Saturday, December 14, 2013

How to give a great talk (even if your not giving it at TED).

Sam Horn from Fast Company gives an overview on how to give a killer TED Talk complete with videos below. Many great ideas that overlap with Made to Stick - with a change in words. Clear == Simple, Compelling == Unexpected, Current == Credible. 
It's been said that there are no original ideas. But what may seem like old hat to you could become the next compelling TED talk.
You can transform your presentations by mining your expertise, experience, and epiphanies. Start by writing down things about your work; your best practices, non-negotiables, and the things you'd like to pass on that you think would open people's minds and get them talking.
Next, take those ideas and run them through the “Seven Cs of Original Messaging.” These criteria can be used both as a guide and a litmus test to come up with a big idea that pops you out of the pack.


A Hollywood producer once told me that directors can predict when their movies will make money. How? Simple. Do people walk out of the theater repeating something they heard word for word? If so, they become word-of-mouth advertisers. When people ask, “Seen any good movies lately?” they’re talking about your movie and marketing it to profitability.
The same applies to your TED talk. Can listeners repeat your big idea word for word? If they can, they’ll become your advocates. If they can’t, your big idea will be in one ear, out the other.
Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech for Philadelphia’s University for the Artsshows the payoff of distilling your big idea into a crystal-clear sound bite. "Make Good Art" resonated so powerfully with the initial audience of hundreds, the video went viral within days and was turned into a best-selling book.


You’ve got 60 seconds to capture an audience's attention or else they’ll start checking email.
No perfunctory opening. No, “I’m glad to be here today and want to thank the organizer for inviting me.” That’s predictable, and predictable is boring. Pleasantly surprise everyone by jumping right into your origin story or into a compelling, counterintuitive insight that flies in the face of current beliefs.
Test your premise beforehand with colleagues. If they say, “I already know that,” it’s back to the drawing board. Or, as comedian George Carlin said, “What did we go back to before there were drawing boards?” Keep tweaking your idea until people’s eyebrows go up (a sure sign of curiosity) and they say, “Hmmm. That’s interesting. Tell me more.”


The keynote speaker at a recent conference used the often-referenced “Pygmalion in the Classroom” study of how teachers’ expectations affect student performance as the basis for her presentation. Really?! That study was done in 1989! She couldn’t find any current studies to make her case? Referencing such an outdated source undermined her credibility.
Recency = relevancy. What just-released report can you reference to prove your point? Recent research will get their attention, and respect.


After you’ve come up with a big idea, run it by your gut. Ask yourself, “Is this congruent with my voice, my vision, my values? If someone suggests a topic, but it doesn’t feel right, it’s wrong for you. A TED talk is your point of view, not someone else’s. What doyou passionately believe? What is a heartfelt legacy message that sums up what you’velearned from life?
An executive called me a week before his program and said, “I hope you can help. I’ve been traveling almost nonstop, so I asked our company speechwriter to help prepare my talk. It’s well-done, it just doesn’t sound like me.”
I told him, “You’re right. A TED talk has got to be your voice. Get a recorder and ask someone to take notes while you read the script. Every time you read something and think, ‘I would never say it that way,’ say out loud how you would say it. Don’t censure or second-guess yourself, don’t try to be eloquent, and don’t overthink it. Just keep moving forward, rewording it into your natural voice. Ask your assistant to integrateyour phrasing into a new version and then read it out loud again until you wouldn’t change a word. Now, it’s your talk.”


The purpose of a TED talk is not to sell your products or services, and it shouldn't be your first concern. The fact is, though, an excellent talk will scale your visibility and viability. It will drive business to you.
Witness what’s happened to BrenĂ© Brown. BrenĂ© was a professor when she spoke for TEDx-Houston. She was popular at her university, but hardly a household name. Her talk on vulnerability was so evocative, it was quickly uploaded to the site and has since received 11 million views. Her resulting Oprah appearances have made her an international fan favorite, generating lucrative book deals and high-five-figure keynotes.


It’s important for your TED talk to be consistent with your brand positioning and primary focus. Ask yourself, “What do I want my next one to three years of my life to look like?”
For example, a colleague was asked to give a TEDx talk about bullying since she’d had a horrific experience being bullied at work. She feels strongly about this issue, and has a lot to say about the importance of speaking up instead of waiting for HR to rescue you (not going to happen). But she is a management consultant. She doesn’t want to keep reliving that negative experience by speaking, consulting, and doing media interviews on it. It wouldn't serve her goals to drive demand that’s inconsistent with her priorities and the quality of life she seeks. It’s smarter to select an idea that’s in alignment with what she wants to accomplish the next few years.


