Public Speaking And Communications Tips from a TED Talk Expert
Black Enterprise magazine Fall 2019 issue

Many of us have watched at least one TED Talk that has moved us to our core. Besides amassing millions of views online, these powerful videos spark creativity, inspire innovation, and challenge our world views. Perhaps, what’s even more fascinating is that many TED speakers are ordinary people who manage to captivate a global audience simply by explaining an extraordinary idea.

The magic behind the making of a transformative TED Talk was revealed last month during an exclusive TED masterclass presented by the Marriott Bonvoy Moments program, which rewards elite Marriott travelers with exclusive opportunities and experiences that, oftentimes, money can’t buy. Held at the TED headquarters in New York City, 20 Marriott Bonvoy members received the opportunity to perfect their speaking and presentation skills from Briar Goldberg, TED’s Director of Speaker Coaching and a world-class communications specialist who’s worked with people like Mark Zuckerberg. During the one-day interactive session, Goldberg shared lessons from the same proprietary training programming that TED’s most brilliant minds completed. She also gave a breakdown of the techniques that speakers use in preparation before hitting TED’s main stage. Towards the end of the session, attendees had the opportunity to craft and present their own TED Talk.

Many of the communications practices Goldberg shared can be applied by business leaders and professionals in any industry looking to enhance their speaking skills and their careers. Good communication skills are critical whether you’re giving a boardroom presentation, an elevator pitch, a conference speech, or trying to persuade colleagues or clients. To do so you must effectively voice your ideas and speak so people listen.

Here are five public speaking and communication tips that can help any professional whether in the boardroom, by the water cooler, at a happy hour, or in a client meeting.

5 Communication Tips from a TED Speaker Coach

Put Audience Before Content

Before you develop a speech or craft a presentation, it’s critical to understand the audience that you will be speaking to and their goals. Ask yourself, “why are these people taking time out of their busy day to come and listen to me speak?,” said Goldberg. “If your goals as the communicator and your audience’s goals don’t align, that is the actual definition of a miscommunication.”

According to Goldberg, most people make decisions either based on rationale or intuition. Rational decision-makers, or “an expert audience,” are usually very knowledgeable about the topic you’re talking about. “These are people that know you or they know your business or they’re super smart,” said Goldberg. “Rational decision-makers don’t really need a lot of fluff to be persuaded. They are going to be most persuaded by logical argument—so that’s the data, that’s the statistics, that’s the quantitative arguments.”

For example, if you need to convince the board of directors at your organization to make a certain decision “you say, ‘here’s what the data says’ and then you can backfill with some other points of appeal. But you lead with the logic because they’re an expert body,” she explained.

On the other hand, someone with little knowledge of the topic you’re presenting about can be better persuaded by evoking emotion. “The opposite of an expert audience is a novice audience,” she said. “A novice audience is like when you find yourself speaking to a super broad audience generally,” she continued. Because they may not be familiar with your expertise or industry, she advised that you include information about yourself to build your credibility. “They don’t know anything about you. They don’t know anything about your industry.” She added, “a novice audience tends to be very intuitive decision-makers…They’re going to lean on your credibility as the messenger to try to figure out how they want to make a decision.”

Be Authentic

Forget big words and fancy jargon when talking to a crowd. Audiences don’t want to be orated at, said Goldberg. They want to be spoken to in a conversational manner and leave feeling like the person on stage is the same person they’d meet at a cocktail party.

“Start paying closer attention to how you talk with your friends and your family and the colleagues that you’re very close with and ask yourself, are you using the same sentence structures and the same words in your other communications? If you are not, you’re creating cognitive dissonance between you and your audience, which is an authenticity problem,” she said.

Using casual language in your work emails can also help you better connect with colleagues and clients whereas formal communication can create distance between you and them. Additionally, avoid foggy language that can confuse your audience.

Furthermore, being authentic includes using natural hand gestures and body language as opposed to looking too closed off or overly dramatic, which can make people think you’re putting on act, and, therefore, affect your likeability.

Tell a Story

People are hardwired to be drawn to stories. Stories also connect us as human beings. So, one of the best ways to captivate an audience is by telling a good story, which should be short and engaging. According to Goldberg, well-told stories follow the same roadmap:

  1. Setting
  2. Characters
  3. Conflict
  4. Climax
  5. Resolution

Don’t Use Clichés

During presentations, shy away from overused phrases like “studies suggest,” “let me introduce you to,” and “imagine a world.” Rather, name the actual study you’re citing and casually reference another person by saying things like, “I have a friend who…” or “I met a guy that…”

Don’t Use Slides, Unless You Have To

Many people use slides during a presentation to help them stay on track. Goldberg warned that slides should serve to help the audience understand or feel something. And even then use as few as possible so that your audience doesn’t get distracted and their attention stays on what you’re saying. According to LinkedIn, “55 out of 70 TED 2019 speakers used slides, but it was often just one or two.”

Learn more about Marriott Bonvoy Moments here.