There never has been security. No man has ever known what he would meet around the next corner;
if life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavour.
Harsh words, those, especially for those of us who like to be prepared.
“Never.” … “There never has been security.”
Still, we try to achieve it as much as we can,
prepare for all eventualities,
do our best to avoid the embarrassment of fumbling for an answer, for forgotten words, for a prepared logical flow.
And yet we know, underneath, that what Eleanor Roosevelt said is entirely true.
There will always be the unpredictable.
And we will prepare for that too.
What about the flavour it brings though?
The flavour of life … the flavour of an unpredictable speaking experience.
I like to think that being a speaker operates on at least 3 levels.
There is me, you, the speaker.
There is what I call the eagle eye – the ability we have to watch ourselves and our audiences from above and evaluate how things are going, in order to adapt.
And then there is the concept that beside the conversation we are having with our audience is another experience, the shared experience of being together in a presentation.
We can leverage that with little moments of quirking an eyebrow at the audience as if to say “See what I did there?”, or less subtly discussing what is actually going on. We can create a shared experience in this level.
If the experience is unexpected, this is where we can really capitalise on that flavour Eleanor mentioned – enjoy the moment together with the audience,
forge a bond of shared experience,
of response to the unexpected
with humour, with pathos or with jointly created action.
So while those un-predictable events can be challenging, especially if we worry too much about them beforehand, or label them failures afterwards,
they can also be the source of some of the most powerful and enjoyable experiences a speaker can have.
“Always lead with a story”.
I wonder who gave him that advice?
It sounds feasible, even powerful.
Stories ARE powerful.
They engage, build credibility, create an emotional tone, set the scene.
And all of those things are what is needed from a speech opening.
But they are not the only options for a speech opening.
You can do something that really GRABS attention, if that is necessary. And you will waste anything that is not aimed at getting attention and holding it … like saying “hello” or testing the microphone. But between those extremes there are many choices. You can open with a quote, you can use a different language or colloquialism, you can use humour, you can ask a question. You can refer to a person or event that has local interest at the moment you speak.
And you can use story.
But certainly not ONLY story.
Does this audience relate to story? Do they value that emotional connection? Perhaps they are sleepy after lunch. A story, unless it is incredibly punchy, may be too slow.
Has something happened immediately before your speech that MUST be addressed? Avoid that or, indeed, the elephant in the room, and you lose a powerful opportunity to connect and engage.
Is this a regular gig? Perhaps you periscope your tips every few days. If you open with the same signature story every single time and, congratulations!, you have regular followers, they certainly don’t want to hear it over and over again. “For Goodness’ sake,” I mutter, “you promised me 5 tips on this thing, get on with them!!” “And you don’t have to sell me on who you are, I KNOW you already!”
Please don’t open with a story unless you have it fine-tuned and powerful. You need to know exactly what you are creating with the story, why you are using it, and have removed anything that does not contribute to that outcome. This is especially true if you are trying to establish your credibility. One tiny flaw, one tiny doubt in that story, one weakness and you have me doubting you, wondering about that weakness or doubt and I lose the trust you need me to have and you have to build it up again. Those tips, that content, had better be good!
Make sure, too, that the story does actually serve some sort of purpose. I understand that story creates connections, all on its own. It also creates it own energy, no matter where you use it in the speech. But we, your audience, are creatures with short attention spans, especially if we discovered you as we were flicking through the internet, or are sitting in your audience reading from devices. Tell me a pointless story and you insult me and lose my attention. I return to my browsing. I gave you my time and attention in hope of receiving something of use, or an experience worth attending. Reassure me that that is what I am getting by having the purpose of the story absolutely obvious – at some time soon!!
I say “Thank you” to the man who provoked me to write this article. I like him and I value his content. I was just sad and irritated to see him devaluing himself by taking advice that wasn’t suitable to his uses.
“Lead with a story”, by all means but not ALWAYS!
You might also be interested in:
TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking Hardcover
– May 3, 2016
by Chris Anderson
At long last – what promises to be the definitive guide to public speaking, well to TED talks anyway (and no, I haven’t read it, and will wait for the Kindle edition, I think. It should be worth waiting for.)
Who wouldn’t want to be a speaker for TED? The whole system provides wonderful exposure. The discipline of being limited to 18 minutes ensures a tight, well constructed speech. There is professional coaching for all speakers.
Since taking over TED in the early 2000s, Chris Anderson has shown how carefully crafted short talks can be the key to unlocking empathy, stirring excitement, spreading knowledge, and promoting a shared dream. Done right, a talk can electrify a room and transform an audience’s worldview. Done right, a talk is more powerful than anything in written form.
Many people have shared their understanding of the magic behind TED talks, Carmine Gallo especially.
And now we can all share in the secrets behind the speeches. I guess it will be disappointing to some that there is no formula, but heartening, nevertheless since we become inured of formulae. No two speeches should be the same.
As Sir Ken Robinson said,
Is there a single recipe for a great speech? Of course not. But there are some essential ingredients, which the TED team sets out here with concision, verve and wit (which are also some of the ingredients). An inspiring, contemporary guide to the venerable arts of oratory. Sir Ken Robinson
‘Nobody in the world better understands the art and science of public speaking than Chris Anderson. He is absolutely the best person to have written this book’ Elizabeth Gilbert.
