Chris Anderson was born in a remote Pakistani village in 1957. His parents were medical missionaries and he grew up in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, even attending school in the Himalayas at one point. After graduating from Oxford University in 1978, Chris went on to work in journalism, producing a news service in the Seychelles Islands for two years. Upon returning to the UK he took out a $25,000 bank loan to start publishing company, which he called Future Publishing, later moving to the US where he went on to run another publishing company that produced 150 magazines and employed 2000 people at its peak. He also created a non-profit, Sapling Foundation, which acquired the Californian TED Conference in 2001. Since then, volunteers have helped translate TED talks into over 100-plus languages and in 2012 TED videos celebrated their one-billionth view.
In honour of the recent release of TED TALKS: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, we find out what really makes a great speech.
WE HAVE A LONG HISTORY OF TELLING STORIES AS A SPECIES.
For thousands of years we have been gathering around campfires and listening to each other. So, stories are the easiest form of public speaking to follow along. The key thing to ask is: why am I telling this story? Does this help give context or understanding as to why this idea matters?
MOST GREAT STORIES ARE BASED ON A CHARACTER THAT THE AUDIENCE CAN IDENTIFY WITH.
In the case of public talks, they’re often stories about some point in your life. They usually reveal something that’s gone wrong, some crisis or disaster or problem that might be dramatic or funny, or just endearing. Telling a story like that is very humanising, it’s very connecting. We are literally wired to appreciate stories.
IF YOU’VE GOT SOMETHING WORTH SAYING, YOU CAN GET OVER THE FEAR OF SPEAKING.
Here’s the test: if you can sit at a table with friends or family and tell a story or share something you’ve been working on, then you can give a public talk.
RECOGNISE THAT FEAR IS THERE FOR A REASON. FEAR IS TO MAKE YOU ACT.
The action you can take is to really prepare for a talk properly. So many speakers assume that they have to wing it, put down some bullet points, then stand in front of people and get terrified. No! You can take a bunch of steps where you can feel much more confident, and actually excited, about giving the talk.
THE CORE OF ALL THE BEST TALKS IS OFFERING A GIFT TO AN AUDIENCE.
The gift is an idea. An idea can be all sorts of things – it doesn’t have to be profound, or complex things like, “Here’s a new scientific discovery”, or, “Let me tell you why democracy is fragile”. Ideas can be simple, aesthetic, human-interest things. It’s really anything that helps someone see the world a bit differently.
DESIGN THE TALK SO IT’S BASED ON WHAT THE AUDIENCE IS GOING TO TAKE AWAY – THAT’S YOUR THROUGHLINE.
That means cutting out a lot of the things that you would normally want to say, because they don’t directly connect to the main topic at hand. Then you can develop that one topic properly by showing why someone should even care about it. Why does this matter? What’s interesting about it? Why do they need to know about this? Start there and then share what your insights are and how you got there.
EVERYTHING IN YOUR TALK SHOULD CONNECT BACK TO THAT ONE IDEA.
Some talks are based on, “Let me tell you a number of things I’m working on now”. And there’s no real connection between them, other than the speaker finding them interesting. You need to build the whole talk around a theme.
PREPARE, REHEARSE AND BE AUTHENTIC.
Don’t make it sound like you are putting on some persona. Start by just practising the talk in your own bedroom. Then share it with a few friends, asking, is it working? Do you get what I’m talking about? What am I missing? And if you can find friendly faces in the first few minutes, give the talk to them.
THE BIGGEST SINGLE MISTAKE A SPEAKER CAN MAKE IS THINKING IT’S ALL ABOUT THEM.
“This is my great opportunity to show how extraordinary I am and how extraordinary my work is or my organisation is!” That’s just a trap. People push back against that when they detect it. If you’re boasting about what you’ve achieved and/or pitching to people for money, it quickly becomes wearying. Give the talk in service of an idea that will benefit the people listening.
DON’T THINK OF YOUR GOAL AS TO PROMOTE YOUR BUSINESS.
Your job is to understand what the needs of the audience are and to figure out how you can serve their interest.
IN THE CONNECTED AGE, THE RULES AROUND HOW BUSINESSES SHOULD BE RUN HAVE ALL CHANGED.
People want to work with companies who don’t take traditional corporate chest-thumping as their mantra, but instead have a real sense of purpose. So explaining what the deeper purpose of your company is really matters. Why are you doing what you’re doing? And why does it matter? How can you serve? I think that’s the mindset that’s mostly likely to provoke a response from people.
ATTENTION IS THE CURRENCY THAT THE MEDIA DEALS WITH.
Most of the conversation is around quantity of attention, so we measure sales and circulations and page views and ratings. What’s harder to measure, but I think is actually a more important measure, is the quality of attention. How deeply does this engage someone?
I’VE BECOME OBSESSED WITH PASSION.
Passion to me is a word meaning deep quality of attention. I want people who will see something and care about it enough that they will tell other people and come back. It’s about building long-term relationships.
WHEN I TOOK OVER TED, I WAS TRYING TO REDISCOVER HAPPINESS. I’D BEEN THROUGH A BIG BUSINESS CRISIS AND I FELT MISERABLE.
So I went in search of speakers who had some sort of insight into how to live a true, meaningful life. Where does that come from? If you google “What makes us happy?”, a wonderful playlist of TED talks will come up and show the many aspects of that, from the scientists to the Buddhist monks to the great artists or designers. I find all that really powerful and it has definitely impacted me personally.