Ideas Are the Currency of the Twenty-first Century
“I’m a learning machine and this is the place to learn.”
—TONY ROBBINS, TED 2006
IDEAS ARE THE CURRENCY OF the twenty-first century. Some people are exceptionally good at presenting their ideas. Their skill elevates their stature and influence in today’s society. There’s nothing more inspiring than a bold idea delivered by a great speaker. Ideas, effectively packaged and delivered, can change the world. So, wouldn’t it be amazing to identify the exact techniques shared by the world’s greatest communicators, watch them deliver jaw-dropping presentations, and apply their secrets to wow your audiences? Now you can, thanks to a world famous conference that posts its best presentations for free on the Internet—TED (Technology, Education, Design), a scientific analysis of hundreds of TED presentations, direct interviews with TED’s most popular speakers, and my personal insights gleaned from years of coaching inspiring leaders of the world’s most admired brands.
Talk Like TED is for anyone who wants to speak with more confidence and authority. It’s for anyone who delivers presentations, sells products and services, or leads people who need to be inspired. If you have ideas worth sharing, the techniques in this book will help you craft and deliver those ideas far more persuasively than you’ve ever imagined.
In March 2012, civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson delivered a talk to 1,000 people attending the annual TED conference in Long Beach, California. He received the longest standing ovation in TED history, and his presentation has been viewed nearly two million times online. For 18 minutes Stevenson held the audience spellbound by appealing to their heads and their hearts. The combination worked. Stevenson told me that the attendees that day donated a combined $1 million to his nonprofit, the Equal Justice Initiative. That’s over $55,000 for each minute he spoke.
Stevenson did not deliver a PowerPoint presentation. He offered no visuals, no slides, no props. The power of his narrative carried the day. Some popular TED speakers prefer to use PowerPoint to reinforce the impact of their narrative. In March 2011, professor David Christian launched a movement to teach “Big History” in schools after delivering a riveting 18-minute TED talk backed by visually engaging slides and intriguing graphics. “Big history” teaches students how the world evolved and its place in the universe. Christian’s presentation, which covers 13 billion years of history in 18 minutes, has been viewed more than one million times.
Christian and Stevenson have seemingly different presentation styles and you will hear from both of them in this book. One tells stories, the other delivers mountains of data with image-rich slides, yet both are captivating, entertaining, and inspiring because they share nine secrets. They understand the science and the art of persuasion.
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 communications experts to gain a better understanding of why the principles that underlie these elements work as well as they do. Best of all, once you learn the secrets these communicators share, you can adopt them and stand out in your very next pitch or presentation. These are techniques I’ve used for years to coach CEOs, entrepreneurs, and leaders who have invented products or run companies that touch your life every day. While you may never speak at an actual TED conference, if you want to succeed in business you’d better be able to deliver a TED-worthy presentation. It represents a bold, fresh, contemporary, and compelling style that will help you win over your audience.
IDEAS WORTH SPREADING
Richard Saul Wurman created the TED conference in 1984 as a onetime event. Six years later it was reinvented as a four-day conference in Monterey, California. For $475, attendees could watch a variety of lectures on topics covering technology, education, and design (TED). Technology-magazine publisher Chris Anderson purchased the conference in 2001 and relocated it to Long Beach, California in 2009. In 2014, the TED conference begins a run in Vancouver, Canada, reflecting its growing international appeal.
Until 2005 TED was a once-a-year event: four days, 50 speakers, 18-minute presentations. In that year, Anderson added a sister conference called TEDGlobal to reach an international audience. In 2009, the organization began granting licenses to third parties who could organize their own community-level TEDx events. Within three years more than 16,000 talks had been delivered at TEDx events around the world. Today there are five TEDx events organized every day in more than 130 countries.
Despite the astonishing growth in the conference business, TED speakers were introduced to a much larger global audience through the launch of TED.com in June 2006. The site posted six talks to test the market. Six months later the site only had about 40 presentations, yet had attracted more than three million views. The world was and still is clearly hungry for great ideas presented in an engaging way.
