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Shireen Qudosi

Real Life Public Speaking Tips from the Best TED Talks

Oct 25 2012, 09:59 AM by

TED Talks focus on “Ideas Worth Sharing” – and there you have the first rule for winning over your audience. Your idea must be worth someone’s time. This would seem obvious, but there are two problems speakers usually fumble with here. Either they are part of a small minority who think their idea is great (this is usually comprised of the speaker and their +1), or their idea really is great but their delivery leaves much to be desired.

If you’re not already a natural, there’s one almost foolproof way of becoming a desired speaker – and that’s by being around other desired speakers. The general rule is you are who you hang around…or your friends are a reflection of you. The point is that it’s only natural to start mirroring people you’re frequently around. Start being around great presenters and it’s sure to rub off on you. The simplest way to do this is to listen to a lot of great talks.

There’s a reason I use the word listen and not watch. Having only accidentally discovered this through listening to podcast talks myself, I realized that I was far more in tune with the speaker and far more observant of their performance. Listening forces you to pay more attention; watching makes you a lazy recipient. After listening to a few dozen talks, I noticed my own speaking style was shifting, noting both what does and doesn’t work and only adopting positive patterns while shedding the boring ones.
Rule #1: Use What You've Got
In “A Thousand Times No,” Bahia Shehab breaks all the rules of what we perceive as a dynamic speaker. Bahia is soft spoken. Her voice is child-like, innocent and traditionally “passive.” Still, her talk was one of the most commanding. What did she get right?

She used her voice to her advantage. Being soft spoken isn’t a handicap. In fact, it can be used to your advantage by forcing the listener to lean in and really focus on what you’re saying. Think about it...what do we do to loud voices other than tune them out? The opposite gets accomplished with softer decibels. But it’s more than just her voice; it’s her tone.

Bahia is excited about her story and here’s where she differs from the competition. People who aren’t excited about their narrative show it in their voice. Not only are they usually quieter (hence the stereotype against softer tones), but they’re usually flat in their delivery too.

Beyond this, Bahia also weaves a powerful narrative that captures the listener's interest. We’re hooked. We want to know what happens next.
Rule #2: Tell a Story
The talk that nails this (most) important rule is Shawn Achor in “The Happy Secret to Better Work,” which hooks readers in from the get-go through a witty and powerful personal story of a brief but revealing moment. Shawn is flawless, even pairing the humorous narrative with artful pauses in the story, creating taunting delays. Note that humor means giving your audience a chance to respond, even if by laughing or pausing to think about what you’re saying, a point which Susan Cain observes.

Susan Cain rounds the top three TED Talks with “The Power of Introverts” – which I declare as a must-watch for all businesses (particularly CEOs, management and marketing departments). Susan’s talk touches on voice (as discussed above), it tells a narrative, and also adds humor. But what Susan does best is make a case for her argument, and it’s these types of talks that are the toughest to execute. How do you make a case, while providing facts and figures, without completely boring your audience?

Per Susan’s talk, the answer is through delivering your message at the tail end, once you’re audience is already invested in what you have to say.

Posted in Tips & Resources

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