Book notes: TED Talks

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson book summary.

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TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson

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Synopsis: “…this is an insider’s guide to creating talks that are unforgettable.

Chris Anderson has shown how carefully crafted short talks can be the key to unlocking empathy, stirring excitement, spreading knowledge, and promoting a shared dream. Done right, a talk can electrify a room and transform an audience’s worldview. Done right, a talk is more powerful than anything in written form.

This book explains how the miracle of powerful public speaking is achieved, and equips you to give it your best shot.

This is the 21st-century’s new manual for truly effective communication and it is a must-listen for anyone who is ready to create impact with their ideas.” -Audible

Opening thoughts:

I think I saw this book come up on Audible recommendations, so I picked it up. I think many of us have seen TED talks before and they’re super inspiring. In fact, it is one of my bucket list goals to give a Ted talk and I really enjoy public speaking so I figured this would be an interesting and relevant to read.

Key notes:

  • There is no single set formula for a great talk. Any attempt would be seen through and the audiences would know it is not genuine
    • A key part of the appeal of the great talk is its freshness
  • You’re only real job in giving a talk is to have something valuable to say, and to say it authentically in your own unique way
  • As a leader or as an advocate, public speaking is the key to unlocking empathy, stirring excitement, sharing knowledge and insight, and promoting a shared dream
  • Ideas aren’t owned, they have a life of their own
  • The fear of public speaking is one of the top fears because it puts our reputation on the line
    • We are hardwired to care about how others perceive us
  • One of the most important things is to be authentic and be yourself
    • Play the role of who you are. If you can give a talk to friends at dinner, you can give a Ted talk
  • Once an idea is formed in our mind, nobody can take it away from us without our consent
  • You’re number one mission as a speaker is to take something that matters deeply to you and to rebuild it inside the minds of your listeners
  • Style without substance is awful
  • Common traps: four talk styles to avoid
    1. The sales pitch. This happens when speakers are here to take, not to give
    2. The ramble. If people are going to give you something precious that they can’t get back, their time, you must prepare before hand to show that you value it
    3. The organization bore. Your organization is only fascinating to you, not anyone else. Don’t spend your time talking about it and how amazing you think it is
    4. The inspiration performance. The intense appeal of the standing ovation can lead aspiring speakers to do bad things. They may try to copy inspirational speakers but only in form
      • Inspiration can’t be performed, it’s an audience response to authenticity, courage, selfless work, and genuine wisdom
      • Bring those qualities to your talk and you may be amazed at what happens
      • Don’t dream of being a rockstar speaker. Dream of something much bigger than you are. Go and work on that dream as long as it takes to achieve something worthwhile. Then humbly come and share what you’ve learned
  • The Through Line: What’s your point?
    • Think of a talk as a journey that the speaker and the audience take together with the speaker as the guide
    • But if you want the audience to come with you, you have to give them a hint of where you are going and then be sure that each step of the journey helps get you there
    • The through line traces the path that the journey takes
  • The first step is to identify where your audience is coming from knowledge wise or situationally so that you know where they are starting from
    • You have to take the time to do at least two things:
      1. Show why it matters, such as the question you’re trying to answer or the problem to solve more experience to share
      2. Flush out each point you make with a real examples and stories and facts
  • To provide an effective talk, you must slash back the range of topics you will cover to a single, connected thread
    • A through line that can be properly developed. You cover less, but the impact will be significantly greater
    • Less is more. The secret to a great talk is the deleted word
  • For it to be a great talk, you must take your ego out of it and let yourself be a delivery vehicle for the ideas themselves
  • Ken Robinson’s talk format:
    • A, introduction and getting settled on what will be covered
    • B, context. Why this issue matters
    • C, main concepts
    • D, practical implications
    • E, conclusion
  • There’s an old formula for writing essays that says a good essay answers three questions:
    1. What?
    2. So what?
    3. Now what?
  • If you were talking about a heavy subject, it is OK to frame the talk in a way that will make your audience feel uncomfortable as long as they are prepared for it
    • However, you must be wary of compassion fatigue if they become emotionally exhausted from too many of these heavy topics
    • You can get around this by thinking of your talk as not about an issue, but about an idea
      • An issue-based talk leads with morality. An idea-based talk leads with curiosity
      • An issue exposes a problem. An idea proposes a solution.
      • An issue says, isn’t it terrible? An idea says, isn’t this interesting?
    • It’s much easier to pull in an audience by framing the talk as an attempt to solve an intriguing riddle rather than as a plea for them to care
      • The first feels like a gift being offered, the second feels like an ask
  • Most important of all is to pick a topic that lives deep within you. Talk about what you know and love with all your heart
    • People want to hear about the subject that is most important in your life, not some random subject you think will be a novelty
  • Knowledge can’t be pushed into a brain, it has to be pulled in. Before you can build an idea in someone else’s mind, you need their permission
    • To make an impact and lower their barrier, there must be a human connection
    • To establish a connection, make eye contact from the very start
    • To make a connection, show vulnerability
  • Parts of the evolutionary purpose of laughter is to create social bonding. When you laugh at someone, you both feel you are on the same side. It is a great tool for building a connection
    • Don’t try to tell jokes. What you are looking for instead are hilarious but true stories that are directly relevant to your topic or are an enduring humorous use of language
