Leading Out Loud: The TED Guide’s Public Speaking Skill Set

In a recent blog, I introduced the book TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson, the “Head of TED.” In this inspiring and practical guide, Chris makes a persuasive case about the importance of public speaking for anyone with a message to share. Brand leaders, innovators, artists – all have a story worth telling and can benefit from creating an active, engaged audience for their brand, their products, or their message.

In Chris’s case, the message is that presentation literacy (the ability to present effectively in public) is not an innate power that only a few of us are born with, it’s a teachable skill that anyone can learn. That means that, with a bit of practice, all of us have the ability to make our mark and share our story with the world. I want to take a closer look at the public speaking skill set Anderson identifies and how we can put it into practice for compelling, impactful storytelling.

A Tool Kit for the Journey

“[A] great talk… is a journey that speaker and audience take together.” – Chris Anderson

My previous post addressed the vital importance of having something to say. For a brand representative or thought leader, the speaker’s journey begins the moment they realize what their message should be. For the audience, the journey begins as the speaker takes the stage. That’s why the journey must begin with the audience in the present moment, and why speakers must take pains to ensure that there are no leaps in logic or unexpected shifts in direction.

The speaker’s goal is to meet the audience where they are and then bring them to where their message resonates the most. Here are a few of the tools that Chris Anderson identifies that allow speakers to create a successful, persuasive journey:

Vulnerability & Connection

One big mistake that many speakers make (and that keeps some of us from attempting to speak in the first place) is believing that they must be an absolute, unshakeable authority. It’s true that compelling speakers draw on a wealth of knowledge and experience, but it’s their humanity, not their expertise, that connects them to their audience. That’s why it’s more effective to acknowledge our nerves, our shortcomings, or the limits of our knowledge than to try to bluster past them. An audience feels more at ease and receptive to our message when we establish our shared humanity. So, make eye contact, take in the room, and don’t hide your vulnerabilities.

Humor

“[P]art of the evolutionary purpose of laughter is to create social bonding.” – Chris Anderson

Beyond vulnerability, humor is one of the fastest ways to connect with an audience and engage them in your journey. Including a funny (and relevant) anecdote or finding the humor in a dry topic is a surefire way to be memorable and effective. Anderson cautions that “forced” humor is worse than none at all, so it’s best to let it unfold naturally within the context of your larger message. Telling a funny story that illustrates an aspect of your topic area is a great idea, inserting a joke for the sake of joking is generally not.

(Get inspired by this curated list of the funniest TED Talks.)

Explanation

As I’ve explored previously, the boots-on-the-ground perspective on any industry or experience is a powerful asset when communicating value to an audience. Often, this requires translating specific terminology or uncommon knowledge into terms that listeners can understand and follow along with. Unfamiliar acronyms or unexplained concepts create major roadblocks on your audience’s journey, so take care to bring them along with you. Anderson suggests crafting relatable examples to illustrate important concepts or using metaphors to simplify important but technical information.

Revelation

What’s the most exciting part of any journey? Exploration. When we encounter new information or stimulation, the sense of wonder and delight we experience creates memorable moments that stick with us long after the journey is over. If a speaker’s primary duty is to have something to say, they also must reveal that message to their audience in a compelling way. Whether your revelation is educational, artistic, spiritual, or practical, your audience should walk away feeling that they’ve encountered something new or learned to see something familiar in a new light.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Whether you’re an innovator announcing a new product, a brand representative encountering a new market, or just sharing a story around a campfire or over a glass of wine, these tools can help you craft a message that resonates with your audience long after you’ve stopped speaking. As with any other skill set, it takes plenty of practice to become comfortable, skillful, and effective. Eventually, powerful storytelling can become second nature even for those of us who start out nervous and unsure. The genius of Chris Anderson’s work is the revelation that we can all deploy this skill set to become successful storytellers and make a lasting impact on our audience.

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