Talk Like TED dissects the blueprint for successful public speaking in a time of increasingly available technology and exponentially shorter attention spans. Carmine Gallo, President of Gallo Communications Group and world-renowned communications coach, unveils “the 9 public-speaking secrets”. Gallo references iconic TEDTalks – arguably the largest public speaking platform in the world – and the indispensable ability to communicate ideas persuasively. In essence, each case study contributes to the redefinition of a successful speech, with particular emphasis on three components: emotional, novel and memorable. These three ingredients make up the three subdivisions of the book, each explained with scientific backing, examples and anecdotes. As someone who never loved public speaking (who does?), I was intrigued to discover what the best of the best had to say.
Part I: Emotional
- Unleash the Master Within
- Master the Art of Storytelling
- Have a Conversation
The first integral element of a meaningful speech is emotion. Gallo places major emphasis on the speaker’s need to feel passionate about the topic at hand. In other words, “What makes your heart sing?”. The altruistic need to share your passion with other people will improve your delivery. In this instance, ‘fake it till you make it’ does not apply – if you don’t care about your speech, why should the audience? The author referenced an iconic TEDTalk given by Aimee Mullins, a double amputee who ran for the NCAA Division 1 Georgetown team and broke 3 records at the 1996 Track & Field Paralympics. Mullins was not passionate about prosthetics, she was passionate about redefining the misconceptions surrounding amputees and unleashing human potential. This emphasis was supported by a study Gallo cited named “Secrets of Infectious Personalities”: it was concluded that individuals with high levels of charisma will often rub off on individuals with low levels. Charisma is directly linked with passion. Gallo has an impressive ability to simplify everything he’s communicating. Of course, a speaker should be passionate about their topic – but then why are so many of us stuck doing presentations we don’t care about?
The most common, and effective, method for sharing these ideas is through storytelling. It is the ultimate tool of persuasion, providing an opportunity to gain the trust of the listeners. Uri Hasson, an assistant professor of psychology at Princeton, deduced that telling stories produces “brain-to-brain coupling” between the storyteller and the listener. In layman’s terms, the brains sync up. The storyteller is able to create a rapport with the listener by transforming ideologies and abstracts into tangible ideas. However, this technique is not complete without the delivery. Gallo calls this skill the ability to “have a conversation” with the audience. The rate and volume you speak, as well as your body movements communicate your intent in collaboration with the words coming out of your mouth. The ability of the speaker to convey their passion through their stories, energy and movement is integral to a well-conveyed message. Some of my earliest memories are having storybooks read to me as a child, these stories were the ones that I was raised on and the ones that have prepared me for adventures in the real world. Similarly, oral traditions have been passed down through generations in just about every corner of the world – they preserve history, culture, traditions, no wonder this basic human practice proves to be applicable in this instance.
Part II: Novel
- Teach Me Something New
- Deliver Jaw-Dropping Moments
- Lighten Up
The second essential aspect, according to Gallo, is novelty. Presenting a new, surprising and memorable idea has a higher likelihood of holding the listener’s attention for the entire duration of the speech. “Emotionally charged” pieces of information have a higher retention rate than mundane pieces of information. Gallo’s research describes how learning something new releases dopamine in a part of your brain called the amygdala, this leaves a chemical marker that helps you remember this piece of information more easily and with greater accuracy. There are a number of ways to give your presentation that ‘wow’ factor if it’s lacking, including:
- Props and Demos
- Unexpected and Shocking Statistics
- Pictures, Images, and Videos
- Memorable Headlines
- Personal Stories
- Ending on a High Note
Perhaps one of the most underestimated tools used to deliver an effective speech is humor: Gallo said “Don’t take yourself (or your topic) too seriously. The brain loves humor. Give your audience something to smile about.” This is maybe the simplest piece of advice in the novel but it is not always the easiest to implement. Crass humor may do more harm to your presentation that it helps. Humor does not necessarily equate telling a joke – it could be presented as anecdotes, analogies, quotes, photos. The human brain often attributes additional desirable personality traits to those with a good sense of humor, it relieves tension and hostility and heightens the overall energy of the room. Ask anyone what they look for in a significant other and one of the top three criteria will usually be ‘a good sense of humor’. This was exemplified by Rose George in her TEDTalk about sanitation – or the lack thereof – available worldwide. George uses the pattern: humor, shock, statistic to convey her message and ensure the audience retains it. Upon reflection, it’s not difficult to notice that your strongest memories have strong emotions to match. Whether fear, panic, joy, surprise, happiness, the intense feeling has stamped that memory into your brain while other experiences have withered away.
Part III: Memorable
- Stick to the 18-Minute Rule
- Paint a Mental Picture with Multisensory Experiences
- Stay in Your Lane
The final element of Gallo’s framework for building a compelling speaker develops upon both emotions and novelty – it has to do with the memorability of the speech. Limiting a speech to 18 minutes, as in the TEDTalk forum, is the first step. Just like physical exertion, exercising the brain utilizes a lot of energy: learning and listening to a presentation reduces glucose and eventually becomes draining. It has been proven that three shorter lectures over the duration of the week are more beneficial for a student’s learning than one 3-hour lecture. Anyone who has ever had to sit through a 3-hour lecture or meeting knows this is true, I certainly do. In addition to duration of time, organization of information plays a role in the audience’s retention rate. The Rule of Three is used to delineate people’s ability to retain three pieces of information in short-term memory well. More than three and people start to lose track. The Rule of Three is demonstrated countless times in all areas of culture, such as: 3 little pigs, 3 musketeers, 3 wishes granted to Aladdin, 3 Wise men, and so forth.
While working memory has its limits, there are tricks presenters can use to make their information more memorable – like the ‘wow’ factor elements previously mentioned. Gallo uses neuroscience studies to demonstrate the prevalence of pictures over words for audience retention. This phenomenon has a number of names: Picture Superiority Effect (PSE), “Dual-coding” theory, Multimedia principle. In short, the brain encodes pictures both verbally and visually while words are encoded only verbally. This means that pictures are processed more deeply and meaningfully and you have the ability to remember a picture up to six times more efficiently than just words. This explains why your teachers have been criticizing your overuse of text on PowerPoints for the last five years! The rule of thumb is one theme per slide, followed by images to give your brain a chance to rejuvenate. This multisensory aspect improves the unique-ness of the presentation. My mind immediately went to the 4-D experience, “Mickey’s Philharmagic” offered at Disneyland: you watch the iconic scene of Mickey conducting a philharmonic orchestra with 3-D visuals, moving chairs, splashes of water, and so on. I still remember it vividly although I haven’t experienced it for almost 10 years – I guess now I know why. Gallo explains that the visual cortex of your brain can’t always tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not, so by creating different layers of an experience it will be more memorable for the listener. Lastly, the need for authenticity and transparency bring these messages full circle. A good speaker must be authentic, not only in their dedication to the content, but also in the delivery.