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] Why would your audiences want to do homework?


Why would you give your audience homework?

How could homework be a gift?


Most school children hate homework, or at least see it as a chore.

Why do school children have homework?

I imagine there are many reasons, but one must be to solidify the learning done in school.

Because we learn by doing.

We reinforce theory with practice.

We multiply the learning by applying what we have learned to our own lives.

We take ownership of the learning when we implement it.


We take ownership of the learning when we implement it.


Spend time in the classroom or with an inspirational speaker, and we take in theory.

We take in enthusiasm, too, hopefully!

We take in the steps to success.

We take those “in”… at the time.

But how far “in” do they go as soon as we leave the classroom

… as soon as the speaker leaves the podium

… as soon as the lesson has ended?

How often have you listened to a motivational speaker, felt motivated … and then several weeks, or even days, later, if someone asked what you were doing differently now, could not remember what his message was or what you had felt so motivated to do????

Clever speakers give their audiences homework.

Caring speakers who really want their audiences to achieve or grow or benefit give their audiences the gift of homework.

They will learn by doing.

They will reinforce theory with practice.

They will multiply the learning by applying what they have learned to our own lives.

They will take ownership of the learning when they implement it.

So if you care about your audience, really want them to change, really want to be of service, what will you ask them to do when they get home after your presentation?

[Quotation about public speaking] Public speaking will have its place

“As long as there are human rights to be defended; as long as there are great interests to be guarded; as long as the welfare of nations is a matter for discussion so long will public speaking have it place.” ~ William Jennings Bryan

Public speaking has its place

In my current obsession with storytelling, I have discovered a Hopi Proverb which says the “Those who tell the stories rule the world.”

Leaders everywhere are those who give their followers something to believe in, a narrative that explains the present and paints a future.

And leaders are not just those in government or religion.

They lead in business, they lead in our institutions, they lead in our families.

We all have the capacity to be a leader at some time.

I am only thankful that the skills of public speaking are there to give us the power to lead and to create a world with values that we can uphold.

In public speaking …. Is bigger really better?

Does size matter in public speaking

It’s an age-old argument … that bigger is better.

And without getting into too much anatomical detail or economic theory, sometimes it is.

Does that mean more is better too?

Well when it comes to speaking, the belief that more is better has been many a speaker’s downfall … including my own!

For me, I think it comes from the old school idea that more information means a higher mark, and possibly the old-school culture of an information age where information was king and prized above rubies.

It also comes, I think, from a need to come from a place of power as a speaker – a place of asserting authority on a subject, of being seen as the expert.

There’s an old speaking proverb that says “When you squeeze your information in, you squeeze your audience out.”

In order to create power for ourselves, we inadvertently take away power from the audience.

Some of the best speaking engagements I have had, have been where I was able to ask the audience questions – and get answers. Sometimes the groups were small enough to have an actual conversation, sometimes there were large so that I had to have show of hands or some other type of response. But I sensed the feeling of validation in the people who responded and in those around them. And we learnt from each other, sometimes far more than they simply would have learned from me.

There is value in giving power to our audiences.

There is value in not squeezing them out with an overload of information, too.

We want to be remembered. What is it that we want to be remembered for?

We want an outcome, a next step, for our audiences to take. What is that one step?

How many things do you remember from the last presentation you attended? One? Maybe three?

How many next steps can we realistically expect an audience to take when we finish speaking, or in the days, weeks, months afterwards? One? Any more than one?

So there is value then, in giving only the information that will contribute to that single powerful memory or that single next step. Give too much information , more than anyone could be expected to remember, or act upon, and we give nothing more than confusion, a garbled message. The result – forgettable and ineffective.

In this age driven by quick visuals and 140-character messages, there is enormous power is presenting a very focused, very memorable single message or two. You will be invited back, and/or you will have built a bridge to further communication and then can share more.

We can still be seen to be giving valuable loads of information, but remember at the same time that one single focus, that one memorable message.

Can you, as Carmine Gallo has challenged his students, write your message in 140 characters?

Bigger is not always better.

More is not always better.

And for speakers, less is definitely more.

Harness the Power of Change to Keep your audience engaged.

People notice change. You notice the hum of the air-conditioner when it comes on and when it goes off – but not in between. So change will get attention in your presentations as well.

Change what the audience sees of you and your environment.

Change your stance and gestures.

Change your position and location to emphasis a point.

Change the type of visual aids you are using – maybe from flip chart to object to slides.

Introduce a video clip into your presentation.

Make sure your slides do not follow a template.

Introduce something very different or unexpected.

Change the way you present. Use silence and pauses. Change your tone of voice and your speaking volume. All of these will match what you are trying to deliver – facts, stories, data, persuasion, all require different presentation styles, but the change caused by this will also keep attention.

Change your material.

Signpost changes, or new points you are making by using a sentence or a word, and a gesture, that heralds something new. This regains audience attention as well as whetting their appetite for more. Change topics.

Change the state of the audience. Have them move into groups to discuss a concept or share ideas about a topic. Change later to simply discussing with a neighbour.

Ask questions. Have them raise their hands to answer. This changes their physical state and allows a change in mental attention as well. Get them moving in some other way.

Changes in your presentation, in your presentation style and in the audience’s own physical, emotional and mental states will keep their attention focussed and re-focussed.

(c) Bronwyn Richie
If you want to include this article in your publication, please do, but only if you include the following information with it:

Bronwyn Ritchie is a professional librarian, a writer, and an award-winning speaker and trainer.
She is a certified corporate trainer and speech contest judge with POWERtalk , a certified World Class Speaking coach, and has had 30 years experience speaking to audiences and training in public speaking. Boost your speaking success, click here for Bronwyn’s FREE 30 speaking tips. Join now or go to http://www.30speakingtips.com

Quick public speaking tip: Dates, figures and statistics

You can avoid losing your audience by being sparing with dates, figures and statistics.

These are all very powerful ways to support your points, but overuse them and they just become boring, and your audience will turn off.

If data is absolutely necessary, use your slides to create a visual rendition of it.

Tell stories about it.

Find some way to relate it to your audience – percentages of people like them, for example, or of their country.

Book – There’s no such thing as public speaking

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