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Chris Anderson: TED's secret to great public speaking

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There's no single formula for a great talk, but there is a secret ingredient that all the best ones have in common. TED curator Chris Anderson shares this secret -- along with four ways to make it work for you. Do you have what it takes to share an idea worth spreading?

- TED Curator
After a long career in journalism and publishing, Chris Anderson became the curator of the TED Conference in 2002 and has developed it as a platform for identifying and disseminating ideas worth spreading. Full bio

Some people think that there's
a TED Talk formula:
00:12
"Give a talk on a round, red rug."
00:15
"Share a childhood story."
00:17
"Divulge a personal secret."
00:18
"End with an inspiring call to action."
00:20
No.
00:23
That's not how to think of a TED Talk.
00:24
In fact, if you overuse those devices,
00:26
you're just going to come across
as clichéd or emotionally manipulative.
00:28
But there is one thing that all
great TED Talks have in common,
00:32
and I would like to share
that thing with you,
00:36
because over the past 12 years,
I've had a ringside seat,
00:39
listening to many hundreds
of amazing TED speakers, like these.
00:42
I've helped them prepare
their talks for prime time,
00:46
and learned directly from them
00:49
their secrets of what
makes for a great talk.
00:50
And even though these speakers
and their topics all seem
00:53
completely different,
00:56
they actually do have
one key common ingredient.
00:57
And it's this:
01:01
Your number one task as a speaker
01:03
is to transfer into your listeners' minds
an extraordinary gift --
01:05
a strange and beautiful object
that we call an idea.
01:10
Let me show you what I mean.
01:16
Here's Haley.
01:17
She is about to give a TED Talk
01:18
and frankly, she's terrified.
01:20
(Video) Presenter: Haley Van Dyck!
01:22
(Applause)
01:24
Over the course of 18 minutes,
01:30
1,200 people, many of whom
have never seen each other before,
01:32
are finding that their brains
are starting to sync with Haley's brain
01:36
and with each other.
01:40
They're literally beginning to exhibit
the same brain-wave patterns.
01:41
And I don't just mean
they're feeling the same emotions.
01:45
There's something even more
startling happening.
01:48
Let's take a look inside
Haley's brain for a moment.
01:50
There are billions of interconnected
neurons in an impossible tangle.
01:54
But look here, right here --
01:58
a few million of them
are linked to each other
02:00
in a way which represents a single idea.
02:03
And incredibly, this exact pattern
is being recreated in real time
02:06
inside the minds of everyone listening.
02:10
That's right; in just a few minutes,
02:13
a pattern involving millions of neurons
02:15
is being teleported into 1,200 minds,
02:18
just by people listening to a voice
and watching a face.
02:21
But wait -- what is an idea anyway?
02:24
Well, you can think of it
as a pattern of information
02:27
that helps you understand
and navigate the world.
02:31
Ideas come in all shapes and sizes,
02:34
from the complex and analytical
02:36
to the simple and aesthetic.
02:38
Here are just a few examples
shared from the TED stage.
02:40
Sir Ken Robinson -- creativity
is key to our kids' future.
02:43
(Video) Sir Ken Robinson:
My contention is that creativity now
02:47
is as important in education as literacy,
02:50
and we should treat it
with the same status.
02:53
Chris Anderson: Elora Hardy --
building from bamboo is beautiful.
02:56
(Video) Elora Hardy:
It is growing all around us,
02:59
it's strong, it's elegant,
it's earthquake-resistant.
03:01
CA: Chimamanda Adichie --
people are more than a single identity.
03:05
(Video) Chimamanda Adichie:
The single story creates stereotypes,
03:09
and the problem with stereotypes
is not that they are untrue,
03:12
but that they are incomplete.
03:17
CA: Your mind is teeming with ideas,
03:19
and not just randomly.
03:21
They're carefully linked together.
03:23
Collectively they form
an amazingly complex structure
03:25
that is your personal worldview.
03:28
It's your brain's operating system.
03:30
It's how you navigate the world.
03:32
And it is built up out of millions
of individual ideas.
03:34
So, for example, if one little
component of your worldview
03:38
is the idea that kittens are adorable,
03:42
then when you see this,
03:44
you'll react like this.
03:47
But if another component of your worldview
03:48
is the idea that leopards are dangerous,
03:51
then when you see this,
03:53
you'll react a little bit differently.
03:54
So, it's pretty obvious
03:57
why the ideas that make up
your worldview are crucial.
03:59
You need them to be as reliable
as possible -- a guide,
04:03
to the scary but wonderful
real world out there.
04:06
Now, different people's worldviews
can be dramatically different.
04:09
For example,
04:14
how does your worldview react
when you see this image:
04:15
(Video) Dalia Mogahed:
What do you think when you look at me?
04:19
"A woman of faith,"
"an expert," maybe even "a sister"?
04:22
Or "oppressed," "brainwashed,"
04:28
"a terrorist"?
04:32
CA: Whatever your answer,
04:33
there are millions of people out there
who would react very differently.
04:35
So that's why ideas really matter.
04:38
If communicated properly,
they're capable of changing, forever,
04:40
how someone thinks about the world,
04:44
and shaping their actions both now
and well into the future.
04:46
Ideas are the most powerful force
shaping human culture.
04:51
So if you accept
04:55
that your number one task
as a speaker is to build an idea
04:56
inside the minds of your audience,
04:59
here are four guidelines
for how you should go about that task:
05:01
One, limit your talk
to just one major idea.
05:04
Ideas are complex things;
05:09
you need to slash back your content
so that you can focus
05:11
on the single idea
you're most passionate about,
05:14
and give yourself a chance
to explain that one thing properly.
05:17
You have to give context,
share examples, make it vivid.
05:20
So pick one idea,
05:24
and make it the through-line
running through your entire talk,
05:25
so that everything you say
links back to it in some way.
05:29
Two, give your listeners a reason to care.
05:33
Before you can start building things
inside the minds of your audience,
05:37
you have to get their permission
to welcome you in.
05:41
And the main tool to achieve that?
05:44
Curiosity.
05:46
Stir your audience's curiosity.
05:47
Use intriguing, provocative questions
05:49
to identify why something
doesn't make sense and needs explaining.
05:52
If you can reveal a disconnection
in someone's worldview,
05:56
they'll feel the need
to bridge that knowledge gap.
06:00
And once you've sparked that desire,
06:04
it will be so much easier
to start building your idea.
06:06
Three, build your idea, piece by piece,
06:10
out of concepts that your audience
already understands.
06:13
You use the power of language
06:17
to weave together
concepts that already exist
06:18
in your listeners' minds --
06:21
but not your language, their language.
06:23
You start where they are.
06:25
The speakers often forget that many
of the terms and concepts they live with
06:27
are completely unfamiliar
to their audiences.
06:30
Now, metaphors can play a crucial role
in showing how the pieces fit together,
06:33
because they reveal
the desired shape of the pattern,
06:38
based on an idea that the listener
already understands.
06:42
For example, when Jennifer Kahn
06:46
wanted to explain the incredible
new biotechnology called CRISPR,
06:48
she said, "It's as if, for the first time,
06:51
you had a word processor to edit DNA.
06:54
CRISPR allows you to cut and paste
genetic information really easily."
06:57
Now, a vivid explanation like that
delivers a satisfying aha moment
07:02
as it snaps into place in our minds.
07:06
It's important, therefore,
to test your talk on trusted friends,
07:08
and find out which parts
they get confused by.
07:12
Four, here's the final tip:
07:15
Make your idea worth sharing.
07:17
By that I mean, ask yourself the question:
07:21
"Who does this idea benefit?"
07:23
And I need you to be honest
with the answer.
07:26
If the idea only serves you
or your organization,
07:29
then, I'm sorry to say,
it's probably not worth sharing.
07:32
The audience will see right through you.
07:35
But if you believe that the idea
has the potential
07:37
to brighten up someone else's day
07:40
or change someone else's
perspective for the better
07:42
or inspire someone to do
something differently,
07:45
then you have the core ingredient
to a truly great talk,
07:48
one that can be a gift to them
and to all of us.
07:51

