By: Carmine Gallo, author of Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds (St. Martin’s Press, 2014)
Like it or not, your communication skills at work are being compared to TED talks.
The TED conference [Technology/Entertainment/Design] recently celebrated its 30th anniversary and is widely considered the gold standard when it comes to public presentations.
Here’s why: TED presentations are viewed more than two million times per day while smaller, independently organized TEDx events are held in 145 countries. That means it’s likely your audience -- employees, customers, and prospects -- have been exposed to the TED style.
As a leader, you may have a great ideas. But in the information age, if you cannot communicate your idea persuasively in a succinct, compelling pitch or presentation, it doesn't matter.
Based on my analysis of 500 TED presentations, here are five techniques to improve your business presentation skills and to talk like a leader people want to follow.
1) Tell personal stories. Telling personal stories is the single best way to make an emotional connection with your listener. After categorizing 150 hours of TED talks, I found that stories make up 65 percent to 72 percent of the content.
Researchers at Princeton University are finding that when someone tells a story, the same regions of the listener's brain and the speaker's brain light up. That means the two people are literally in sync.
TED in Action: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg started a movement called “Lean in.” It all began with an 18-minute TED talk. Sandberg acknowledged that her original presentation was “chock full of data and no personal stories.” A friend suggested that she downplay the data and tell personal stories of her own struggle balancing work and family. She did and it made all the difference.
2) Stick to the rule of three. Simply put, we can only remember about three to five key messages in short term memory. There's a reason why the Declaration of Independence guarantees the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The rule of three is well established among authors in the academic research on persuasion. Not surprisingly, the rule of three is pervasive across the most famous TED talks.
TED in Action: Civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson received the longest standing ovation in TED history after telling three stories from his life.
Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor delivered one of the most popular TED talks of all time. Her “Stroke of Insight” has been viewed more than 15 million times. She divided the 18-minute presentation into three easy-to-follow sections.
The next time you deliver a presentation try to deliver no more than three to five main points. It will increase the likelihood that your audience will embrace your idea.
3) Obey the 18-minute guideline. No speaker on the TED stage is allowed to talk for more than 18 minutes. It doesn’t matter if your name is Bill Gates or Sheryl Sandberg. Eighteen minutes is all you get. TED organizers have found that 18 minutes is the ideal amount of time to have a serious discussion without putting your audience to sleep.
Researchers have discovered that when a leader speaks for too long it results in “cognitive backlog.” Simply put, when you talk for too long you give your audience far too much information to remember and they’ll forget everything.
TED in Action: I recently learned that one global technology giant is putting strict limits on internal presentations -- no more than 18 minutes. They find that employees are far more engaged in the presentation and evaluate the leader’s communication skills much more highly.
4) Use humor without telling a joke. Most leaders are not comedians. There's a real art to telling a joke. Don't feel as though you need to make one.
That said, humor is very important to tear down walls and to connect us to one another.
TED in Action: Sir Ken Robinson is an educator and gave the most famous TED talk in history. It's been viewed more than 20 million times. He was very funny and never told a joke. He used anecdotal humor -- personal observations to elicit a smile and not a belly laugh. For example he said, 'I was at a dinner party -- actually, if you're in education you're rarely invited to dinner parties…'
Keep it light, bring a smile to your audience, but don't feel as though you need tell a formal joke.
5) Practice more than you think you should. Most leaders I know practice their golf swing far more than they've rehearsed a pitch that can make or break their business.
TED in Action: Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor rehearsed her TED talk more than 200 times. One of the viewers was Oprah Winfrey -- it changed Dr. Jill's entire life and career.
When you must deliver a presentation where the stakes are high, practice the entire presentation exactly as you plan to deliver it and do it many, many times.
You have ideas that were meant to be heard. Don’t sabotage your leadership potential by failing to craft and deliver a business presentation that connects to your listeners and moves people to action.
Carmine Gallo is the author of Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds and The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, among other books. A popular keynote speaker and communication coach for some of the world's most admired brands, Gallo is a Forbes columnist and former CNN journalist. His ideas have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, 20/20 and CNBC. Visit www.carminegallo.com.