He coached her, along with the other TED speakers who have inspired us the most, Sir Ken Robinson, Amy Cuddy, Bill Gates, Salman Khan, Dan Gilbert, Mary Roach, Matt Ridley, and so many more,and has shared tips from their presentations.
Anderson lists his five key techniques to presentation success: Connection, Narration, Explanation, Persuasion and Revelation (plus the three to avoid). He also answers the most frequently asked questions about giving a talk, from ‘What should I wear?’ to ‘How do I handle my nerves?’.
The promise …
For anyone who has ever been inspired by a TED talk…
…this is an insider’s guide to creating talks that are unforgettable.
I suspect that it very well might be and look forward to reading it.
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 –
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.
We are incredibly blessed to have an environmental park just 50 metres from our home. I am grateful to old George Swanston, our local Council representative more than twenty years ago, who fought to have it gazetted as such, and not given over to developers. We now have a backdrop of trees from our house and access to beautiful walking tracks and scenery.
At our particular entrance to the park is a disused quarry – huge sandstone cliffs where blocks of stone were removed. It has been shored up, but part of it remains rather unstable and in times of heavy rain, boulders are sometimes dislodged. It is now a beautiful, serene place.
The piece of landscape I focussed on this morning, though, had me thinking …
This is the wall the park-keepers have created to protect the walking path from falling boulders.
And it reminded me of constructing a speech (possibly because I’m currently putting together a workshop on the subject!)
See the wire netting they have used to make sure the stone wall stays in place?
Sometimes I feel like I am in need of such a cage – something to keep the whole speech together and tight and effective – not allowing ideas to escape out of the structure I want.
We collect such a miscellany of thoughts, and knowledge and experiences and opinions and do our best with them. We sort them and discard those that will not support the message we want for this particular audience. We build them into a structure that will work for this presentation. It will be strong. It will work to make the message flow and shape so that the audience follows it easily without too much awareness of its existence. It will look and feel good to ourselves as we present, giving us confidence in the whole.
And that’s what they have done with these stones in this wall. They collected a huge number, and sorted out the ones that will fit and that are of a similar size so that they can be stacked into a shape. They built them into a structure that will protect the walkers here on the path, without intruding into the flow of their walk or run. And I suspect they are rather proud of their final construction.
And yet …
They had to put the net around it. Was it not built well enough?
Perhaps they did not have a proper dry-stone wall person. Perhaps it is not finished and they intend to replace it or cover it with concrete or such.
The question remains … though I am so happy people are taking care of the park and making it safe.
These grey stones are not native to the area – well not in evidence anywhere around. They are imports. The whole structure seems alien.
Did you ever feel that about a speech?
Maybe it didn’t align with your passions. Maybe you were presenting someone else’s material. Maybe you’ve seen a speaker who had found the audience was not as they expected, or the speech just didn’t belong in the event, either subject-wise, or energy-wise.
Still I am grateful.
Returning from my walk, I follow the little side street and in front of me, at the end of the street, is this beautiful tree.
It belongs (though it was planted there).
It has its own natural shape. Nothing constrains it (though it was pruned – many years ago).
It is beautiful.
Is this what it feels to present a speech so that it feels like it belongs, so that it feels natural, unconstrained, and we can feel its beauty?
The speaker’s own energy and authentic passion,
constructed for this audience and their needs and wants and values,
suitable to the event, aligned with its intent and vibe.
I wish you (and me) many more trees … and many more speeches that give as much pleasure and satisfaction.
If you live in America, today is the anniversary of that speech.
On 28th August, 1963, Martin Luther King spoke to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
I have a dream.
He had not intended to use that line – “I have a dream”. Along with the marchers, he had been singing gospel songs among other things as they marched. A powerful gospel singer and civil rights support, Mahalia Jackson had called to him “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”
And he told them about his dream – impromptu.
In 1999 this speech was ranked the top American speech of the 20th century, and at least part of it was impromptu!!
He had used the dream before in several speeches, so it wasn’t entirely impromptu, but chosen from his repertoire of “things that work”. Do you have a repertoire of “things that work”?
There had been several versions of the speech prepared beforehand, but none of them was used in its entirety.
The structure of the speech is graceful and powerful. I love Nancy Duarte‘s study of it.
He used the gospel connection well. He used geographical reference well. He used the American iconic moments of history well.
The clever rhetoric and speech structure are obvious.
The two moments that stand out for me are two examples of rhetoric. He resonated with lists and particularly anaphora, I think. The first was when he used “now is the time …” Suddenly what was merely a speech, now had passion. There was genuine feeling in his voice. The second was just before he introduced “I have a dream”. He had listed all the parts of the country his audience would return to, and it was as if he suddenly really connected with his audience. He left the script with his eyes and they continued to scan the audience. Suddenly the whole rhythm and pitch and pace of his speech changed. It returned but his face had changed. He felt somehow free.
What makes you feel free to connect with your audience – that you have the power to move them? We all have it.