      1. Tell anecdotes relevant to your subject matter where humor is natural. The best humor is based on observations of things occurring around you and then exaggerating or remixing them
      2. Have a funny remark ready if you flub your words, the AV goes awry, or the clicker doesn’t work. The audience has been there and you instantly win their sympathy
      3. Build humor into your visuals. You can also have the humor be the contrast between what you are saying and what you are showing
      4. Use satire, saying the opposite of what you mean, and then revealing your intent. Though this is really hard to get right
      5. Timing is critical. Have the courage to pause for a moment and without looking like you are fishing for an applause
      6. If you’re not funny, don’t try to be funny. Test the humor out on family, friends, or colleagues. If they aren’t laughing, change it or spike it
  • When you can pull together humor, self-deprecation, and insight into a single-story, you have yourself a winning start
    • Stories that can generate the best connection are about you personally or people close to you
    • Tales of failure, awkwardness, misfortune, danger or disaster told authentically are often the moment when this new shift from plain-vanilla interest to deep engagement
  • Narration: That irresistible allure of stories
    • The stories told back in tribal times helped expand peoples ability to imagine, to dream, and to understand the minds of others
    • Storytelling brought social status to great storytellers, and actionable insights to great listeners
  • What are the elements of a great story?
    • The classic formula is a protagonist with goals meets an unexpected obstacle and a crisis results. The protagonist attempts to overcome the obstacle, leading to a climax, add to finally a dénouement
      • There can also be interruptions and plot twists
  • When it comes to sharing a story from the stage, remember to emphasize four key things:
    1. Base it on a character your audience can empathize with
    2. Build tension whether through curiosities, social intrigue, or actual danger
    3. Offer the right level of detail. Too little detail and the story is not vivid, too much in the story gets bogged down
    4. End with a satisfying resolution, weather funny, moving, or revealing
  • Priming: any metaphor or linguistic device that intuitively makes a conclusion seem more plausible
  • You haven’t really memorized your talk thoroughly until you can do an entire other activity that requires mental energy while giving your talk
  • Scripted vs unscripted. Practice and rehearse either way
    • Script and memorize the opening minute and closing lines. It helps with nerves, confidence and impact
  • Narrative symmetry: A talk built carefully on a through line can deliver a pleasing conclusion by linking back to its opening
  • Nerves are not a curse. They can be turned to great effect
    • Make friends with your nervousness, pluck up your courage, and go
  • It’s essential to be authentic on stage
  • The key takeaway is to simply inject variety into the way you speak, based on the meaning you are trying to convey
  • You want to speak conversationally, interjecting curiosity and excitement when it’s appropriate
    • Imagine you met up with friends you went to school with and are updating them with what you been up to
  • Losing an audience by going too fast is rarer than losing an audience by going too slow
  • For the most part, oration, which is a specific art-form, is not appropriate for public speaking
  • Have a powerful stance when standing still
    • If you want to move, then do so, but move intentionally.
      • Stop when you want to emphasize a point, and address your audience from a stance of quiet power
  • Learning to present your ideas live to other humans will prove to be an absolutely essential skill in modern society and in the future
  • Knowledge vs. understanding. In many fields, knowledge is becoming more specialized. Understanding, however, moves in the opposite direction and requires pursuing the unification of knowledge
    • The key to understanding anything was to understand the context in which it sat
    • TED reflected the reality that all knowledge is connected into a giant web
    • In the future, instead of needing specialized knowledge, which can be easily accessed and outsourced to robots an automated, we are going to need contextual knowledge, creative knowledge, and a deeper understanding of our own humanity
  • New ideas form when we spark off of each other and learn from each other
  • Now for the first time in history, it’s possible for anyone on the planet who has access to the internet to summon to their home the worlds greatest teachers and inspirers
    • YouTube and the interconnectivity allowed for a global laboratory of dance innovation in the past decade. This had caused the art form to evolve at such high-speeds
      • He calls this phenomenon crowd accelerated innovation
    • Online video provided two things:
      1. Visibility of the best talent in the world
      2. Massive incentive to improve on what was out there
  • Presentation literacy is going to be an important life skill for the years ahead
  • A speaker once said, “the secret of happiness is find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it
  • What we share is far more profound and meaningful than how we differ

Closing thoughts:

While I was right in thinking it would be interesting, I was wrong in assuming it would be relevant, haha. This book is highly geared towards people who are actively prepping for a talk they’re about to give, particularly TED talks. While I do aspire to give a TED talk someday (its on my bucket list), I don’t have any plans in the immediate future. This made about 70-80% not immediately relevant or applicable to me. I was contemplating just skipping this book altogether when I was about an hour in, but I figured I might as well let this information sink in and then revisit at a later date.

I really enjoyed the latter half of the book on the discussion of knowledge vs. understanding, the increasing connectivity has produced crowd-accelerated innovation, and the importance of presentation literacy. Also, the theme of dedicating your life to something more important than yourself reminds me of the books I just read Tribe, Give and Take, and Peak Performance. We are hardwired to do better when we remove our ego from our motivation.

I think I would have enjoyed this book more if I were giving a talk, but still very useful insights for down the road. For the reader who has an upcoming talk, there are plenty of actionable items here to improve your talk.

Nutshell: To give a great talk, you must talk about what you’re passionate about that’s worth sharing while being authentic to who you are.

Rating: 3/5

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