Tag Archives: audience

Data Display of the Day: How to Sell Without Selling

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In my class, Professional Communication and Presentation, my students and I devote a significant portion of time to persuasion and selling. From my perspective, every presentation is persuasive. Even when the on paper purpose is to inform–quarterly report, update, process, lesson–there is an underlying current of persuasion that cannot be ignored. Even if a presenter is informing an audience on how to complete a process or how to engage in a process, he or she is really persuading the audience that his or her approach to completing that process is viable, worthy, or preferable to another method. In addition, every presenter must persuade the audience that he or she is credible and worth listening to. So, it naturally follows that learning more about persuading and about one of its most prevalent types, selling, can help each presenter grow his or her skills. Selling today (just like persuading) involves more finesse, innovation, and a knack for visualization than in the past. Most consumers today see right through infomercials and are much more drawn to subtler forms of persuasion–advertisers know this and continue to adapt. Presenters too must adapt to our new world of communication and content interaction. Today’s infographic, brought to you by Daily Infographic, discusses the subject of passive persuasion, or selling without selling. There are a few key ideas in this infographic we can apply to persuasive presenting:

1. People buy into ideas that appeal to their needs

According to today’s infographic, people buy products for a variety of reasons. Each of these coordinates with one of Maslow’s needs (physiological-basic needs, safety-replacement or value, belonging-urgency/scarcity, esteem-name recognition, self-actualization-a good cause), which is a good starting point for tailoring a message to a particular audience. What is interesting about the reasons people buy products is how readily we are driven by higher-level needs like name recognition. By purchasing an Apple product for instance, a consumer becomes part of one of Seth Godin’s “tribes,” a group of others whose values align around a brand. Harnessing Maslow’s needs when crafting a persuasive message taps into the very reasons audiences make the choices they do–WIIFM or “What’s In It For Me”.

2. People buy into well-designed products

A well-designed product is appealing–from color and form to function, usability, and novelty, user-focused design can truly make the difference between a product that thrives and one that fails. The same goes for slide decks. If 85% of consumers say that color is the main reason why they choose a product, and 93% of consumers are concerned with visual appearance, then it’s clear that design is king. David McCandless, of Information is Beautiful, provides a bit of insight into why visualizations are so useful in disseminating information. Our vision is our primary sense, and we are bombarded by an incredible amount of information each day, most of it visual (Source). By harnessing the power of design, we can speak to audiences in two languages–the language of the eye (visuals) and the language of the mind (text, numbers).

3. People buy into products that use surprise and unexpectedness

The final lesson we can draw from today’s infographic is that surprise and unexpectedness draws audience’s in and sets the conditions for persuasion. Chip and Dan Heath codified the formula for ideas that stick in Made to Stick. One of their primary modes of crafting sticky ideas is unexpectedness. When the brain encounters something incongruous, something that does not adhere to the schemas or cognitive patterns already in place, it cannot help but want to find a solution. This is why mysteries and thrillers are so popular–they break a schema and then through careful construction, create a new way of thinking.


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Slideshare of the Day: 7 Rules for Writing Blog Posts That Get Read and Shared

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As a blogger, one of my main goals is gaining readership through meaningful and worthwhile effort. The blogs I love to read provide me with information I cannot find elsewhere or have conceptualized myself but not articulated.  This year, I committed myself to becoming that type of blogger. My first step was and is consistency–from what I’ve observed, blogging consistently at least three times per week not only grows the amount of relevant content I have to offer readers but also helps me continue to grow my skills as a writer. Blogging consistently has also helped me connect with other like minded professionals. So, consistency is important, but, even more important is relevance and attractiveness. Today’s Slideshare, “7 Rules for Writing Blog Posts That Get Read and Shared” created by author and blogger Michael Hyatt includes some excellent tips for determining the audience relevance of your posts and crafting blog posts that attract readership. Check out the full deck below; three tips I will implement in my next posts are: 1. focus on the reader, 2. create a powerful headline, and 3. make your posts easy to share.

