I wish I were as optimistic as Chris Anderson, who wrote today, “Anyone Can Give a Memorable TED Talk,” in the Wall Street Journal (April 30-May 1, C3).
You can read the entire article by clicking HERE.
Anderson, who is the President of TED, has a new book that hits the market next week entitled TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016).
He gives these tips:
- ask yourself if you have something worth saying
- slash the scope of your talk so that you unpack the idea properly
- give people a reason to care
- build your case piece by piece, using familiar words and concepts
- tell stories
His premise is that anyone, with the right approach, and enough practice, can be a greater presenter. In the article, he tells the improbable story of Richard Turere, a 12-year old Maasai boy, who gave a talk at a TED conference, in front of an audience of 1,400 seasoned professionals.
I don’t think so. I have provided instruction and critiqued thousands of speakers in Business Communication courses over the past 39 years, and have coached individuals one-on-one countless times. In fact, even today, I am meeting a speaker for individual coaching who gives a talk next week. I can start naming people right now who you would never see on the TED Talks site, no matter how much time I would spend coaching them, and I would still be listing names hours from now. And, I don’t think it’s because I’m a lousy coach. Sorry – everyone can’t do it.
His assumption is that there is something within an individual, that if unlocked properly, will propel a person to greatness. He would say that if you stay with it long enough, and apply the correct instruction and techniques, success is simply a matter of time.
I will admit that for many people, presenting is more a matter of “will” than “skill.” There are people who simply don’t want to get any better, and therefore, even intense training and coaching will not get them there. They could be great, but they don’t want to be. Fortunately, there are enough people who do respond to training and coaching, and who do become great speakers, that keeps me going as a professional resource.
But, what about people who can’t? What if fantastic presenting is not a will or skill issue? There are plenty of people who fall short of any or all of the six behaviors listed as tips above. They just can’t do it. It’s not their strength. It never will be. Do we beat them up and put them through the misery of intense scrutiny toward an end that will never happen? I would far rather build on something else that they are good at – one of their strengths – to work around their presentation weakness, than to consistently badger them to speak well.
I also think that the title of Anderson’s article today insults the great TED speakers. I am well aware that writers rarely get to construct titles to their articles. They usually see the title the same time all the readers do, so I am not bashing Anderson. But the title is there for all to see. TED Talks are premium presentations. Great content with great delivery. And, it is a very competitive product. These are not like “uploads to YouTube” from your web cam. Even many really great speakers are not to the level of TED presenters that you watch on that site.
To suggest that everyone can be like TED, is about the same as saying everyone can be like Mike. No way.
We all know the agony of sitting through a less than well-prepared, less than well-delivered presentation. And we know that there is a wide spectrum of more acceptable presentation experiences – from adequate, to good, to really good, to absolutely memorable. One person with the reputation for the absolutely memorable kind is Steve Jobs.
Business Week has an article written by Carmine Gallo, the author of the new book The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience. The use of the phrase “insanely great” matches the vocabulary choices of Jobs himself. He could have summed it up in one phrase: be Steve Jobs. (And, by the way, name another speaker/presenter worthy of his or her own book regarding his/her presentation approach).
Gallo has identified the traits that make Steve Jobs a great presenter. Read the article for descriptions of each of these. Here’s the shortened version of the list:
1. A headline.
2. A villain.
3. A simple slide.
4. A demo.
5. A holy smokes moment.
And — One more thing…sell dreams.
There is one other ingredient that is not on the list – keep working at it (the old 10,000 hour rule). I don’t know how many hours Jobs has spent in delivering presentations, but take a look at this old grainy video, Steve Jobs demos Apple Macintosh, 1984, to learn that Jobs has followed these steps for a very long time. You’ll also see that the cult following started early.
One other suggestion: check out many of the Ted Videos, and you’ll see some other examples of some of these principles and habits at work. Here’s a “holy smokes” video to start: Hans Rosling’s new insights on poverty.
This past Friday, I preseented a synopsis of the wonderful book the Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson, Ph.D. I have a few comments on the book, and a reflection on the morning at the First Friday Book Synopsis.
First, the book. It is a really good read! This book is a “feel good” book, that challenges one deeply. You feel good because Robinson tells story after story of a person who had been overlooked, unfulfilled, a little “lost,” until he or she found just the right path. The stories were numerous: Richard Branson, Paul McCartney (Robinson is British, and probably a little partial to other Brits), the billiards great Ewa Lawrence, and many others. In many cases, our “normal” educational system had failed to see and feed a student’s potential. In fact, far too often, potential had been practically squashed. The book is challenging because it calls into questions our basic assumptions about just what we should be “teaching” in our schools. He argues passionately for a new understanding regarding what is truly important (with “creativity” at the top of his list). It is a provocative and useful set of questions to ponder. By the way, you can watch the video of his terrific presentation from the TED conference, Do Schools Kill Creativity? at the TED video site here.
Now, here is my favorite line in the book. Elvis Presley was rejected for his school’s glee club. Here is what Robinson wrote: “they said his voice would ruin their sound… We all know the tremendous heights the glee club scaled once they managed to keep Elvis out.” This man is a witty writer!
Second, the event. We are in our 12th year of the First Friday Book Synopsis. Karl Krayer and I have presented synopses of well over 250 books in the 11+ years we have been meeting. On May 1, we had our largest number of participants ever — 128 people. I asked one person why he thought it had grown to such a number, and he said: “everyone is looking for a job.” That may be true, and networking is certainly a critical factor — never more so than in this challenging time in our economy.
But another participant said this (this is a slight paraphrase — I did not record her comments): “I’m not usually a morning person. But I come to this, and I really feel like I learn important information from two good books. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I attend.” I think that may be a key part of the secret of this event. It really does provide a lot of really helpful and useful material in a very short, compact time frame. Yes, people feel like they have accomplished something important by attending the First Friday Book Synopsis.
So – to all who make this a success, thank you. I hope we provide you with that important sense of accomplishment.