I had an opportunity to hear the Physics Nobel Laureate Dr. John Mather speak recently. Following his talk, I asked him, “What’s your next “big idea?” He said, “I’ve got one, but I’m researching to see if anyone else has gotten there first.”
Exactly. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead said, “It’s not enough to be the best at what you do; you must be perceived to be the only one who does what you do.” Once you have a clear, compelling, current, consistent, congruent, commercially viable idea, Google it to see if anyone else has gotten there first. If they have, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should abandon the idea; it just means you should design a provocative premise around it that hasn’t been shared before.
For example, watch Sir Ken Robinson, the most-watched TED talk of all time. Certainly, other experts have talked about the need for creativity in our schools, but no one does it quite like Ken.
Does your big idea meet all seven C criteria of Original Messaging? If so, great. If not, invest the effort to craft an original idea worth repeating. Your audience, career, and legacy will thank you.

Even the President needs feedback

Fast Company takes a very high level look at the steps President Obama took to improve his debating skills after a poor showing in his first debate with Mitt Romney. The read is good through out with may Made to Stick reminders - keep it simple and practice, practice, practice. However we have been really thinking about improving sabha review so the following caught our attention.
Forage for Feedback 
Good presenters don’t totally rely on their own assessments of themselves. Instead, they seek honest feedback from trusted friends, co-workers, and family members. After each practice debate, Obama solicited opinions from his trainers, and they responded with honest feedback. 
“We’re not going to get there by continuing to grind away and marginally improve,” lead debate coach Ron Klain told him after one lackluster rehearsal. “This is not about changing the words in your debate book…this is about style, engagement, speed, presentation, attitude.”
The idea of foraging for feedback makes sense. If everyone says you did good (and does not give specifics of what the good was) or lists the many things you did wrong, that does not really help. We have to find our trusted group, our board of advisors to give us King of Ayodhya style feedback.

What's the best way to give feedback?

That is the question David Rock explores in his book Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distractions, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long.  This is a great counterpart to our previous post on feedback.  Here we mentioned that people may get angry or upset with feedback. We see this sometimes during sabha review. So instead of the compliment sandwich what if we try being the coach. From the book:

The source of the difficulty here lies in who comes up with the solution. Paul’s suggestion makes him look smarter, and Eric less smart. This impacts their relative status, which Eric is likely to fight against. The better Paul’s answer is, the more likely Eric might resist it. It’s bizarre… Paul’s giving out suggestions also threatens Eric’s autonomy: it’s no longer Eric’s choice to follow a specific path.
So how do you get around this? Don’t give a solution, ask questions and have Eric come up with the answer himself.
Eric isn’t going to take action until he has an idea that fits with his own thinking. In his current over-aroused state, he quickly rejects external ideas. Given that Eric is at an impasse, Paul needs to help him find an insight to solve this problem. If Paul can’t make direct suggestions, why can’t he just give Eric some clues about what to think about, perhaps posing a good suggestion as a question?
If you merely guide with questions, but they come up with the solution themselves, they’re less likely to feel threatened and more likely to follow through:
Instead of your looking for a gap in the form of the source of another person’s problem, the other person is finding a gap in his own thinking process. It’s not you searching for problems; it’s him searching for gaps in his thinking process. You want people to look for assumptions or decisions that don’t make sense upon further reflection.
The more you can help people find their own insights, the easier it will be to help others be effective, even when someone has lost the plot on an important project. Bringing other people to insight means letting go of “constructive performance feedback,” and replacing it with “facilitating positive change.” Instead of thinking about people’s problems and giving feedback or making suggestions, change can be facilitated faster in many instances if you think about people’s thinking, and help others think about their own thinking better. However, letting go of the default approach to problem-solving requires working against the way your brain wants to go.
When done correctly this is how sabha review should really work. The proverbial teaching someone to farm instead of giving them food. As all of us who have tried to do a sabha review understand full well - this is easier said than done. It really takes time and practice to do feedback well. If you sabha review is going well, you may want to just talk with the main speaker or work with the sabha sanchalak to practice this ask many question approach to feedback.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Body Language

The following infographic can be found at this website. There are some very interesting insights into body language and speaking. We particularly like number 7 - point directly at and look at the screen. PowerPoints can be good or bad. We have talked extensively about death by bullet points. One way to overcome this is to interact with the text as you speak. This gives some creedence to those words and could go a long way to keeping attention and convey our message. With all these ideas we have to find what works for us. However we also need to try different things so we can refine our speaking skills but also we do not want to become predicable. Click here to see a larger version.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Becoming better at speaking takes practice. However thoughtful practice enables us to improve much faster. This is why we have coaches in sports. They figure out where we need the most help and focus our attention there. They also help us accentuate our strengths. So getting better at giving a sticky talk involves first giving as many talks as we can - just putting ourselves out there. To improve rapidly involves having a coach (or a mentor) give us feedback.