1. Focus on the reader

Audience adaptation, relevance, and a focus on WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) are great guides to follow when creating any type of content. In class, we devote weeks to various forms of audience analysis–audience questions, an audience needs map, Nancy Duarte’s audience questions from Resonate, and audience interviews. But, I’ve not done the same type of in-depth audience research in my blog. To be frank, I’ve taken for granted that the subject is what drives readership, but what if my content isn’t tailored to the audience’s who most often draw inspiration from Tweak Your Slides? Hyatt’s advice is to create an audience survey, distribute it among readers, and then write a followup post with insights and observations. Creating this type of survey can help bloggers create content that is user-centered, not writer-centered.

2. Create a powerful headline

I am sure that by now you are familiar with the types of attention grabbing headlines created by sites like Upworthy and BuzzFeed. There’s something about these titles that draws the reader in and helps cut through the cacophony of social media feeds. Much of the success of sites like these comes from the genius of founders like Jonah Peretti, who devote years to studying the anatomy of a sticky idea.  BuzzFeed and Upworthy headlines are often the epitome of the Heath brothers’ sticky concept–attention grabbing, jarring, memorable. A blog post title similarly has to break through the noise to manifest as signal. Hyatt suggests three excellent strategies for blog posts titles that stick: first, create a numbered sequence headline (“Five ways to…”); second, create a provocative question headline (“Are you….”); thirdly, create a how to headline, especially since blog readers often want to learn a new facet of your core subject.

3. Make your posts easy to share

Though I tend to rely on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and WordPress to spread word of my posts for me, there are several other useful tools out there that can help you help others share your work. Hyatt introduces viewers to several tools, namely AddThis and ShareThis, that can increase shareability (whether it is other sharing your work or others reading more of your work). I particularly like the content recommendation tools available as they not only lead readers to other content related to a specific post but also allow you to link readers to other awesome blogs on the subject.

What are your tips for writing blog posts? Whose blogs are unbeatable for consistent, relevant, worthwhile content?

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Participation: Action Speaks Louder than Your Words

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One of the marks of an engaging, “naked” presenter is the ability to engage his or her audience in such a way that the audience retains, carries forward, and applies the speaker’s message. When an audience can move beyond passive absorption of information or even active visualization of an idea, that audience is more likely to not only remember the idea, but pass it along to others (whether it is through action, word of mouth, or influence). A message come alive in the audience’s hearts and minds creates that ripple effect speakers need to gain traction for their ideas.

There are many ways a speaker can achieve engagement and retention. Author Olivia Mitchell of Speaking About Presenting states that a speaker’s role is to nurture attention and transform it to engagement (Source). For Mitchell, attention is the passive reception of information; engagement is the active desire for more information. It’s active nature makes engagement “more valuable than attention” (Source). In the article, “4 ways to move people from attention to engagement,” Mitchell isolates four techniques that move an audience towards engagement:

1. Sell Your Presentation (show the audience what’s in it for them and appeal to audience needs)

2. Evoke curiosity (use the copywriter technique of “fascinations”, short ideas that tease an audience ala a magazine cover)

3. Be Bold (don’t be afraid of a little controversy)

4. Build Rapport (empathize with the audience and tune to their frequencies)

According to Dr. Nick Morgan, author of Public Words, audiences want an experience. They want to feel that they’ve been a part of something meaningful (Source). Audiences want to know you’ve taken the time to create a unique and authentic experience that differs from other similar experiences on your subject. For the majority of a speech, the audience is a passive passenger on a journey a speaker has carefully mapped out. However, as Dr. Morgan asserts, an audience is made up of people–flesh and blood bioelectric engines–audiences are “naturally active.  And if you’ve done your job right, they’re ready to give back.  More than that, they’re ready to get started implementing your ideas” (Source). To capitalize on this natural tendency to act, Dr. Morgan suggests giving the audience something to do beyond the cliche call to action:

“I’m talking about an actual, physical activity.  A modest one, but something real, concrete, and deliberate.

So, it seems that moving beyond words can help your audience not only retain information but can also tap into their natural tendency to act. This is the true power of an activity in a presentation. In Professional Communication and Presentation, I task my students with leading discussion for 5-10 minutes on a core topic for that day’s class. Each group chooses a discussion prompt, conducts research on the prompt, and delivers their perspective to the class. In the past, I gave students the option of developing either a discussion question or an activity to help the class apply the group’s idea to presenting. This month, though, I was curious to see if activity alone would yield different results in terms of audience retention of the concepts being discussed, so I nixed the discussion option, as Alex Rister did with her students. Overall, presentations are stronger, more memorable, and much more engaging.