On November 13, 2012 TED.com presentations had reached one billion views, and are now being viewed at the rate of 1.5 million times per day. The videos are translated into up to 90 languages, and 17 new viewings of TED presentations start every second of every day. According to Chris Anderson, “It used to be 800 people getting together once a year; now it’s about a million people a day watching TED Talks online. When we first put up a few of the talks as an experiment, we got such impassioned responses that we decided to flip the organization on its head and think of ourselves not so much as a conference but as ‘ideas worth spreading,’ building a big website around it. The conference is still the engine, but the website is the amplifier that takes the ideas to the world.”1
The first six TED talks posted online are considered classics among fans who affectionately call themselves “TEDsters.” The speakers included Al Gore, Sir Ken Robinson, and Tony Robbins. Some of these speakers used traditional presentation slides; others did not. But they all delivered talks that were emotional, novel, and memorable. Today TED has become such an influential platform, famous actors and musicians make a beeline to a TED stage when they have ideas to share. A few days after accepting the Oscar for best picture, Argo director Ben Affleck appeared at TED in Long Beach to talk about his work in the Congo. Earlier in the week U2 singer Bono delivered a presentation on the success of antipoverty campaigns around the world. When celebrities want to be taken seriously, they hit the TED stage. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote her bestseller Lean In after her TED presentation on the subject of women in the workplace went viral on TED.com. TED presentations change the way people see the world and are springboards to launch movements in the areas of art, design, business, education, health, science, technology, and global issues. Documentary filmmaker Daphne Zuniga attended the 2006 conference. She describes it as “a gathering where the world’s top entrepreneurs, designers, scientists and artists present astonishing new ideas in what can only be described as a Cirque Du Soleil for the mind.”2 There’s no event like it, Zuniga says. “It’s four days of learning, passion, and inspiration … stimulating intellectually, but I never thought the ideas I heard would move my heart as well.” Oprah Winfrey once put it even more succinctly: “TED is where brilliant people go to hear other brilliant people share their ideas.”
THE PRESENTATION SECRETS OF STEVE JOBS
I’m in a unique position to analyze TED presentations. I wrote a book titled The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, which went on to become an international bestseller. Famous CEOs are known to have adopted the principles revealed in the book, and hundreds of thousands of professionals around the world are using the method to transform their presentations. I was flattered by the attention, but I wanted to reassure readers that the techniques I explored in Presentation Secrets were not exclusive to Steve Jobs. The Apple cofounder and technology visionary just happened to be very good at putting them all together. The techniques were very “TED-like.”
In the book I make the point that Steve Jobs’s famous commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005 was a magnificent illustration of his ability to captivate an audience. Ironically, the commencement speech is one of the most popular videos on TED.com. While it’s not officially a TED talk, it contains the same elements as the best TED presentations and has been viewed more than 15 million times.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.3 Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking,” Jobs told the graduates. “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” Jobs’s words spoke directly to the type of people who are moved by TED presentations. They’re seekers. They’re eager to learn. Discontent with the status quo, they are looking for inspiring and innovative ideas that move the world forward. With Steve Jobs, you learned the techniques from one master; in Talk Like TED you get them all.
DALE CARNEGIE FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
Talk Like TED digs far deeper into the science of communication than almost any book on the market today. It introduces you to men and women—scientists, authors, educators, environmentalists, and famous leaders—who prepare and deliver the talk of their lives. Every one of the more than 1,500 presentations available for free on the TED Web site can teach you something about public speaking.
When I first started thinking about writing a book on the public speaking secrets of TED talks, I thought of it as Dale Carnegie for the Twenty-first Century. Carnegie wrote the first mass market public-speaking and self-help book in 1915, The Art of Public Speaking. Carnegie’s intuition was impeccable. He recommended that speakers keep their talks short. He said stories were powerful ways of connecting emotionally with your audience. He suggested the use of rhetorical devices such as metaphors and analogies. Three-quarters of a century before PowerPoint was invented Carnegie was talking about using visual aids. He understood the importance of enthusiasm, practice, and strong delivery to move people. Everything Carnegie recommended in 1915 remains the foundation of effective communication to this day.
While Carnegie had the right idea, he didn’t have the tools available today. Scientists using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) can scan people’s brains to see exactly what areas are being activated when a subject performs a specific task, such as speaking or listening to someone else. This technology and other tools of modern science have led to an avalanche of studies in the area of communication. The secrets revealed in this book are supported by the latest science from the best minds on the planet, and they work. Is passion contagious? You’ll find out. Can telling stories actually “sync” your mind with that of the person listening to you? You’ll discover the answer. Why does an 18-minute presentation trump a 60-minute one? Why did video of Bill Gates releasing mosquitoes into an audience go viral? You’ll learn the answer to those questions, too.
Carnegie also lacked the most powerful tool that we can use to learn the art of public speaking: the Internet, which wouldn’t be commercialized until 40 years after Carnegie’s death. Today, thanks to the availability of broadband, people can watch videos on TED.com and see the world’s best minds deliver the presentations of their lives. Once you learn these nine secrets, read the interviews with popular TED speakers, and understand the science behind it all, you can turn to TED.com to see the presenters in action using the skills you’ve just read about.
WE’RE ALL IN SALES NOW
The most popular TED speakers give presentations that stand out in a sea of ideas. As Daniel Pink notes in To Sell Is Human, “Like it or not, we’re all in sales now.”4 If you’ve been invited to give a TED talk, this book is your bible. If you haven’t been invited to give a TED talk and have no intention of doing so, this book is still among the most valuable books you’ll ever read because it will teach you how to sell yourself and your ideas more persuasively than you’ve ever imagined. It will teach you how to incorporate the elements that all inspiring presentations share, and it will show you how to reimagine the way you see yourself as a leader and a communicator. Remember, if you can’t inspire anyone else with your ideas, it won’t matter how great those ideas are. Ideas are only as good as the actions that follow the communication of those ideas.
