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Book Review: "TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking", by Chris Anderson

A member of the Cabinet congratulated President Woodrow Wilson on introducing the vogue of short speeches and asked him about the time it took him to prepare his speeches. He said:

“It depends. If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”

I love TED talks. The speaking format, the wide variety of genres, and the flawless execution of those speakers on stage always communicate a highly impactful idea in a refreshing, unique way. Chris Anderson, the curator of TED, pulls back the curtains to reveal what makes a great talk in his book on public speaking. Chris and his team gathered lessons from hundreds of rehearsals for this book, in addition to inviting former TED speakers to contribute to it as well, and it all shows in the book’s quality.

I got a few interesting takeaways:

  • Always focus on the idea: You can focus on presentation format, talk structure, scripting and memorizing and practicing, but at the end of the day, if you don’t have an idea worth sharing, you’re a talking head. Audiences can forgive momentary lapses in memory, technical difficulties driving your talk off course, dress codes, and other perceived slights if there’s a central idea, well communicated, with a definitive, widespread impact.

  • Knowledge can’t be pushed into a brain. It has to be pulled in: This means using vernacular your audience understands to form mental building blocks, rehearsing in front of test audiences resembling your audience, and weaving an emotional connection between your audience and your idea (from curiosity/priming, revelation/reason, etc.). Your audience has a default emotional wall; you must lower it for the knowledge you wish to transfer to become important and prioritized in their minds.

  • You will only cover as much ground as you can dive into in sufficient depth to be compelling: Bring new and different insights to the table require going in depth. Bringing the talk around a single in-depth idea (e.g. bacteria hunt in packs, we have a psycological immune system) gives the audience a bigger reward for diving in.

Public speaking is a skill rarely mastered or practiced yet richly rewarded. All multi-person human achievements have taken leadership and inspiration. If you wish to lead, you’ll want to learn public speaking, and you’ll want to pick up this book.