Creating a strong activity is a subject for a different post, but all in all, the groups have moved their topics much closer to that action center by creating relevant activities that bring their perspectives to life. For instance, one group was tasked with discussing how to conduct strong research and what the difference is between credible information and unreliable information. They wanted us to understand that while the web has become our primary source of information and there is much information on the web that is relevant and worthwhile, much of the information we find on the web has been diluted and distorted from a primary source.

To bring this to life in the audience, they asked us to play the telephone game. One student was given a sentence to whisper into her neighbor’s ear; the neighbor then repeated the idea to the next student. The process was repeated until the last student, who then wrote what he had heard on the board. What the student wrote down contained a few of the elements of the original, but the specifics were lost, altered, or misrepresented. This brief activity helped the class see just how easy it is to get the wrong information on the web, where information is distorted, filtered, and amended the further it is away from the original source.

A well-developed, well-placed, and well-executed activity can be the key to true audience retention, internalization, and action. Consider how you can integrate activity in your next presentation. For a bit of inspiration, check out these 7 moments of audience participation from TED. My favorite is Jane McGonigal’s, whose game can literally give you 10 years of life!


 

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Calling your Audience Types to Action

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Last week, I discussed the importance of audience segmentation as a means of persuading the members of your audience to take on your big idea. This week, I want to explore how you can use the research you gleaned during audience segmentation to call your audience types to action. A great presentation ends with a strong call to action–your audience cannot take your idea and spread your message without a clear sense of what you want them to do. In this segment, I’ll be referring to one of my favorite TED talks, LZ Granderson’s “The Myth of the Gay Agenda,” so make sure to watch the talk before moving on!

In the Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Persuasive Presentations, Nancy Duarte identifies four types of audiences to leverage in your call to action: Doers, Suppliers, Influencers, and Innovators. 

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Each subgroup in your audience has a different role in supporting your message and helping your idea come to life. Duarte’s suggestion is to focus on one call to action, but one that can incorporate the skills of each of the four groups.

What appeals to each group?

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Doers are the worker bees (Duarte 2012) in the audience. Give them workable solutions and clear steps to follow.

For doers, it’s all about a specific action. Doers are the people in your audience who are best able to spread your idea via a specific and actionable task. In Granderson’s talk he outlines specific actions his audience can take in correcting the problem of inequality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered citizens. At one point in the talk, Granderson displays a map of the United States developed by the Human Rights Campaign showing that it is legal for someone to be fired for their sexual orientation in 29 states. He asks the audience to focus on their state of Michigan, which is not shaded. He repeats this imagery several times. Our actionable point for doers–change those unshaded areas by following the super secret gay agenda aka the Constitution of the United States.

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Whether vegetarian or omnivore, cows were and are my favorite suppliers–a girl cannot live without fromage. The suppliers in your audience have a wealth of resources available. Don’t exploit them or think only in terms of tangible resources.

Suppliers, the folks with the goods and resources to propel your message forward, want to know what tangible resources you need to succeed. Granderson doesn’t ask the suppliers for money or material goods (remember, there is no selling at TED); instead, he asks his audience to donate time, effort, and respect to the cause of catching America up to the Constitution.

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Just as a strong flock follows a strong leader, others are led to take on your idea by the influencers in your audience. Change the influencer’s perception via your call to action by spinning a new perspective on an already existing problem.

Influencers help change the perceptions of others. Their status as leaders helps them mobilize others to your cause. If you can inspire an influencer, you’ve made a cheerleader for life.

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Chimpanzees have the amazing ability, like other animals, to use tools to better the daily processes of their lives.  Innovators are persuaded by the ingenious applicability of your big idea. Harness that in your closing.

Innovators are those who can use their already existing abilities to help you grow your idea (perhaps saving it, improving it, or enriching it). Innovators thrive when the call to action gives them a problem to solve through big ideas.

