TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking: A book review by Bob Morris

TED TalksTED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking
Chris Anderson
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (May 2016)

How to take “something you really care about and rebuild it inside the minds” of those with whom you share it

I cannot think of another person who has made more or better contributions to knowledge leadership in recent years than has Chris Anderson, a bestselling author of TED Talks, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Free: How Today’s Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing, and The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More. Also, Anderson purchased the TED organization from Richard (“Ricky”) Wurman in 2001 and now serves as its president and curator.

TED is a global community and so is its staff. It is headquartered in New York and Vancouver, but the collaborative and global nature of its work means that TED has staffers, advisors and volunteers worldwide. Under his leadership, TED has thrived by welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. TED’s leaders believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.

Perhaps you are already familiar with TED Talks. Although much of the material in Anderson’s book is based on the Official TED Guide for public speaking, it would be a mistake to assume that the value of the material ends there. Its core principles have almost unlimited applications in all manner of speeches, talks, and presentations that include (of course) a TED Talk but also a public introduction of a major new product or service, a startup proposal to obtain VC funding, a keynote or wrap-up at a conference, or the results of a team’s due diligence on an M&A candidate.

However different the nature and extent of presentations may be, Anderson asserts: Your number-one mission as a speaker is to take something that matters deeply to you and rebuild it inside the minds of your listeners. He suggests five specific components on which to focus. For example,

Frame Your Story: When I think about compelling presentations, I think about taking an audience on a journey. A successful talk is a little miracle — people see the world differently afterward. If you frame the talk as a journey, the biggest decisions are figuring out where to start and where to end. To find the right place to start, consider what people in your audience already know about your subject and how much they care about it. The most engaging speakers do a superb job of very quickly introducing the topic, explaining why they care so deeply about it, and convincing the audience members that they should, too.” He also explains how to Develop Stage Presence, Plan the Multimedia, and Putting It All Together.

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Anderson’s coverage:

o Connections with audience (Pages x-xi, 48-49, 53-59, 227-233, and 242-245)
o Chris Anderson (6-8, 37-39, 231-233)
o Body language (19-20, 48-50, and 206-207)
o Throughlines (33-35, 39-41, 42-43, and 78-79)
o Elizabeth Gilbert (42-43, 88-89, and 143-144)
o Vulnerability (50-53 and 186-187)
o Humor (53-57)
o Effective narration (59-60, 65-66, and 68-70)
o Ken Robinson (69-70 and 145-146)
o Persuasion (86-89)
o Naturalness and authenticity (130-131 and 136-139)
o Closing (168-171 and 174-175)

As I worked my way through Anderson’s thoughtful and thought-provoking material, I was again reminded of the research on peak performance that Anders Ericsson and his associates at Florida State University continue to conduct. Regrettably, careless reading of his key insights has resulted in substantial misunderstanding of what continues to be referred to as “The 10-000 Hour Rule.” With regard to TED, the misunderstanding would suggest that (on average) 10,000 hours must be committed to preparing an outstanding TED Talk. Anderson leaves no doubt that the best TED Talks, those that have been the most popular such as Ken Robinson’s “Do schools kill creativity?” and Amy Cuddy’s “Your body language shapes who you are,” required rigorous development and refinement. There can be no question about that.

However, presumably Anderson agrees with Ericsson: “Not all practice makes perfect. You need a particular kind of practice deliberate practice to develop expertise. When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.” It is also imperative to conduct deliberate practice under expert supervision. Hence the importance of the information, insights, and counsel that Chris Anderson provides.

Here are his concluding thoughts: “In the end, it’s quite simple. 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 page, waiting for your contribution.

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