Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds

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Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds

Carmine Gallo

The most popular TED talk of all time (over 36 million views) is Ken Robinson’s ‘Do schools kill creativity?’ which uses humour, conversation and the story of the choreographer Gillian Lynne to create a compelling presentation.

Business professionals rarely tell stories which is one reason why they make such an impact when they do. The website was an experiment in the value of storytelling – a variety of thrift shop objects were bought for $128, writers added a story about them, and then sold them on eBay for $3,612, raising the average value by 2,700 per cent.

In this informative and practical book, author Carmine Gallo has analysed 150 of the most viewed TED talks, interviewed the presenters, and talked to neuroscientists, psychologists and communications experts to uncover the secrets of the most successful presentations. The nine secrets to help with your next presentation include:

  1. Unleash the master within – Dig deep to identify your passion. Ask yourself, what makes your heart sing? What is intensely meaningful to you and core to your identity? The celebrated US athlete, model and actress Aimee Mullins’ TED talk was not about her prosthetic legs, but about changing the way society looks at people with disabilities
  1. Master the art of storytelling – Bryan Stevenson is a civil rights attorney and director of the Equal Justice Initiative. His TED talk, which had the longest standing ovation in TED history and resulted in the audience donating $1 million to his charity, spent 65 per cent of his presentation telling stories. Stevenson uses stories to engage decision makers in everything he does – he, Gallo and researchers believe narrative is the most powerful way to persuade. The best TED presenters stick to three types of stories: personal relating directly to the theme; stories about other people who’ve learned lessons the audience can relate to; and stories about the success or failure of brands. Use the power of words – just hearing “the smell of lavender” activates the part of the brain involved in smell – use details and adjectives but avoid cliches or buzzwords like ‘leading or solutions’ as studies show the brain tunes out
  1. Have a conversation – Practice relentlessly and internalise your content so that you can deliver the presentation as comfortably as talking with a friend. Amanda Palmer thanked 105 people for helping her practice, plan and develop her renowned TED talk ‘The Art of Asking’. Authenticity doesn’t happen naturally – only after hours and hours of practice do presentations look effortless. Practice your presentation in front of people, record it, and watch it back. Ask friends and colleagues for open and honest feedback. It takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a particular skill. Steve Jobs’ first television interview shows him looking visibly nervous and before it started he asked for directions to the bathroom because he thought he was going to be physically sick. Jobs is now considered among the world’s most charismatic business speakers, but only because he worked hard to make it look effortless. Most people will slow down their rate of speech for a presentation making their verbal delivery sound unnatural. Don’t deliver a presentation – have a conversation instead. Gallo proposes that the ideal rate of speech is 190 words per minute, meaning TED talkers given 18 minutes would use approximately 3,400 words. But vary your pace, and reflect your own natural talking speed
  1. Teach me something new – The human brain loves novelty. An unfamiliar, unusual, or unexpected element in a presentation intrigues the audience, and gives them a new way of looking at the world. Hans Rosling’s ‘The best stats you’ve ever seen’ talk has over 10 million views. The health professor uses special software and an animated sports presenter presentation style to bring the statistics on global health and poverty trends to life, challenging people’s preconceptions about the developed and developing world
  1. Deliver jaw dropping moments – Bill Gates knew he needed to do something remarkable to grab people’s attention. So during his TED talk on Mosquitos, malaria and education, he releases some (malaria free) mosquitos to the shocked audience – the key moment that people will remember as it was emotionally charged, causing a release of dopamine in the brain. Find a novel and memorable way of communicating your message
  1. Lighten up – The brain loves humour. Studies have shown that the more a person uses humour in business, the larger their bonus is likely to be – but only if it is good or positive humour – not derogative. Avoid telling jokes – you are not a professional comedian – instead use anecodotes, quotes, video clips, observations or personal stories that have previously made other people smile
  1. Stick to the 18 minute rule – No TED speaker is allowed to go over 18 minutes. 18 minutes is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention. It has a clarifying effect and brings discipline. Listening is exhausting and the more content there is, the more load on your brain there will be. Within that time, concentrate on three messages – the most that people can easily remember
  1. Paint a mental picture with multi-sensory experiences – Listeners who are exposed to text, pictures, animation and video are always able to more accurately recall information. Consider how you can incorporate sight, sound and touch into your presentation. Smell and taste are more difficult, but even asking the audience to imagine smells and tastes triggers the same parts of the brain. Images were powerfully used in Al Gore’s TED talk on climate change, directly leading to his award-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Gore used an animated keynote presentation but Gallo warns against the traditional use of powerpoint with 40 words per slide – aka death by powerpoint. Instead, use a few remarkable images or a very few powerful words as a backdrop to your story – such as in Brene Brown’s ‘The power of vulnerability talk’ – ‘If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist’
  1. Stay in your lane – Be authentic, open and transparent. Gallo tells of the countless number of business people he has met who act and speak in one way in private, but sound completely different when presenting. Do not tell yourself you are bad at presenting – reframe your thinking and aim to inspire your audience, getting them to genuinely like you as you are

The most popular TED talks are the ones that win our hearts as well as our minds. The most viewed presentations have become the gold standard for public speaking, and TED’s success means that we are all aware of the need to up our public speaking game. This book might be the inspiration that helps us get there.


About the author

Carmine Gallo is a communications coach for global brands – including LinkedIn, Intel and Coca Cola; a columnist; and best-selling author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. A former TV presenter, his other books include the award-winning The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs and The Apple Experience.


“Communications guru Gallo draws on the power of TED talks to reveal the secrets of effective public speaking…The result is a dynamic work focused on storytelling …sure to be a hit with anyone who wants to be a successful communicator.” Publishers Weekly

“Talk like TED is a smart, practical book that will teach you how to give a kick-butt presentation. This book is ultimately about discovering what moves you and then creating the means of moving others with your vision.”  Daniel H. Pink, author of To Sell is Human

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Clients choose to work in partnership with Impact Executives because of our proven ability to offer client’s immediate solutions to improve their organisation’s performance through identifying skills-gaps, business process reengineering (BPR), turnaround, restructure and growth.

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Book Details

Author: Carmine Gallo

ISBN: 978-1447261131