illustrates humans are much more likely to recall an idea when it is complemented by an image.

What’s next?

So here we go, a few interesting points pulled from Carmine Gallo’s book, Talk Like Ted. In today’s world it is incredibly important that entrepreneurs learn how to pitch their ideas. In fact, you are no longer just pitching to investors, but also to your customers, your business partners and your employees. The ability to rally an audience as a speaker is crucial to any entrepreneur looking to inspire people and build their dreams.

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Victor Zhang has been actively involved in start-ups and the business community since late primary school. Having started his own businesses and by being involved in a number of various projects, he sees the opportunities that entrepreneurship provides and brings this to students throughout Australia through Generation Entrepreneur. "I want to make a change and take on a challenge, as a social entrepreneur to build a solution to the problems I see around me..."

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