One of my presentation training clients in New York City recently asked me why some TED talks gather millions of views, while others with similar content languish? I did some research. It turns out a human behavior consultancy called “Science of People” set out to answer this question. They asked volunteers to rate hundreds of hours of TED talks, and here are the conclusions they came to:
- The volunteers rated speakers comparably whether the sound was on or not! What does this mean? It means your non-verbal communication matters…. a lot! How you gesture, and the tone of your voice can make or break your speech.
- SOP also found that there is a direct correlation between the number of times a speaker gestures and the number of views the talk gets. This is why Italians make such great speakers! Remember to use bold gestures.
- Keep it loose! People who ad-libbed in their speeches rated higher than those who stayed on script. In addition, vocal variety boosted ratings on charisma and credibility.
- Did you know smiling makes you look smarter? The more TED talkers smiled, the higher their perceived intelligence.
- As we all know, first impressions matter a lot. SOP found that people largely formed their opinion about a speaker based on the first several seconds. So come out blazing!
Senator Ted Cruz delivered a rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union Address this week. He got one minute through the speech and then decided he needed to start over. So he offered up a “Meh, let’s start over”, and then began from the top. Yikes.
Don’t do this folks, for a few reasons:
1) Our Second Take Is Usually Similar To Our First Take – If you notice the senator’s second take in the video above, it’s not that much better then his first take. Which brings me to my second point…
2) Sometimes We Think We Suck, But The Audience Feels Differently – Perhaps the senator thought he could improve his first take, but it was not likely that the audience noticed he was off. If he just worked to get himself back in the groove, it’s unlikely the audience would have noticed he was off.
3) Starting Over Makes It Look Like You’re Not Prepared – A rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union shot on an iPhone? Really Ted? This speech reeks of a lack of preparation.
Don’t ad lib your speeches. Don’t throw them together. It always shows. Bullet point your ideas. Review them thoroughly. Even if you’re in a rush. You’ll be glad you did.
As a public speaking coach, I often get asked the question, “should I tell my story in my presentation?”. As Sting illustrates above, almost every good presentation is illuminated by the personal touch. It adds color, nuance and personality to our topic. Speaking from a personal place also serves to bring us to life non-verbally, helping us to engage our voice and body in surprising and powerful ways.
But how much should we tell, and in what order? These are difficult questions. In short, we need to think first about what the audience’s expectations are for our speech. Are they looking for information? Emotional transformation? Inspiration? Knowledge? Knowing what the audience wants can help us choose what stories to tell. Second, we need to think about how comfortable we are with what we plan to reveal. The more we reveal about ourselves in a public speaking setting, the greater the possibility of transformation. But we all have our limits. Check in with yourself and ask, “how comfortable am I telling this story?”. If the discomfort is more than a seven on a scale of one to ten, I would put the story aside, and consider coming back to it at a different time.
But do come back to it. I have seen countless speeches, and it is always the brave who inspire the most.
In the video above, Kelly Mcgonigal starts with an effective opener; she polls the audience, and reveals a little about herself. She uses facts well, building her thesis about stress and how we can view it constructively. Her visuals are simple and not overcrowded.
But she misses the opportunity to engage the audience with stories. Her topic lends itself to storytelling; who hasn’t faced stress before? Why not throw a personal story in the discussion section? Are there stories in the news that might fit? Stories are our most powerful weapon against boredom. Sometimes we get stuck in the habit of thinking that our lives or the lives of those around us couldn’t possibly relate to our speaking topic. There are many ways, however, to relate your life to your topic, no matter how apart they may seem.
I had a client who used a story in a presentation about a young man who became a competitive runner despite wrestling with a major respiratory disease. His goal was to motivate his team, and his story fell in line with that goal. It was extremely persuasive.
Tell your stories in your presentations, and trust your audience will connect the dots. You’ll be glad you did.