Since attending my first TED Conference in Monterey back in the series’ 1990’s infancy, I’ve been consistently blown away by the quality of the presentations at these gatherings. As TED Talks have gone mainstream in the era of streaming video, their special combination of passionate personalities, compelling stories, and fascinating visuals endures as an ideal to which every presenter should aspire.
Can anyone with a good idea learn the presentation techniques that make TED Talks so compelling? Yes, says TED curator Chris Anderson.
“I’m convinced that giving a good talk is highly coachable,” Anderson writes in a recent Harvard Business Review article. “In a matter of hours, a speaker’s content and delivery can be transformed from muddled to mesmerizing.”
Anderson tells the story of a young boy he and his team met in Kenya last year. The boy was extremely shy and spoke in halting English, but his story about inventing a way to keep lions from his family’s animals was so fascinating that they decided to invite him to speak at the high stakes event. The article talks about the coaching they gave the boy to frame the story and build his confidence. The result: a standing ovation. (View the actual talk below.)
Anderson’s advice starts with having “something worth talking about.” If that’s true, then “conceptualizing and framing what you want to say is the most vital part of preparation.” That means things like: knowing where to begin and end a story; not trying to cover too much ground; and respecting the audience’s intelligence to draw some of their own conclusions.
He has tips, too, about delivery and stage presence. And about how to employ visuals. There’s a wealth of information in the article, and I recommend you click through and read it (you’ll have to register with HBR to read beyond the preview):
While Anderson’s article focuses on TED’s strict short-form (typically 6 or 18 minute) live format, there are lessons for online presenters, too. Lessons about story arc, brevity, visuals, and stage presence translate directly to the online presentation format — especially video-enhanced multimedia presentations such as a KnowledgeVision. The video presentation is one that allows the full force of storytelling — the visuals, the stage presence, and the passion of the presenter — to come through fully. Can you imagine young Richard Turere’s talk being delivered in standalone slides on SlideShare or as an audio-narrated presentation? It just wouldn’t have the same impact.
Most of all, though, there needs to be a story. In Anderson’s words:
Presentations rise or fall on the quality of the idea, the narrative, and the passion of the speaker. It’s about substance, not speaking style or multimedia pyrotechnics. It’s fairly easy to “coach out” the problems in a talk, but there’s no way to “coach in” the basic story — the presenter has to have the raw material. If you have something to say, you can build a great talk. But if the central theme isn’t there, you’re better off not speaking.