The Art of Talking: Lessons from TED Talks

ted1As published on LinkedIn Influencers on October 26th, 2016.

Note: TED Women 2016 begins today in San Francisco. Join the conversation on Twitter #TedWomen2016 and/or join via lifestream.

In November of 2012, I was honoured to give a TED Talk as part of the annual TEDxWomen conference, which was held that year in Washington, DC. In preparation for this event, I spent hours and hours working on my talk, going over each and every sentence. I somehow thought it was a good idea to try to memorize a 17 minute talk, and so I would walk the hills of Park City going over it again and again. To this day, I’m immensely proud of the talk I delivered. It was titled “Strap In”, and in it, I talked about gender equality and why it was time for each and every one of us to strap in and commit ourselves to creating a more gender balanced world through every means at our disposal. I spoke from the heart, as this is the issue in the world that I’m most passionate about, and I hope that those in attendance, as well as those who have since viewed the talk online, felt that passion shining through.

That being said, I’m always the first to admit that there’s always room for improvement. I guess the powers that be at TED thought so as well, because my talk was not posted on I have since learned that many are not, and mine was one of them. Trust me, a few tears were shed, and over the years I have wondered what I could have done better. Lucky for me, and countless others, the answer arrived earlier this year in the form of a book; TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, written by none other than Chris Anderson himself, the President and head curator of TED.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me personally that I have no problem getting up in front of an audience to speak. However, I am also very much aware that I am the exception, not the rule, as most people would rather be burned alive than do public speaking. And this has always fascinated me, because human beings are natural orators. For hundreds of generations, our stories have been passed down orally throughout the ages, and we have always flocked to listen to and follow great orators, whether to our immense gain or detriment. Public speaking is a vital skill, one that Anderson argues in his book should be taught in schools alongside those other vital skills such as reading and writing, and I couldn’t agree more. I thought I knew what it took to give a great speech or talk, but after reading this book, I wish I had a do over for my TED Talk, because the next time around I would do things quite differently.

The great thing about this book is that while Anderson does give practical tips on everything from preparation and planning, to presentation and what to wear, he’s also boiled down the essence of these talks to the simple notion that giving a talk is a gift that you’re giving to your audience. That’s a beautiful idea. The notion that you’re going to take your audience on a journey, and when it’s over, they’ll find themselves somewhere new and unexpected. This new worldview that you’ve given them is something that they can take with them for the rest of their lives. That’s the power of a good talk, and its potential is extraordinary.

The gift I wanted to give to my audience that nerve-racking day back in 2012 was the idea that we all have the ability to become change agents in the quest for gender equality. I argued for the “WHY of gender equality?” but also stated that it was time to declare CASE CLOSED! The evidence was in. And for anyone who still thinks that this is not an issue, the issue, at the core of so many other problems in the world, I invite you to take a look at the evidence here (over 300 of the best reports). I then turned to the question of HOW? How can people, both men and women, use their time, treasure, and talent in the pursuit of a more gender balanced world? Did I succeed in my mission to impart this gift on the crowd? You’ll have to ask them. What I do know is that it wasn’t a perfect talk, but I hope I will have more chances to perfect it, since I will continue to speak and write about this issue until my last days. And thanks to Anderson’s book, now I’ll have the tools I need to get there.

One of my favourite quotes of all time is Harold Clarke Goddard’s, “The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are won and lost, but by the stories it loves and believes in.” To me, that is the power of storytelling, and it’s a power that lies at the heart of what TED is trying to achieve. Anderson clearly believes that an idea can change the world, and I am right there with him. My idea is that a more gender balanced world will ultimately mean a better world for everyone on this planet; man, woman, or child, and it’s an idea that I believe is worth spreading. What’s your idea? What gift can you impart on the world in the form of a great talk? Thanks to the wonder of storytelling, we all have the power to change the world for the better, so get to work. We all have talks to give and stories to share. Isn’t that a glorious thought? Now if you’ll excuse me, I am about to enter the space of TED WOMEN 2016.

Please feel free to share below your favorite online TED talks below.

As for my favorites?

Here is the link to the 19 talks on the topic of Gender Equality!

My favorites on that list include: Billie Jean King, Michael Kimmel (just had a long catch up call with him yesterday), and Tony Porter!

Also Simon Senek – How Great Leaders Inspire Action (28 million views)

Amy Cuddy – Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are (37 million views)

Brene Brown – The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame

(Photos from TED Women 2012)

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