Killing PowerPoint: The Future of Public Speaking

It never fails. Every September I get butterflies- make those bats- in my stomach thinking about open house night.  You see, by day I am a mild-mannered English teacher and once a year I have to stand up in front of a room full of adults and tell them what their kids will be learning about in the 8th grade.

Yes, I can hear you now, “But you‘re a teacher. You talk in front of people every day!”  I know; I get it, and it doesn’t change a thing. Teaching kids is easy compared to speaking in front of adults for an introvert like me. However, the next time open house comes around I have a secret weapon in the yearly war against those bats: Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds

A great handbook for those who need to improve their public speaking skills-

-in other words, all of us.

According to Carmine Gallo, the author of Talk Like TED, ideas and information are the currency of the twenty-first century business world. If you want to succeed you need to be able to persuasively present yourself and your ideas. This, in all probability, is the single greatest skill that will help you accomplish your career goals.

Gallo’s Premise
As Daniel Pink says in To Sell Is Human, “Like it or not, we are all in sales now,” and according to Gallo TED has perfected the art of selling yourself and your ideas in the public presentation.

For the uninitiated TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. It began as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design were covered, hence TED. However, today the topics covered cross a wide array of disciplines.

One of the tenets of TED is that people remember best when presented material in threes. When one goes beyond this they tend to have a hard time synthesizing content. Gallo seems to have taken his own advice as he breaks the TED formula down into three parts, Emotional, Novel and Memorable. Each part is then broken down into three sections.

Gallo’s Proof
He spends the first third of the book discussing how to make an emotional impact on listeners. In doing so he mentions something I have often found instrumental in teaching students the art of persuasion, the Aristotelian Triangle.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle is one of the founding fathers of communication theory. He believed persuasion occurs when three components are represented: ethos, logos and pathos. Ethos is credibility. We tend to agree with people whom we respect for their achievements, title, experience,etc. Logos is the means of persuasion through logic, data and statistics. Pathos is the act of appealing to the emotions.

Gallo goes on to break down different popular and successful TED talks to determine what percent of each presentation focuses on these three key areas. Not surprisingly he finds pathos to be the dominant component taking up 65% of most speeches.

Career lesson:  Business presentations tend to focus primarily on logos- facts, figures, data, the stuff PowerPoint is made of. Don’t forget that you are talking to people, not machines, and people respond to emotion.

Part two of Talk Like TEDrevolves around the concept of novelty- in the sense of being new, original or unusual. Gallo shows that the most successful presentations are the one where the listeners are taught something new or are shocked into engaging with the presentation.

One way that he recommends a speaker engages the audience is through a Jaw-Dropping Moment.

 The jaw-dropping moment in a presentation is when the presenter delivers a shocking, impressive, or surprising moment that is so moving and memorable; it grabs the listener’s attention, and is remembered long after the presentation is over…[These] create what neuroscientists call and emotionally charged event, a heightened state of emotion that makes it more likely your audience will remember your message and act on it.

He goes on to present quite a few examples of just how this can be incorporated into a presentation, from using awe inspiring statistics, to humor, to props.

Career lesson:  In order to grab the room’s attention, try to lead with something that provides a shock-and-awe element. As long as you can then connect it to the premise of your presentation you will have gone a long way to ensuring your message is remembered.

The final third of the book discusses how to be truly memorable. Gallo spends a fair amount of time detailing the science behind why 18 minutes is the optimum length of time for a presentation, and this confirms what my experience in the classroom has shown to be true. After 20 minuted minds begin to wander.

Another thing that causes minds to wander will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever attended a work-related conference- Death by PowerPoint. While he does not advocate for the end of PowerPoint (a temptation to be sure) he does call for using it in a vastly different way.

I am not advocating the end of PowerPoint as a tool, but the end of traditional PowerPoint design cluttered with text and bullet points. The average PowerPoint slide has 40 words. It is nearly impossible to find one slide in a TED presentation that contains anywhere near 40 words and these presentations are considered among the best in the world.

He goes on to give some specific recommendation on the use of PowerPoint.

Add images, or include background pictures to pie charts, graphs and tables. I recommend striving for no more than 40 words in your first 10 slides. This will force you to think creatively about telling a memorable and engaging story instead of filling the slide with needless and distracting text. Kill bullet points on most of your slides.

Career lesson:  The advice to completely rethink the use of PowerPoint alone is worth the price of the book. Everyone from team leaders, to managers to CEOs could do worse than take this section of the book to heart.

Talk LikeTed: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds does what it sets out to do. It gives everyone the tools to improve their public speaking skills in a very easy-to-read book.
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