You can thank TED or blame TED. Things are changing in the speaking world, and it’s not so much the change in technology as it is the change in format. I hear more and more people talking about TED Talks. Even my 21-year-old nephew watches TED Talks but only knows about Toastmasters because of me. Young people are attracted to the ideas, format, and length.
I believe we can all learn something from the success of TED and TEDx Talks. I don’t know if the influence of TED has trained audiences or if being aware of a change in audience listening trained the creators of the TED format. I do know this: it’s working.
More and more I not only hear about TED Talks but also about TED-like events and a TED-like format. It is top of mind in corporations worldwide. I know that TEDx coach Cathey Armillas was hired to work with Nike executives at their headquarters in Portland, Oregon, to help them with an internal event. The executives gave TED-format talks to their coworkers at Nike. People like the format and TED-style talks. Heck, anyone can handle listening to a boring speaker for 18 minutes, but listen to a boring presenter for an hour? Just shoot me!
From Fee to Free
Most emerging professionals want to go from free to fee, but why would anyone want to go from fee to free? Why would highly paid keynote speakers want to give a free 18-minute talk? People want to give TED Talks for several reasons: for sharing ideas about which they care deeply, for giving back, for their egos, maybe for fame or influence.
I asked keynote speaker Mike Rayburn, CSP, CPAE, why he wanted to give his second TEDx Talk, “Become a Life Virtuoso.” Mike explained, first of all, that it helps your credibility as a speaker, but, on a global level, you become a player in the world of ideas. He said that TED is a great forum if you want to think and share new thoughts or at least new ways of expressing great ideas. There is no doubt that giving a great TED Talk can add to your credibility. Only great talks go viral. Having a viral TED Talk can lead to paid work, but it has to be great, and it has to be an idea worth spreading.
The Speech Contest
I believe the World Championship of Public Speaking will be different this year. It was different last year; I’m just not sure everyone noticed. The reigning World Champion of Public Speaking, Dananjaya Hettiarachchi, gave an amazing speech. If you were present, you would have known that he was the winner just by the audience’s reaction when he went up to be interviewed prior to the announcements. The cheer for him was much louder than for all the rest. It was obvious who the crowd favorite was.
Before winning the Toastmasters contest, Dananjaya gave a great speech at TEDxYouth@ Columbo titled, “I See Something!” According to the Toastmasters rule book, you may not give the same speech at different levels in the contest in the competition year. In the TED world, you may not give a talk that you have given before anywhere else.
Forty years ago a great orator was someone who could give a speech and not show nervousness or use notes. Then a shift happened. That shift showed up in the speech contest in 1978. World Champion Michael Aun was the first speaker to come out from behind the lectern. When he was asked why he did it, he said that he did not know he wasn’t supposed to. I believe audiences loved the fact that there was no physical barrier between them and the speaker. How do I think TED affects the speech contest? I think another major shift is happening. I believe more semifinalists will move onto the World Championship if they give a talk rather than a speech.
The Delivery Difference
What is the difference between a talk and a speech? To me the biggest difference is the delivery style. If you were having coffee with a friend, you would talk; you would not perform. You would have a conversation. I think that audiences these days value authenticity. Performance and authenticity are opposites when it comes to giving a presentation. The more savvy audiences can see right through a performance.
I’m not saying that the audience is opposed to some good storytelling done in dialogue. I think they like that. What I’m talking about is the in-between parts when you are addressing the audience directly. Craig Valentine, 1999 WCPS, says, “Ask, don’t tell.” Ask an audience a question; don’t preach to them and tell them what to do. Heck, even church audiences today aren’t as open to being told what to do as they used to be. Audiences are getting smarter.
Take a look at the first minute of Dananjaya’s TEDx Talk. He walks out on stage and just begins a conversation. It’s real, sincere, and he’s in the moment. Though a little drama in your talk can be good, keep most of it conversational.
There is a challenge that I call “Speaker Man” or “Speaker Woman.” This is when you meet someone who is real and sincere, but something happens as they walk up on stage. They seem to walk through a virtual phone booth and become “Super Motivational Speaker.” Their delivery goes over the top, and they turn into a mini-Tony Robbins for their entire speech. Even Tony doesn’t sound that way through his whole talk anymore. You can’t inspire anyone if you come across as insincere. I’m not sure what the odds will be in Vegas this summer, but I’m willing to bet that with great intent and a powerful message, the speeches with a more conversational style are more likely to move on to the finals.
Phase 3 Challenge
Cathey Armillas has coached many TEDx speakers, from a WWII hero to a celebrity filmmaker to a 2-time Grammy award winner. She said something that I thought was brilliant and that all presenters, especially speech contestants, need to understand. She talks about the three phases of internalizing your speech. When she coaches TED talkers, she makes sure they understand that you have to get to Phase 3 to deliver with authenticity.
Phase 1 is when you are going over your speech again and again, just trying to get the right words. At this point your speech is disjointed and lacks flow. Phase 2 is having the right words but trying to get the words right. Your speech is memorized, you know the words in order, but you are in your head while delivering. While delivering your speech, you are thinking of what you are going to say next. I like to remind presenters, “If you are in your head, your emotions are dead.” In Phase 2 you are not fully present with the audience.
Cathey says, “Most people stop working on their speech during Phase 2.” You ain’t done yet. In Phase 3 you give your speech so often that you have it truly internalized. Give parts of your speech out of order. Know it so well that someone could wake you at 3 a.m., say a line from your talk, and you could take it from there. It is only when you are in Phase 3 that you can connect with the audience, because you are not in your head any more, and you can truly be conversational. The audience doesn’t want you perfect (Phase 2); they want you present (Phase 3).
TED Talks are different because presenters may not move on the stage. They are restricted to the world-famous TED dot. (This is a restricted speaking area, typically a red carpet circle.) Most presenters, even some highly-paid professionals, move on the stage without purpose. The TED format forces people not to move randomly. I would rather hear a great presenter who doesn’t move than one who moves without purpose.
I’d love to train people to start with the TED format, and then learn to use the stage on purpose. To me it is worse when people have the freedom to move but have no idea how they are diluting their message. Well done, TED creators, well done.
The success of TED in the presentation world is obvious. You and I need to be aware of why it is successful. We need to know why people love them so that we can incorporate these ideas and strategies into our own presentations. We need to change in order to stay relevant with the changes in listening that are happening in our audiences’ minds. Do you hear me?
Please share your thoughts and read other comments below!
P.S. What are the other differences between a professional speech and a TED Talk?
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Want to know more from Cathey?
Go to: “How to Rock a TED Talk.”