What You Can Learn From 3 TED Talks

by Danielle Dalton
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Have you ever seen a TED Talk? TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a series of global conferences that features remarkable individuals talking about the subjects they know best. With the slogan, “Ideas Worth Spreading,” TED believes in the power of ideas to create change in the world.

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Most individuals who give a TED Talk are not public speakers by trade or profession—they are passionate people with an interest in specific subject areas. Yet, the talks they deliver are incredibly moving and to date, the talks (which are available online) have been watched over 1 billion times. Past speakers include Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Al Gore, Bill Gates, Bono, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin.

Their ideas, along with those of many other speakers, have managed to captivate the world with the stories and insight they share.

If they can deliver a great presentation, so can you. You may not be a trained public speaker, but that doesn’t mean your next presentation has to be a terrible experience for you.

Here’s what you can learn from three amazing TED Talks:

Susan Cain

Susan Cain published the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which highlighted how Western culture undervalues introverts in society. From open-space workplaces that are designed without walls to how desks in classrooms are arranged in groups/pods rather than rows, Cain explains how introversion isn’t given nearly enough credit in today’s world. It’s a very interesting subject and her analysis is truly insightful, but it should also be noted that Cain, who self-identifies as an introvert, delivers an incredible presentation.

Thus, even if you aren’t always the first person sharing their thoughts with the group at a meeting or team captain at your corporation’s annual softball tournament, that doesn’t mean your presentation will be inherently inferior in some way. Although you may not enjoy putting yourself in front of others, you have just as much potential to deliver a great presentation as extroverts.

Cain herself worked with an acting coach to perfect her TED talk. While you may not have the resources to use a personal coach to improve your presentation, you can certainly practice in front of friends who can provide you with constructive feedback.

Furthermore, Cain explained that she was at the TED event not because she enjoyed the spotlight, but because she felt compelled to be there because of what she had to share. Don’t let discomfort surrounding presentations affect your ability to share what you’re passionate about with others.

Sarah Kay

Spoken word poet Sarah Kay opens her TED Talk with a poem, “If I should have a daughter.” Her intonations, hand gestures, and delivery is mesmerizing—leaving you on the edge of your seat, forgetting to blink, and resulting in a standing ovation from the crowd. She is truly a performer.

Her performance is stellar and should be watched by anyone looking for how to let their genuine personality shine through in a presentation while also delivering meaningful content.

Kay, however, mentions one key thought process in her Talk that you can apply to how you approach your presentations. When Kay was younger, she was truly drawn to spoken word poetry, but incredibly nervous at the same time. Reminiscing about her beginnings, she identifies a three-step process of approach.

  1. The “I can do this” phase: Tell yourself that you can give the presentation. You want to do it, so you can do it. Don’t let nerves get the best of you.
  2. The “I will do this” phase: Not only are you capable of giving a presentation, but you will deliver a great one.
  3. The “Focus on yourself” phase: Once you commit to giving the presentation, make it a presentation that could only be delivered by you by drawing upon your strengths and knowledge to share what you know. Kay says, “I use poetry to help me work through what I don’t understand, but I show up to each new poem with a backpack full of everywhere else that I’ve been.” You may be delving into something new, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have your own unique experiences from your past to help you out.

In addition to her three-step process of approach, Kay shows the audience how emotions can be used to fuel a presentation. She is full of life and zest and allows her feelings to show in her presentation. If you are presenting on a more emotional, less data-driven topic like Kay’s, her TED talk is an excellent example of how to use emotions to make your talk more effective to the audience.

Amy Cuddy

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy researches nonverbal expressions of power and dominance. Her talk focuses on how adapting the way you hold your posture and poses for a mere two minutes can have long-lasting effects on your life. She cites studies from job interviews to situations in the classroom at Harvard Business School where she teaches.

The content of her talk is appropriate to those delivering a presentation. Before your presentation, don’t slouch in a chair or make yourself smaller by crossing your legs or arms. Rather, take up more space—a sign of power—by standing tall and striking a power pose, such as hands on your hips. Individuals who strike high power poses actually affect the chemical levels of cortisol and testosterone in their brain and tend to perform better than those who strike low power poses (hunched over, etc.). So, before your next talk, simply step into a private space for a minute or two and strike a high power pose. While you may think it’s silly, the results show otherwise and you’ll actually leave feeling more confident about your presentation.

Beyond the content of her talk, however, Cuddy is also a great example of how you can integrate multimedia seamlessly into a presentation. She uses a variety of pictures and a video to show different power poses and experiments in action. The media enhances her presentation, rather than distracts the audience. For those with presentations involving media, Cuddy’s talk can show you on how to effectively transition from speaking to media and back.

Conclusion

As these three TED talks show, regardless of your style of presentation or personality, you can deliver an amazing presentation. Cain, Kay, and Cuddy are all very different from one another and have unique presentation styles, yet each delivers a Talk that is effective in sharing new information with the audience. The key to crafting and giving a presentation that results in a standing ovation is authenticity. Be your true self and share what you know. You’ll be more comfortable and confident and have an easier time sharing your knowledge with the audience. For more examples of strong presentations by a variety of individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds, visit TED’s website.

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Danielle Dalton