* * *
TALK LIKE TED IS DIVIDED into three parts, each revealing three components of an inspiring presentation. The most engaging presentations are:
EMOTIONAL—They touch my heart.
NOVEL—They teach me something new.
MEMORABLE—They present content in ways I’ll never forget.
Great communicators reach your head and touch your heart. Most people who deliver a presentation forget the “heart” part. In chapter 1 you’ll learn how to unleash the master within by identifying what it is that you are truly passionate about. You will read about research—never published in the popular press—that explains why passion is the key to mastering a skill like public speaking. Chapter 2 teaches you how to master the art of storytelling and why stories help your listeners get emotionally attached to your topic. You’ll learn about new research that shows how stories actually “sync” your mind to those of your audience, allowing you to create far deeper and more-meaningful connections than you’ve ever experienced. In chapter 3 you will learn how TED presenters exhibit body language and verbal delivery that is genuine and natural, almost as if they are having a conversation instead of addressing a large audience. You’ll also meet speakers who spent 200 hours rehearsing a presentation and learn how they practiced. You will learn techniques to make your presence and delivery more comfortable and impactful.
According to the neuroscientists I’ve interviewed, novelty is the single most effective way to capture a person’s attention. YouTube trends manager Kevin Allocca told a TED audience that in a world where two days of videos get uploaded every minute, “Only that which is truly unique and unexpected can stand out.” The brain cannot ignore novelty, and after you adopt the techniques in this section, your listeners will not be able to ignore you. In chapter 4 we explore how the greatest TED presenters engage their audiences with new information or a unique approach to an area of study. Chapter 5 is about delivering jaw-dropping moments, highlighting those speakers who carefully, consciously design and deliver “wow” moments their audiences are still talking about years later. Chapter 6 addresses the sensitive but important element of genuine humor—when to use it, how to use it, and how to be funny without telling a joke. Humor is unique to each presenter and it must be incorporated into your personal style of presenting.
You may have novel ideas, but if your audience cannot recall what you said, those ideas don’t matter. In chapter 7 I explore why the 18-minute TED presentation is the ideal length of time to get your point across. And yes, there’s science to back it up. Chapter 8 covers the importance of creating vivid, multisensory experiences so your audience can recall the content more successfully. In chapter 9 I emphasize the importance of staying in your own lane, the ultimate key to being a genuine, authentic speaker whom people feel they can trust.
Each chapter features a specific technique shared by the most popular TED speakers along with examples, insights, and interviews with the people who delivered the presentations. I’ve also included “TEDnotes” throughout each chapter: specific tips that will help you apply the secrets to your very next pitch or presentation. In these notes you will find the name of the speaker and the title of his or her presentation so you can search for it easily on TED.com. In each chapter we’ll also explore the science behind the featured secret—why it works and how you can apply the technique to take your presentations to a higher level. In the last 10 years we’ve learned more about the human mind than we’ve ever known. These findings have profound implications for your very next presentation.
LEARN FROM THE MASTERS
In Mastery author Robert Greene argues that we all have the ability to push the limits of human potential. Power, intelligence, and creativity are forces that we can unleash with the right mind-set and skills. People who are masters in their field (e.g., art, music, sports, public speaking) have a different way of seeing the world. Greene believes the word genius should be demystified because we have “access to information and knowledge that past masters could only dream about.”5
TED.com is a gold mine for those who want to attain mastery in the area of communications, persuasion, and public speaking. Talk Like TED will give you the tools and show you how to use them to help you find your voice and maybe even your fortune.
Better-than-average communicators are generally more successful than other people, but great communicators start movements. They are remembered and revered by their last names alone: Jefferson, Lincoln, Churchill, Kennedy, King, Reagan. Failure to communicate effectively in business is a fast road to failure. It means startups won’t get funded, products won’t get sold, projects won’t get backing, and careers won’t soar. The ability to deliver a TED-worthy presentation could mean the difference between enjoying acclaim and toiling in hopeless obscurity. You’re still alive. That means your life has purpose. You were meant for greatness. Don’t sabotage your potential because you can’t communicate your ideas.
At TED 2006, motivational guru Tony Robbins said, “Effective leaders have the ability to move themselves and others to action because they understand the invisible forces that shape us.”6 Passionate, powerful, and inspiring communication is one of those forces that moves and shapes us. A new approach to solving long-standing problems, inspiring stories, intriguing ways of delivering information, and standing ovations are known as “TED moments.” Create those moments. Captivate your audience. Inspire them. Change the world. Here’s how …