Tuesday, October 7, 2014

[How to Deliver a Great TED Talk] Post 7: Open a Talk

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      The first 20-30 seconds is the most important moment. It defines the rest of your talk. Give your audience a reason to sit up and listen to you.

Presentation and Poem

     A great talk needs art and science. It's like a poem. Poem has a structure where verses rhyme systematically. Poets then use their imagination to fill in these verses and create a poem. A great talk also has a systematic structure: An opening, a body, and a conclusion. Speakers need to fill in these parts to create a great talk.

Three Great Ways to Open Your Talk

1. Personal story

      Everyone loves story, especial personal story. Don’t lecture them, especially at the beginning. Start with a story. You can give your audience content later. Here are characteristics of great personal story:
•Your story is the best story. You can have a hero to make your point. Share your observation. Tell the audience why you think this story is particularly interesting.
•Pick a story relevant to the talk so that you can move from an opening to a body smoothly.
•Make your story emotional, sensory, and rich in dialog. Make your audience re-experiences it with you.
"World class speakers strive to mirror the energy in the room at the opening, and then lead their audience on an emotional journey for the remainder of their talk."

2. Shocking statement: 

     People listen when you present surprises. Equip statistics with emotional context, and you will grab audience attention. Here is an example
"Sadly, in the next 18 minutes, when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead from the food that they eat. My name is Jamie Oliver. I am 42 years old…" — Jamie Oliver, TED 2010
     Chef Oliver created a shocking statement by using American as an example because they are in the same group as the audience.

3. Powerful question

     Tease audience with 'why' or 'how' questions, which instigates curiosity. You can mix in both the questions. But they all need to have the same answer. Here is and example:
"Why is it 320 Americans just like you die from the food they eat?,' or 'How do we prevent the food you eat from killing you?"

Before the Opening

Sometimes, your audience are not ready for your talk. They could be tired from the previous talk. They could be too relaxed to focus on your talk. Here are what you could do. If your audience are too tired,

  • Use humor to relieve tension. You need to get the first laugh within 30 seconds. Otherwise, it won’t work, or 
  • Callback to previous talk or recent events known to the audience, e.g., recent earthquake, perturbing crime.

On the other hand, if your audience is too relaxed, you need to get their attention. You can

  • Be silent for 10 seconds and shout out your key message.
  • Ask your audience to do something, e.g., imagine something, do simple math exercise, ask them to raise their hand. 

Transition to the Body

     To close off your opening, tell the audience what they should expect from your talk and how long it takes to get it. Make it sensory. Visual statements would be the best. But, you might also use sound, smell, taste, and touch. Here are a few example:

'In the next 40 minute, I will share 3 ways namely 'AAA' to find happiness.'

Bad Openings


  • Open with a quote
  • Open with a joke
  • Open with something that could even mildly offend your audience.
  • Open with a Dilbert cartoon.
  • Open with a thank you (do it at the end).
  • Open with 'before I begin, ...' You just began, right?
  • Open with activity, i.e., asking your audience to do something, unless it is very relevant and genuine.
  • Open by telling your audience everything. In the above example, don't tell your audience what 'AAA' are. Keep them hanging. Slowly reveal each 'A' in your talk. 

Source: How to Deliver a TED Talk: Secrets of the World's Most Inspiring Presentations by Jeremey Donovan

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