Granderson is in a room full of influencers and innovators–TEDsters are leaders in their industries and communities–they belong to an organization whose mission is to spread ideas. The majority of Granderson’s talk, it seems to me, is for these two final groups. He asks the audience to recall the past–when entire groups of people were treated based on what they were, not who they were, when our country systematically denied unalienable rights to its citizens for no justifiable reason. He juxtaposes the solutions we found to those problems with the problem still alive today–discrimination based on sexual orientation–and leaves his innovators and influencers with a simple message:

So when you hear the words “gay lifestyle” and “gay agenda” in the future, I encourage you to do two things: One, remember the U.S. Constitution, and then two, if you wouldn’t mind looking to your left, please. Look to your right. That person next to you is a brother, is a sister. And they should be treated with love and respect. Thank you. (Source)

By blending in actionable elements into your closing that appeal to each of these four groups–those who will work with you, those who will help supply you with needed tools, those who will influence others to join your cause, and those who will help you evolve your idea to further awesomeness–you can help motivate your entire audience to action.

Typefaces used: Edmondsans (James T. Edmondson) and Bebas Neue (Dharma Type)

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Audience Analysis: Segmenting the Audience

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I often reiterate to my students, and we read in the leading texts and blogs on this subject, that audience analysis and adaptation are the cornerstones of a strong presentation. However, many of us present with only our goals and needs (and hangups) in mind, leading to the “self-centered approach” (Duarte, 2010) to presenting.

Have you seen your audiences do this? Has this been you? Self-centered presentations lead to audiences that tune out.

Have you seen your audiences do this? Has this been you? Self-centered presentations lead to audiences that tune out.

This approach leads to the complete opposite of our goals for the presentation–for our audience to internalize and apply our messages. We want our ideas to spread, our concepts to be adopted, our lessons to be applied, but this cannot happen without one very important shift in thought…

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In her latest book (which I am currently devouring), the HBR’s Guide to Persuasive Presentations, Nancy Duarte explains why: “The people you’re addressing will determine whether your idea spreads or dies, simply by embracing or rejecting it” (Duarte, 2012). In essence, to accomplish this, a presenter must take a supporting or mentoring role to the audience–the real hero of the presentation, the one who must take the risk to adopt and apply the presenter’s idea.  Heroes, in mythology, literature, and film, have friends, helpers, and mentors (think Yoda and Luke, Gandalf and Frodo, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi) who provide gifts, tools, or much needed rescue.

What do these fellas have in common? They've all served as mentors and guides to extraordinary heroes. (Image Credits, from top left to bottom left: JD Hancock; GViciano; lamont_cranston; Gage Skidmore)

What do these fellas have in common? They’ve all served as mentors and guides to extraordinary heroes. (Image Credits, from top left to bottom left: JD Hancock; GViciano; lamont_cranston; Gage Skidmore)

Keep these three purposes in mind in considering how your goals align with your audience’s (Duarte, 2012):

  1. Give the hero a special gift (give people insights that will improve their lives)
  2. Teach the hero to use a “magical” tool (allow people to pick up a new skill or mind-set that empowers them)
  3. Help the hero get “unstuck” (an idea that gets the audience out of a difficult situation)

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Students panic or become frustrated when I ask them who their audience is and explain that the answer cannot be “everyone” or “people” or “students” even. While they can agree that understanding audience and putting audience needs before individual wants/goals/anxieties is important, the process of actually analyzing an audience and then applying that analysis to content building is not easy (especially because they rarely spend time objectively considering these ideas before diving right into PowerPoint or Keynote). Another common anxiety stems from the inability to appeal to every member of the audience.

Audience segmentation, a strategy Duarte discusses in Resonate and the HBR Guide, is one important means by which you can better connect with and audience and move the members towards action or a shift in ideology. Segmentation or analysis generally happens across three areas (for a comprehensive discussion of audience analysis and segmentation, see this Six Minutes article):

  1. Demographics/Ethnographics (age, education, ethnicity, gender, geography, culture, society)
    • Purpose: to learn who the audience is and what common ground there is
  2. Context/Politics (time/place, power, reason for attendance)
    • To discover how environmental and outside factors might affect an audience’s reception of a message.
  3. Psychographics (beliefs, values, attitudes)
    • Purpose: to discover what an audience thinks, knows, and believes about the topic
Image Credits, left to right:  Haags Uitburo, SP8254,  VinothChandar

Image Credits, left to right: Haags Uitburo, SP8254, VinothChandar

Answering these questions (What keeps the audience up at night? How might the resist?) may seem difficult or tedious, but the process is guaranteed to lead to a deeper understanding of each member or group of members of the audience. This understanding leads to crafting a message that is tailored to those who 1. would most benefit from the ideas presented, and 2. can help turn the idea into action. So, the purpose of segmentation is really two fold. Segmentation allows presenters to choose the person(s) who is going to help them spread an idea that resonates and helps the presenter determine how to also bring other members of the audience on board. So, even though a presenter should tailor his or her message to this one most useful audience member (or group, i.e. early adopters), he or she should not exclude other members of the audience.

