TED’s Secret to Great Public Speaking

June 1, 2016 Katharina Lochner

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The TED Talk Formula

We share TED Talks frequently because they reflect our mission: They are inspiring. But how do TED speakers achieve this? Is there a TED Talk formula? And can we learn something from them for our own presentations?

In a short video, TED Curator Chris Anderson explains what makes TED Talks so inspiring and what we can use this insight for our own talks. According to Mr Anderson there is one thing that all TED Talks have in common: Speakers transfer something into their listeners’ minds: an idea. This means that listeners are experiencing the same emotions and the neurons in their brains are firing in a similar pattern to the ones in the speaker’s brain.

But what does he mean by an idea? He defines it as a pattern of information that helps you understand and navigate the world. So ideas reflect your own beliefs and world views and thus impact how you perceive the world around you. This fact explains why it is so important to be able to transmit an idea into another person’s mind: It will change how they perceive the world and how they navigate it and interact with it.

How can we build an idea in our audience’s minds? Chris Anderson gives four key points.

  • Limit your talk to just one idea and makes sure everything you say links back to it in some way.
  • Give your listeners a reason to care. You can do this by making them curious, e.g. by asking provocative questions.
  • Build your idea piece by piece out of concepts that your audience already understands. Use their language, start where your audience is, and use metaphors.
  • Make your idea worth sharing by asking yourself: who would this benefit?

This does not sound like rocket science, but rather like something we can try out ourselves. For those who want to dive in a bit deeper there are books that explain how you can successfully transmit ideas to your audience. For example, “Talk Like TED” by Carmine Gallo reveals nine speaking secrets of great public speakers. The author uses three adjectives associated with great public speaking: emotional, novel, and memorable. We previously reported that our brain loves stories and therefore in order to capture and maintain listeners’ attention it makes sense to tell a story. Ideally this is a story that makes listeners curious and that they can learn something new from. And the best way to transfer something new into their minds is to use pictures and metaphors. The secret to great public speaking – revealed!

About the Author

Katharina Lochner

Dr Katharina Lochner is the former research director for the cut-e Group which was acquired by Aon in 2017. Katharina is now a researcher and lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences Europe in Iserlohn, Germany. In her role at cut-e, she applied the research in organizational and work psychology to real-world assessment practice. She has a strong expertise in the construction and evaluation of online psychometric tools.

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