While you may never speak at an actual TED conference, if you want to succeed in business you’d better be able to deliver a TED-worthy presentation. It represents a bold, fresh, contemporary, and compelling style that will help you win over your audience. Let’s look at some of the factors that make for a powerful presentation.
The most popular TED speakers share something in common with the most engaging communicators in any - field—a passion, an obsession they must share with others. The most popular TED speakers don’t have a “job.” They have a passion, an obsession, a vocation, but not a job. These people are called to share their ideas. The first step to inspiring others is to make sure you are inspired yourself.
Researchers have discovered that our brains are more active when we hear stories. A wordy PowerPoint slide with bullet points activates the language-processing center of the brain, where we turn words into meaning. Stories do much more, using the whole brain and activating language, sensory, visual, and motor areas.
A well-told story gives leaders a strong advantage in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace. A powerful narrative can persuade customers, employees, investors, and stakeholders that your company, product, or idea can help them achieve the success they desire. Your delivery and gestures, mastered though hours and hours of practice, will enhance your overall message, but without passion and practice, your presence will be severely diminished. Your strength as a speaker comes from the inside.
Your audience craves knowledge, even if they have only a mild interest in the topic. As long as you relate your topic to the audience by teaching them something new they can use in their daily lives, you’ll hook them too. Reveal information that is completely new to your audience, is packaged differently, or offers a fresh and novel way to solve an old problem. TEDX speaker and designer Oliver Uberti once said, “Every superhero has an origin story. So do you. Don’t follow someone else’s. Create your own masterpiece.” I find that most communicators are far more creative than they give themselves credit for. When they are encouraged to unleash their creativity and to take an innovative approach to presenting their ideas, they rise to the challenge.
I call the “emotionally charged event,” or what some refer to as the wow moment, the “holy smokes moment.” It’s the one moment in a presentation when you drive your point home, your listener’s jaw drops, and she says to herself, “Holy smokes, I get it now!” It’s the first thing they remember about your presentation and the first thing they say to someone else who didn’t see it but wants to know about your presentation. A holy smokes moment need not be fancy. It might be something as simple as a short, personal story.
Every performer has at least one jaw-dropping moment—an emotionally charged event that your audience members will be talking about the next day. Every presentation needs one. Get one and use it. Your presentation content will make a better impact if it can be stamped onto the minds of your listeners.
Humor plays a key role in the play-books of the world’s most inspiring public speakers. It will work for you, too, but you must learn to incorporate humor creatively and naturally. Repeating tired or, worse, crass or dirty jokes won’t get you far. In fact, it might turn off your audience. The most popular TED speakers do not tell jokes! Unless you’re a professional comedian, jokes are not authentic. Think about it. When you meet a customer for the first time do you open the conversation with the latest joke you read on the Internet? No? Then why would you feel compelled to start a business presentation with one? A humorous observation, however, is perfectly appropriate and very effective.
A long, confusing, meandering presentation forces your listener’s brain to work hard and to consume energy. Your brain cells need twice as much energy as other cells in your body. Mental glucose. That’s why an 18-minute presentation works so well. It leaves your audience with some brainpower and glucose remaining to think about your presentation, share your ideas, and act on them. Talk for too long and your audience will find ways to distract themselves from your content.
Neuroscientists have found that the visual cortex of your brain cannot tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined. If you can think of something vividly—really imagine it—the same brain areas are activated as if you were actually seeing the event. That’s why metaphors, analogies, and rich imagery are powerful ways to paint a picture in a mind’s eye, in some cases even more effective than an actual image.
The holy grail of a presentation is to transport the audience to another place. The visual display of information helps them to see it, but if the audience cannot physically touch something, how do we complete the journey? Again, think about a presentation as a Broadway play. An award-winning play has a wonderful story, intriguing characters, and relevant props. Great presentations have each of those elements, including simple props that give the audience a feel for what it’s like to be in the scene.
Please keep this in mind. When you deliver a presentation, your goal should not be to “deliver a presentation.” It should be to inspire your audience, to move them, and to encourage them to dream bigger. You cannot move people if they don’t think you’re real. You’ll never convince your audience of anything if they don’t trust, admire, and genuinely like you.
The next time you deliver a presentation, you’ll be compared to TED speakers. Your audience will be aware that there’s a fresh, bold style of delivering information; a style that lifts their spirits, fills their souls, and inspires them to think differently about the world and their roles in it. As you learn to do that kind of presentation, your impact will be increasingly powerful.