Segmentation in action

In Resonate, Duarte illustrates the power of segmentation through an analysis of Ronald Reagan’s Space Shuttle Challenger speech. In this speech, Reagan expertly weaves between audiences, addressing individual groups all touched by this national tragedy while also leaving the nation with a sense of empowerment and hope.

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I share this example with my students, but find that their lack of connection to this event and this president makes it challenging to really help them see segmentation in action. So, as per the advice of my very smart colleague, Alex Rister, I am going to use President Obama’s recent speech on the Sandy Hook school shooting as an example of segmentation in action.

In this 18 minute speech, Obama identifies and addresses specific audiences:

  • The families of the victims
  • The survivors of the shooting
  • The first responders to the scene
  • The town of Newton
  • The nation as a whole (parents, non-parents, those who support stricter gun control, those who support 1st amendment rights)

The speech focuses on the immediate context (vigil) and places it in the national context (debate over gun control/gun rights). The immediate purpose of the speech is to eulogize the fallen teachers and children of Sandy Hook Elementary, but the greater purpose is to bring this event into the national gun control conversation.

How does Obama do this while still maintaining the immediate purpose? By addressing various members of the audience and then joining them via shared value–the value we all hold  for human life, safety, and security. Obama doesn’t exclude the nation from either grief over the loss of life or responsibility for this incident. Instead, he honors the immediate impact of the shooting on Newton and connects this experience to the greater cause at hand.

In depth audience analysis is not easy or quick, but if done thoughtfully and thoroughly, it can help you transform your self-centered message into an audience-centered idea that stays with them long after your presentation ends.

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Tweak Your Speech: Audience First

I am entering my fourth year of teaching public speaking and presentations; I’ve recently discovered that, as a student of a subject that fascinates me, I spend quite a bit of time analyzing public speaking situations. I like to observe how people perform under pressure, how they work to calm their own nerves enough to let their words and vision fly. I also find myself watching a crowd of listeners, observing positive and negative feedback, gauging the level of engagement, and analyzing potential sources of noise.

Thursday night, I attended an excellent reading series featuring several of my work colleagues. It was an excellent opportunity for some in context audience analysis, and it got me thinking about the importance of audience analysis as a starting point to any strong presentation. We tend to relegate audience analysis to the realm of the obvious. I often hear students tell me that their audience is “everyone” or that they don’t really think it’s that important to conduct an audience survey; I’ve heard individuals even say that this is a subject that they feel uncomfortable teaching, as if they are telling their audience something they already know. However, after 10 years of teaching, I have learned that nothing that we assume is common sense is actually applied and understood by most people.

In class on Wednesday, we discussed Duarte’s Presentation Ecosystem. I emphasize to students the importance of taking care with this ecosystem, to consider how each part of a presentation helps create balance and homeostasis in a presentation.

Endicott's Three-legged Stool of presenting is made up of message, visual story, and delivery.

I ask them to examine how this ecosystem flows and how each major component is supported by a myriad of processes and steps. Something that they often find surprising is that the first step in developing one’s message is in-depth audience analysis.

Duarte's diagram for the three legs of a presentation is a starting point for students of a new slide ideology.

Instead of moving right into ideation and writing out ideas, effective presenters begin by developing a relationship to the target audience. Our words are meaningless without an audience. It is the audience that takes the message, internalizes it, disseminates it to others. As Derek Sivers illustrates in this brief TED talk, it’s the guy who says, “yeah, that crazy dance looks fun” that actually starts a flash mob.

A great starting point to understanding audience is understanding how communication works. In Slide:ology, Duarte uses the example of Mark Templeton, CEO of Citrix Systems, who credits his study of communication as the most important element to his success in Citrix.

As a Citrix user, I can appreciate how difficult it is to truly convey what this company does to the average user.

A presentation, though we may feel is a passive one sided communication context, is a two way transaction, an interchange between audience and presenter, a flow between signal and noise.

