Talk Like TED

Most of us will never be asked to give a TED talk. However, we are selling ourselves and our ideas every day, according to Carmine Gallo, author of Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds. Whether marketing your legal services, advocating for a client, pitching an investor, presenting a CLE, or participating in a virtual meeting on Zoom, you are selling yourself and your message.

TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design) was launched in 1984 as an annual conference and now posts online videos which are viewed 1.5 million times each day. Talk Like TED breaks down what makes the most popular TED presentations so remarkable.

The author identifies three components of great TED talks: they are emotional (they touch one’s heart), novel (they teach something new), and memorable (they present content in a way that listeners remember). Within these three components are nine tips you can use to improve your speaking to engage and inspire others.

Identify Your Passion

You are more likely to persuade and inspire listeners if you express a passion for the topic. Passion is defined as a meaningful or intense connection to the topic.

Starbucks founder Howard Schultz told Gallo that he is not passionate about coffee, but rather about creating a space outside of home and office that provides a relaxing and joyful experience. Coffee is the product, but not the passion.

In identifying your passion, Gallo suggests you ask “What makes my heart sing?” In other words, what is it about your idea/message/topic that gets you fired up? Then share that with your audience.

Tell a Story

Most TED talks begin with a story. In fact, when a person is invited to give a TED talk, they receive a document called The TED Commandments. No. 4 is “Thou shalt tell a story.”

Stories create an emotional connection with the listener because they touch the head and the heart. Research shows stories that evoke emotion can actually sync the listener’s mind with the speaker’s mind, a condition called “brain coupling”. 

According to Gallo, stories are more powerful than data or statistics. In fact, Gallo quotes sociologist and TED speaker Brene Brown in stating “Stories are just data with a soul.”

TED presenters often use personal stories or stories about others to bring their point of life. 
Civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson’s TED talk about injustice received the longest standing ovation in TED history. Sixty-five percent of Stevenson’s talk was stories. He spoke of his grandmother and the expectations she had for him and his siblings. Stories about family are narratives that many listeners connect with. 

TED speakers also use brand stories, which trace the success or failure of a product or company. Seth Godin shared this brand story in his TED talk about marketing: Silk, which makes almond milk, decided to move their product (which does not need to be refrigerated) to the refrigerated section of the grocery store alongside conventional dairy products. Sales of Silk tripled. Silk did not increase its advertising; it just changed product placement and in turn changed consumer perception about 
almond milk.

Have a Conversation

Don’t deliver a presentation; have a conversation. A conversation is authentic, but Gallo says authenticity does not happen naturally. It takes practice. Get feedback from others, and refine your message and delivery based on the feedback. Pay attention to your rate/speed (ideal pace is about 190 words per minute), volume, pitch (high or low), and pauses (to set aside a key word or phrase). 

Use gestures but use them sparingly. For maximum impact, keep your gestures within the “power sphere”, the zone between your eyes and your navel.

Teach Something New

Gallo says novelty is the single most effective way to capture someone’s attention. Humans are curious, and we have a powerful drive to learn. Research shows that learning something new activates the reward center of the brain, releasing dopamine. Gallo calls dopamine the “save button” in the brain. When dopamine is present during an event, we remember it more vividly. 

To make your presentation novel, reveal something new or take familiar information and repackage it in an unfamiliar way. Present a new way of solving a problem, or a unique way of looking at the issue. 

Robert Ballard started his TED talk about ocean exploration by asking the audience if they were aware that 50 percent of the US lies beneath the sea. (Most were not.) He added that the deep sea contains more history than all the museums on earth combined. These surprising facts forced listeners to view the ocean in a new way.

Susan Cain delivered a TED talk that questioned society’s perception that talkative and outgoing people make the best leaders. Cain offered the audience a fresh way of thinking about extroverts and introverts. Her talk has been viewed more than 25 million times.

Deliver a Jaw-Dropping Moment

A jaw-dropping moment is something unexpected, memorable, impressive, or shocking. It grabs the listener’s attention and puts them in a heightened state of emotion. That’s why we remember where we were on 9/11 but couldn’t find our car keys this morning.

In his TED talk about malaria, Bill Gates opened a jar of mosquitoes and let them swarm around the room. “There’s no reason only poor people should have the experience,” he said. Gates spoke for 18 minutes but the mosquito moment is the one people Tweeted about and remembered. Gallo says that every remarkable presentation needs a jaw-dropping 

Find Humor

Don’t take yourself or your topic too seriously. Give the audience something to smile about. Humor lowers defenses and makes the audience more receptive to your message. Add a story or anecdote that has made your colleagues smile in the past and weave it into your presentation. 

Stick to the 18-Minute Rule

TED talks must not exceed 18 minutes, a length chosen by TED organizers based on neuroscience and strategy. Research shows that too much information, dubbed “cognitive backlog”, prevents listeners from absorbing and understanding information. 
According to Gallo, you should be able to summarize your message in a “Twitter friendly headline”, 140 characters or less. If you cannot explain your idea or message in 140 characters or less, keep working until you can. To pare it down, ask yourself “What is the one thing I want people to take away from my message? What is the one thing I want people to know about this topic?”

Use Multi-Sensory Experiences

Don’t just rely on Power Point or slides. Show photos. Listeners are more likely to remember an idea with a picture that complements it. Use interesting props that bring your message to life. (See Bill Gates’ mosquito jar above). 

Stay in Your Lane

Finally, be your authentic self, rather than attempting to be the “sage on the stage”. Allow listeners to see the real you, by sharing personal stories and insights from your observations. Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. In her TED talk (which has been viewed over 41 million times), Brene Brown shared that vulnerability takes courage and is key to finding joy and success. 
By Lisa Buck
Ms. Buck practiced corporate law in Minneapolis and was an adjunct professor at William Mitchell College of Law. She contributes to the Hennepin Lawyer and serves on the board of the Hennepin County Law Library.