TED.com: Your secret weapon

By Catherine Welborn

Are you familiar with TED.com, the site that archives talks from TED conferences? If not, you should be.

TED conferences attract the best and brightest from every field—from psychology to future technologies to marine biology—to give fascinating presentations that will enlighten and amaze you.

But that’s not the only reason you should watch TED talks. The speakers aren’t just gifted in their respective fields; they’re also top-notch public speakers. After all, no one wants to pay $6000 (the price to attend an official live TED conference) to hear boring lecturers, even if they are brilliant.

Take this talk: “Keith Barry does brain magic,” which I picked simply because the title intrigued me.

Can we agree that Keith Barry also does a bit of public speaking magic? His audience certainly seemed spellbound. Let’s take just a few minutes to dissect some of the most effective techniques Barry employs:

  1. Enlisting audience participation—immediately. Within the first minute of his talk, Barry had audience members participating in his “magic trick.” Involving the audience in a speech is a surefire ways to hook viewers. How are you getting your audience members actively involved? And are you taking advantage of this tool right from the outset?
  2. Acknowledging—and rebutting—skepticism. Following the video of his blindfolded driving stunt, Barry says bluntly, “Do you believe it’s possible to see through somebody else’s eyes? … Most people here would automatically say ‘no.'” He recognizes the doubt and addresses it outright.  You don’t have to be a magician to face an audience of skeptics. Any topic worth speaking about should be at least somewhat surprising or debatable. Therefore, no matter what idea you’re selling, chances are you’ll have a few distrusting people in your audience. Are you simply ignoring them? Or are you using their doubt to prove your point?
  3. Repeating a question for the audience. It only took a moment in the speech, so you might not have thought much of it, but repeating or rephrasing audience questions loudly and clearly is always appreciated. When his final stage participant asked “Can I use my left hand?” Barry knew the importance of repeating it to the audience as a whole, rather than simply responding to the man. It’s no fun for the audience to have to piece together what’s happening because they can’t hear the details. Do you make it a point to repeat for your audience? Or are you leaving your back row in the dark?

You could take just about any talk from TED.com and study it in this way. We’ll be back with examples in the future.

What TED speakers were you most impressed with? Or, what other sources do you use to track down examples of great speakers?

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