There are several key parts of this process, but understanding the importance of noise and feedback are key in analyzing an audience and what best reaches them, and adapting to audience feedback in the moment.

Noise can come in many forms. Some noise is external–loud air conditioning, frigid room, flickering lights. Some noise is internal–the speaker’s anxiety about being judged harshly, the audience’s lack of interest in the topic. Duarte identifies several more types of noise in Resonate:

A strong presenter understands the role of noise in a presentation; a strong presenter adapts and works through the noise. But, a strong presenter cannot identify points of noise and best strategies for eliminating noise if he or she does not devote significant time pre-speech and during speech to in-depth audience analysis. Developing a relationship with your audience before presenting, understanding what is going to generate positive feedback is a pivotal starting point for presenters. Your audience is the living conveyor of your message; they take your ideas and carry them out to the world.

The ultimate purpose of this communication transaction? To achieve shared meaning between speaker and audience. Ken Burke calls this identification.

Another mark of a presenter who truly puts audience first is adaptability to feedback. A strong presenter recognizes when an audience’s attention is waning, when they have built a wall of resistance against a particular idea, and how to break down that wall and regain momentum.

Great presenters are adaptive--they know how to read and react to audience feedback.

A strong presenter is a constant audience analyzer who adapts the approach and message based on feedback.  One brilliant strategy companies have developed to keep both audience members and presenters on their toes is the stand up meeting. In this rapid-fire PechaKucha-style of daily meeting, participants get together for short meet ups lasting about 15 minutes. Really excellent stand ups, according to Jason Yip, contributor at Martin Fowler.com, provide a good start to the day, focus on improvement of a team or project, reinforce the importance of focus, develop team building skills, and communicate the current status of a project–all while participants stand up.

So why standing up? Well, we often tend to ignore those less than subtle clues from our audience that they’ve had enough (fidgeting, texting, shuffling papers, spacing out). However, when participants are standing, it is nearly impossible to ignore this all important feedback that indicates your audience has had enough.

So, whether you use the stand up method or your own method for audience analysis before and during a speech, remember that a presenter is nothing without ideas that resonate; it’s the audience who turns ideas to action. Know thy audience!

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Present the way you converse: the TED speech epiphany

Today in Professional Communication and Presentation, my amazing students this month delivered their TED analysis speeches. This assignment has been a staple in my class since I discovered TED three years ago. I was and am consistently amazed by the humanity, passion, compassion, humility, energy, empathy, enthusiasm, innovation, genius, wisdom, and spirit of community embodied and lived by TEDsters (those of us who consider ourselves complete lovers of TED, those who present at TED, those who attend TED, and the geniuses who began–Richard Saul Wurman–and grew–Chris Anderson–the wonder that is today’s Technology, Entertainment, and Design Conference).

Courtesy of TED.com

TED has grown from a rather elitist, by invitation only, extravagantly expensive conference to a creative commons, open sharing, open conversing, education-driving, source for all ideas worth spreading. Either way, I love it. I love TED. Not only for what it teaches me and my students about the human condition, but also for its ability to transcend barriers–socio-economic, cultural, gender, racial, sexual, environmental, political, and ideological.

My students are given the task of choosing a TED talk to analyze. They must choose something that grabs their attention, resonates with them personally, and that embodies the TED Commandments, a set of unofficial rules or caveats given to TED speakers before they present (they also get copies of my two favorite books: Presentation Zen and Slide:ology by two of my gurus, Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte). This month’s students are an eclectic mix, a delicious spectrum of humanity–from the introverted intellectual to the deeply passionate, emphatic, (and vocal) extrovert.

Their chosen talks were a reflection of their personalities, interests, and whether they realized it or not, their needs and wants as audience members. Today, we discussed the harrowing child prostitution problem in India as eloquently and passionately told by Sunitha Krishnan; we explored how to truth seek with Pamela Meyer and heard the tale of Norden’s bombsight as told by master storyteller Malcolm Gladwell; we learned of John Francis‘ story, the story of a man who neither used motorized transportation nor spoke for 17 years, yet taught earned a PHD, taught at the college level, and worked as a UN Ambassador; and we marveled at Jae Rhim Lee‘s amazing mushroom death suit. Yup, TED speech days make me feel like dancing a jig…with some unicorns…on a rainbow….made of all my favorite cheeses.