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About the speaker:

Chris Anderson - TED Curator
After a long career in journalism and publishing, Chris Anderson became the curator of the TED Conference in 2002 and has developed it as a platform for identifying and disseminating ideas worth spreading.

Why you should listen

Chris Anderson is the Curator of TED, a nonprofit devoted to sharing valuable ideas, primarily through the medium of 'TED Talks' -- short talks that are offered free online to a global audience.

Chris was born in a remote village in Pakistan in 1957. He spent his early years in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where his parents worked as medical missionaries, and he attended an American school in the Himalayas for his early education. After boarding school in Bath, England, he went on to Oxford University, graduating in 1978 with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics.

Chris then trained as a journalist, working in newspapers and radio, including two years producing a world news service in the Seychelles Islands.

Back in the UK in 1984, Chris was captivated by the personal computer revolution and became an editor at one of the UK's early computer magazines. A year later he founded Future Publishing with a $25,000 bank loan. The new company initially focused on specialist computer publications but eventually expanded into other areas such as cycling, music, video games, technology and design, doubling in size every year for seven years. In 1994, Chris moved to the United States where he built Imagine Media, publisher of Business 2.0 magazine and creator of the popular video game users website IGN. Chris eventually merged Imagine and Future, taking the combined entity public in London in 1999, under the Future name. At its peak, it published 150 magazines and websites and employed 2,000 people.

This success allowed Chris to create a private nonprofit organization, the Sapling Foundation, with the hope of finding new ways to tackle tough global issues through media, technology, entrepreneurship and, most of all, ideas. In 2001, the foundation acquired the TED Conference, then an annual meeting of luminaries in the fields of Technology, Entertainment and Design held in Monterey, California, and Chris left Future to work full time on TED.

He expanded the conference's remit to cover all topics, including science, business and key global issues, while adding a Fellows program, which now has some 300 alumni, and the TED Prize, which grants its recipients "one wish to change the world." The TED stage has become a place for thinkers and doers from all fields to share their ideas and their work, capturing imaginations, sparking conversation and encouraging discovery along the way.

In 2006, TED experimented with posting some of its talks on the Internet. Their viral success encouraged Chris to begin positioning the organization as a global media initiative devoted to 'ideas worth spreading,' part of a new era of information dissemination using the power of online video. In June 2015, the organization posted its 2,000th talk online. The talks are free to view, and they have been translated into more than 100 languages with the help of volunteers from around the world. Viewership has grown to approximately one billion views per year.

Continuing a strategy of 'radical openness,' in 2009 Chris introduced the TEDx initiative, allowing free licenses to local organizers who wished to organize their own TED-like events. More than 8,000 such events have been held, generating an archive of 60,000 TEDx talks. And three years later, the TED-Ed program was launched, offering free educational videos and tools to students and teachers.

More profile about the speaker
Chris Anderson | Speaker | TED.com