Feedback is a wonderful tool if done correctly. If we are not harsh about it, point out positives as well as areas of improvement, and give specific examples of what to do better and why, feedback can work wonders. This is why many centers conduct sabha review. It is a chance to get better. The mood should be congenial and be one of learning and helping.

Feedback done incorrectly can be insufferable. We have all sat through feedback sessions where each person gives their version of the following feedback: "The talk was good." The small positive here is that it goes fast and the person who gave the talk does not feel bad. Even worse is the feedback where the person can't wait to list all the things the speaker did incorrectly. This takes for ever and the person who gave the talk usually never wants to give a talk again.

P. Santo give us guidance on giving feedback. They mention to praise the person. "You did good." This phrase has good intentions, but rings hollow. Specific praise works better. "When  you incorporated a personal prasang in your talk it really moved me and drove home the point you were making." That is much better praise - it is more heart-felt. It is specific. We can use the SUS paradigm from Made to Stick to give feedback. Comment on how well the person got their simple message across. When telling someone where to improve it is best to choose one or maybe two items that the person should focus on. Giving a laundry list will not help them and may deflate them.

Tim Harford gives a great example of this on his blog. It is exerted here:
 ‘Feedback is standard in certain environments … But it is rare for criticism to be quite so practical’
I recently gave a talk at a large venue to nearly 1,000 people. It seemed to go well but who am I to judge? The experience of giving a speech is radically different from the experience of listening to one. An adrenalin-drenched emotional rollercoaster for a nervous speaker may nevertheless be unbearably tedious for the listeners. A superbly honed performance may produce a sense of suspense, surprise and delight for the audience; the result of many hours of rehearsal and repetition for the speaker. Yet it can be very hard indeed for the speaker to know what worked and what didn’t.
Audience comments aren’t much help, either. People are polite, and they know that giving a speech is difficult, so a handshake and a “well done” could mean anything from “you moved me to tears” to “you bored me to tears”. A speaker can float through talk after talk in a warm bath of gently encouraging remarks.
On this particular day, though, I was in for less of a warm bath, more of a bracing shower. The Geoffrey Boycott of personal financial advisers was in the audience – a tall Yorkshireman with lots of unvarnished opinions that he felt duty-bound to share with me in the lobby afterwards.
“For a start, I kept wanting to offer you my tie. Next time, wear one. And your shoes – I notice things like that.” He gestured towards my evidently slightly-too-comfortable footwear.
“But that’s not what I wanted to tell you,” he continued. I waited, a little bemused. “Your first slide, instead of just telling us that it was John Maynard Keynes, you could have asked, ‘Does anyone know who this is? Anyone?’ It just gets your audience a bit more involved. I teach public speaking, you see.”
I nodded and thanked him for the suggestion but the flow of comments was relentless. “Don’t get me wrong, I liked it. But then, what you could have done was … ”
As a piece of rhetorical advice, it was too much “public speaking for beginners” to take entirely seriously. But the conversation was an absolute masterclass in how to give feedback: arresting, friendly, frank – and above all specific. My self-appointed speaking coach had identified a set of particular points he wanted done differently, and listed them clearly, with reasons, examples and the occasional word of encouragement.
Such feedback is standard in certain environments – Olympic coaches, editors on deadline and schoolteachers all provide focused constructive feedback if they’re any good. But it is rare for criticism to be quite so practical: it’s usually vague and verging on flattery or cruelty.
An alternative is the “praise sandwich”, a thin but chewy sliver of specific feedback, squeezed between two thick, doughy slabs of praise. This seems like a common sense way to combine criticism with kindness but it is not always helpful. The economist Richard Thaler once posited the idea that we practise “hedonic editing” – lumping together good and bad news to make ourselves feel better. (An example: why fret that I lost my wallet, when my house gained thousands of pounds in value just this month?) Hedonic editing allows us to take the rough with the smooth; but that makes it a dangerous way to process critical comments. It helps us feel better but it doesn’t help us perform better.
Yet there’s no use blaming the critics for being too vague: they’re vague because they know that specific criticism is not always welcome. I have taken to seeking out specific suggestions for improvement, when I can muster the courage.
It’s draining to ask for such comments. It is also difficult to provide them: if you ask people to think hard about something you should have done differently, they will often be lost for words. But there are certain, glorious exceptions. If they don’t buttonhole you in the lobby, they’re worth seeking out.