The speech that stood out to me the most was not delivered by the gentleman who proclaimed to all of us that he only prepared for the assignment the night before, chose his TED talk at random, and explained that he would be “winging” his presentation and he hoped this would not result in lost points. Surprising? No, not really.

The speech that stands out to me the most was delivered by someone who, upon first glance, one might dismiss as the sort of pensive, shy student who rarely makes ripples or an impact (though I must admit, I was enamored with him right away–he is, after all, a self-proclaimed nerd, and I can never resist a nerd!). This student’s speech was well-prepared, exquisitely delivered with the right amount of humor, personality, and relevant content (he went so far as to reenact Ken Robinson’s excellent opening to “Bring on the Learning Revolution!”). This student included personal experience, used storytelling, revealed his passion for the topic of education, and wholeheartedly shared his reaction to Robinson’s point. But, it wasn’t any of this that created a truly resonant moment in class, not just for me, but for everyone else in the classroom. What was this amazing, mind-blowing epiphany aka aha moment?

Present the way you would have a conversation. If you wouldn’t do it in a conversation; don’t do it in a presentation.

That’s it? Really? I’ve said keep your presentation conversational for years! How could this mere nerd show us public speaking teachers up with something we tell our students day in and day out?

The answer is in how he framed it. He managed to say what I’ve been trying to show and teach for years. His idea resonated with everyone in that cold, sterile room today:

How do you have a conversation with someone?

  • You maintain eye contact and work to even physically connect with whom you are conversing
  • You convey information through stories
  • You appeal to emotion (some conversations make you cry, some laugh, some rail at the injustices of the world)
  • You respect your conversation partner and listen
  • You focus on clarity
  • You illustrate empathy and goodwill
  • You don’t keep barriers between you and the person with whom you are speaking
  • You don’t memorize what you are going to say, but important and worthy conversations have some element of preparation to them
  • You are reactionary and adapt to the conversation partner
So, how does this relate to presenting? Can we really approach a presentation like a conversation? Will this somehow help people avoid some of the habits that make presentations sterile, robotic, forgettable?
  • Great speakers maintain eye contact; they also move away from a podium and detach from their notes. Great speakers “sweep the room” as my fellow Super Teacher Alex Rister asserts.
  • What sets apart a forgettable speech from a resonating, life-altering communication experience? Storytelling. As the Heath brothers say, by combining information, knowledge, context and emotion, “stories are important cognitive events.”
  • Great presentations make us FEEL. It’s not enough to know and believe; we are human, we are born knowing that emotion generates results (baby crying = some grown creature responding to said baby crying).
  • Great speeches are clear, direct, and specific. As Ben Zander put it, Martin Luther King did not add the caveat “I’m not sure they’ll be up to it” to his proclamation, “I have a dream!” Watch his TED talk, and see another wonderful example of humble wisdom. It’s my absolute favorite. Hands down.
  • I am still seeking the perfect way to emphasize the importance of empathy to my students. I often get the sense they think I am being “soft.” But, empathy is the driving force of the human universe. Empathy, as Jeremy Rifkin explores in “The Empathic Civilization,” is built into our biology. We are soft-wired, from our mirror neurons to our recognition of the human experience and its basis in suffering, for empathy. Empathy, or the need to belong and connect, is the invisible hand. The speakers I admire empathize with their audiences; they consider what their audience needs, wants, and what’s in their best interest (not the speaker’s own agenda).
  • One reason great presentations resemble great conversations is that great speakers erase the barriers between themselves and their audiences. Garr Reynold’s discussed this beautifully in The Naked Presenter–podiums, lecterns, technology, dimmed lights, busy slides–all of these are barriers (as is poor preparation).
  • Great speeches are often extemporaneous, at the very least, even with rehearsal and practice, the speeches we remember, for instance, MLK’s “I Have a Dream” contain moments of improvisation, speaking entirely from a place where the message is internalized, so that speaking and digressions from prewritten plans or ideas are second nature.
This student’s words truly made an impact on me. I say this gladly after watching hundreds of speeches each year both on campus, online, at TEDxOrlando or PechaKucha Orlando, and at school workshops. One simple idea, constructed in a way that resonated with a small group of people became the idea I share with you now. Present the way you converse!
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