What to do when you present in a boring, repetitive monotone – follow TED speaker Robert’s example

This is a TED Talk by Robert Ballard, deep-sea explorer.

If you can, watch it without listening to the words, just to the pitch of his voice, especially about half way through the talk, at about 7.30.

The majority of his speech is incredibly monotonous.

He gives the impression that he is ashamed of what he is saying, that his audience will find it boring and that it needs to be hurried, get it out of the way as soon as it can be done.

There were times when I thought I would stop watching.

It was that bad!

I didn’t stop watching.


Because …

he compensated with some fabulous, very successful strategies that had his audience engaged despite the monotony.

What were these strategies and can we use them ourselves?

There were six that I noted, and all of them are powerful – they needed to be!!

1. The message is simple and strong

He has a very simple, well articulated message. Why are we spending so much time and money on space exploration and so little on exploring our oceans? It is repeated. The whole presentation supports it. And the fact that it is regularly stated as a question keeps it hooked into his audience’s minds and hearts.

2. He uses the unexpected

Several of his statements stand out for me but there are others. The first that aroused my attention was the one about how everything he learned at school in his field was wrong. The second was about the map. Normally when we see a blank space on a map we assume it is just an area of similar topography. A space like that on a map of the sea is blank because it is not mapped. Life under the sea exists in ways no life should. Water is upside down. Volcanoes work in ways volcanoes shouldn’t. He sets his audience up and hits them regularly with the unexpected and each point made that way hits strongly.

3. He uses images.

There are 57 image slides in this presentation with no words. There is no conflict in his audience’s minds between spoken and written words. The images reinforce what he is saying and his audience is more likely to remember a point made and supported by an image than one that is only made verbally. I can still see in my mind’s eye the little girl with her mouth open in amazement.

4. Humour

He’s not exactly a humorous speaker, nor a comedian, but he uses subtle humour, and again often the unexpected. There is self effacing humour, and his use of the name Easter Bunny, the statement “I would not let an adult drive a robot. He doesn’t have the gaming experience.” just three examples. And the audience laughs. But they laugh and they are acknowledging the humour but they are also being drawn to the point he is making at the time. The humour simply highlights it.

5. Clever use of Pause

Robert uses pause to highlight a particular point and his uses it powerfully, interspersing it between questions and single words.

He also uses pause as an antidote to a long session of fast-paced narrative. And that is powerful too.

6. Repetition

He repeated the main message. He repeated his main points. He repeated his humorous “Easter Bunny” statement. And it wasn’t saying the same thing over again. It was calling back to it, later in the speech. It’s a powerful technique, puts the segment just completed, monotonous though it may be, into perspective and creates support for the point he is making, or the idea he has introduced.

7. Passion

This man believes in what he is doing.

He is excited by it.

He is passionate about the possibilities it offers and about creating excitement in his audience and in the world, about his project.

And it shows, when he allows it, in his use of pause, in his enthusiasm, and in his energy.

These are not rhetorical devices he just inserted into his speech. They are the result of his enthusiasm and dedication and excitement.

He left the best for last when he talked about being able to ignite that same enthusiasm and excitement in middle-schoolers, when he talked about “creating the classroom of the future” and how you “win or lose a scientist by 8th grade”.

This is what we want.  This is a young lady not watching a football game, not watching a basketball game.  She's watching exploration thousands of miles away and it's just dawning on her what she is seeing.  And when you get a jaw dropping, you can inform, you can put so much information into that mind ...

This is what we want. This is a young lady not watching a football game, not watching a basketball game. She’s watching exploration thousands of miles away and it’s just dawning on her what she is seeing. And when you get a jaw dropping, you can inform, you can put so much information into that mind …

And he had a standing ovation.

Monotonous, maybe, boring no!

[Quick Public Speaking Tip] “Speaking is selling”


“Speaking is selling”

It’s an ugly phrase, that. I feel its ugliness.

Speaking is pure – a mixture of art and science.

Selling – urgh – ugly – involves low-down, dirty manipulation, something that forces its recipients and audiences to put up barriers against trust and hope and good taste – at best a game with winners and losers.


Well, I have to say that’s a common feeling.

We start out with a fabulous idea. It makes us feel good and full of light. It’s going to change the world.

It might be an idea that will make people feel better, live better, or make the world a better place.

It might even be a product or program that will also make an income for us doing what makes us feel good and full of light instead of dull and bored and chained to a desk.

And then we discover that people do not necessarily come running to be part of that beautiful idea.

It’s going to involve persuasion and marketing … and … selling – and that doesn’t necessarily mean selling, as in asking for money for a product.

It can just mean selling the vision, the idea so that people change their minds, think differently, act differently – persuasion – just another form of that ugly manipulation, really.

What if …

What if …

we could shine that light out into the minds of the audience?

What if …

What if …

we could shine that light as an inspiration, a source of hope, an answer?

What if …

What if …

it illuminated a vision those audience members already had – buried beneath a deep, heavy layer of doubt and self-distrust and painful sense of failure?

Not so ugly?

Not so shameful?

Not so manipulative?

“Speaking is inspiring”!

Speaking from the heart

I suspect this was well-rehearsed and yet seemed so natural, so conversational.

Do you want to speak to inspire?

We could all do well to learn from this man and the presentation –


a mantra,

storytelling skills,


structure …

[Inspiration] … from Sir Edmund Hilary

“People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.”
– Sir Edmund Hilary

People do not decide to become extraordinary

It’s quite a powerful distinction, Sir Edmund has made here. I haven’t read a lot about him, but I suspect he was a very humble man. Nevertheless it’s a truth that takes some accepting, when so often we believe that we have to be up to a standard before we can accomplish something. It’s certainly something I am learning – that I can Do, then Be, then Have rather than expecting it to work the other way that I need to Be first.

How do you express what cannot be said?


This is a beautiful quotation.

But now I’m giving it some deeper thought.

Really? … “what cannot be said” … what is it that cannot be said that music can express?

I would love to hear your ideas, because there are some incredibly eloquent writers and speakers whom I admire hugely, and I cannot help wondering what it is that they cannot express that music can…?

And add to that the criterion … “on which it is impossible to be silent”

Do comment!

Another thought that occurs to me is that we use images as we speak sometimes, and they add a new dimension to our spoken words.

What is the role of music here? Would it add a dimension, or speak for itself?

[Inspiration] Focus

“Nothing can add more power to your life than concentrating all your energies on a limited set of targets.”
Nido Qubein


[Inspiration] Missing your share of happiness?

“Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn’t stop to enjoy it.”
William Feather


[Inspiration] Do you have one foot on the brake?


“Even though you may want to move forward in your life, you may have one foot on the brakes. In order to be free, we must learn how to let go. Release the hurt. Release the fear. Refuse to entertain your old pain.

The energy it takes to hang onto the past is holding you back from a new life. What is it you would let go of today?”

Mary Manin Morrissey

Original image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/truk/3558806/