Talking Talks: The other secrets to great public speaking


 You know when you watch something that seems magical? It seems somehow effortless.  

Well, it’s not. 

So today I want to delve into the details of Chris Anderson’s excellent talk on TED talks to reveal the hidden secrets to his great presentation, the ones he didn’t tell us about.

Welcome to Talking Talks, a behind the scenes look at how great presenters make great presentations.

I’m your host, Bri Williams, and today I’m watching Chris Anderson's talk, “TED’s secret to great public speaking”.

At this point in time it’s been viewed over 2 million times, so clearly it resonates with people.

But why? Is it what Chris says?  Partly. But it’s much more than that. 

I came across this clip as I was delving further into what great presenters do differently. As a public speaker, and someone who trains people in the behavioural science of presentation skills, I’m always seeking to learn and share from the best. 

And from this talk, there are four things I want to focus on. Four things he didn’t explicitly share.

Starting at the beginning.

1. How he begins

Chris launches straight into a provocative idea - overturning assumptions about what this talk might be about.

Why? To grab our attention. To get us questioning these assumptions and whether we held them too.

It puts us back on our heels and throws us a little off balance.

Then he dials up the tension about following a formula “you’ll come over as cliched, manipulative” before alluding to the one thing he’d like to share.

By spelling out the ramifications of not rethinking assumptions about TED talks, he ups the stakes for us personally. 

We don’t want to sound cliched or manipulative, so what should we do instead?

But before he has permission to help us, he needs to do something else.

2. How he credentials himself

Chris talks about who he has helped, and importantly, who he has learnt from.

Why is this important? 

He is demonstrating humility to offset any sense of arrogance. He’s a guy at the top of his field, and yet he is not wielding that power over us.

His obvious willingness to learn invites us to as well. He is not saying he has all the answers, he is simply offering one thing.

This is different to how many presenters credential themselves, reciting a long biography of their endeavours and emphasising what they have DONE without wondering why that’s interesting to an audience. 

When you talk about credentials, it’s not really about YOU, it’s about you in service to your audience.

Chris’ phrasing of how he came to be sharing ideas with us is matched by something else, too.

3. Visual design

You’ll see Chris is seated. He is reflective, softly lit, leans towards us thoughtfully. Looks down the camera - he’s not talking to an audience, he’s talking to you.

All signalling that THIS is not a TED talk.

It’s a fireside chat about TED talks. 

He’s bringing us in, there’s intimacy like he’s taking us into the inner sanctum.

And what I love most about this talk about talks?

It’s meta. Chris is not only telling us how to be  a great public speaker, but showing us.

He is walking his talk. 

4. How he walks his talk

Let’s walk through the four guidelines Chris shares, by reflecting on how he demonstrates it himself. 

As he says himself ““if you can reveal a disconnection they’ll want to build a bridge”. 

So the first 2/3rds of his presentation is building the disconnection so he can then give us his four guidelines.

  1. Focus on one major idea -> like he did - the idea of idea
  2. Give people a reason to care -> How did Chris do this? By overturning assumptions about TED and then 
  3. Build an idea with familiar concepts, using their language, metaphor and analogy. His talk is filled with examples and illustrations. He asks us to build an idea in the minds of our audience, which is depicted in a visual image of a diamond above his head and a mind expanding.
  4. Make your idea worth sharing. Who does the idea benefit? -> Anyone looking to be a great public speaker. So far, over 2 million people have tuned in to this clip, clear proof that Chris has delivered an idea worth sharing.

Now, I could leave it there, but by this stage I’m hoping you are wondering something about me and how I am presenting right now.

Am I being meta? Am I walking the talk and using the four principles I shared with you?

Well, let’s see.

How did I begin?

“...reveal the hidden secrets to his great presentation, the ones he didn’t tell us about.”

I wanted to pique your curiosity about what more there was to know about presenting.

How did I credential myself?

The title reel helped set the stage of who I am - that I’m a presenter myself and that I talk about how others present, and my introduction signals this is in my wheelhouse but coming from a place of curiosity.

What’s my visual design?

I’m in my office, there are diplomas behind me. I’m wearing relatively relaxed clothes rather than formal business attire.

I’m signalling this is a professional, although accessible, presentation. I used my title reel to showcase myself as a presenter and someone interested in what presenters do.

And I’m using clips of Chris (and me) presenting to support what I’m saying.

Did I walk my talk?

And, of course, I hope I’ve just shown how I walk my talk and that this has been an idea worth sharing.


About Talking Talks:
Talking Talks is a behind-the-scenes look at how world class speakers craft and deliver their presentations. A video series created and hosted by behavioural specialist Bri Williams, you'll hear from real-life public speakers about their approach to presenting.


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