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Give A Blockbuster TED Talk

Give A Blockbuster TED Talk

Captain David Marquet imagines a work place where everyone engages and contributes their full intellectual capacity, a place where people are healthier and happier because they have more control over their work–a place where everyone is a leader. In this article for Forbes, David breaks down what it takes to create a great TED Talk, and uses Simon Sinek’s iconic TED Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, as an example:

Great TED Talks invite the audience to listen differently to imagine their lives, their work, and their world in a different way.

These effective TED talks share a common structure which has these 5 elements:

    1. Tell a story.
    2. Expose the pattern.
    3. Describe the science.
    4. Imagine the future.
    5. Take the first step.

In practice, it works like this:

  1. Tell a story. ‘Once upon a time…’ Effective talks use a story that opens the speech and gets your attention. Humans love stories. The best stories are specific enough to imagine and internalize. They have vivid detail and invoke clear imagery. It is sometimes the speaker’s own story or they they tell a story that happened to someone else, or to another group of people. Often it is just one story but it could be more than one. This part is specific, external because the story is external to the listener, and specific.
  2. Expose the pattern. ‘So what we’ve learned is that…’ Here the speaker generalizes the lesson of the story or stories. This sounds like ‘here’s what we learned’ or ‘The approach looks like this’ and he or she translates the specific action of the story into a generalized rule. This often generates an ‘aha’ moment. This part is general, external because it is the generalization of the story and it is told in a way that externalizes it.
  1. Describe the science. This is where the speaker explains that it ‘Turns out there’s scientific evidence for this.’ After appealing to the audience’s emotional response side, offering scientific evidence is a powerful to the logic-minded scientists in the group and will even make the entire think about the issue in a different.
  1. Imagine the future. ‘Imagine if you …’ The speaker invites the audience to imagine their world or their life in a different way, where they apply the external, general rule to their own circumstances. This is a critical step in the speech because it turns the focus to the listener and taps the uniquely human ability to imagine a future different than today.
  1. Take the first step. ‘What you can do tomorrow…’ Next, the speaker tells the audience a concrete action they can take to achieve the objective. It is also important for the speaker to give the audience a sense that they have sufficient control over the action so that they believe that they can actually do it. This part is specific, internal because it is about taking the specific action and it is focused internally.

Let’s take a look at how Simon Sinek’s blockbuster TED talk ‘How great leaders inspire action’ follows this pattern.

Simon opens with 3 stories, Apple, Martin Luther King and the Wright Brothers but he doesn’t give us all the detail now, he poses them as questions, why? Why were these people successful when others weren’t? That takes us to 1:10. Simon is going to come back later to each of these stories.

He then shifts to ‘As it turns out, there’s a pattern…’ This is the generalization, the rule, that each of these stories exemplify. Simon tells us that while most people communicate what-how-why, these exceptional leaders operate in the opposite direction, from the inside out, starting with why. This takes him out to about the 6-minute point.

Then, he states, ‘Here’s the best part … this is grounded in biology, this is how the brain works.’ Science.

Simon now shifts his language. While he has been talking abstractly and externally, he starts using the pronoun ‘you’ over and over. He explains the rule again but keeps saying you as he gives examples, he has shifted the focus to the audience. We call this part general, internal because it is the general story but the focus is shifted to the audience.

Simon adds detail to the story with more illustrations going into more detail with the Wright Brothers, TiVo, and the 1963 civil rights march on Washington.

He closes with ‘It’s those who start with why that have the ability to inspire those around them or find other who inspire them.’ It is not specifically a ‘here’s what you can do statement’ but it invites the audience to listen differently to how others speak and to practice starting with why themselves. We perfectly conclude with the specific, internal inviting the audience to internalize the message and take specific action.

Not every speech uses this pattern and those that follow this pattern do not always have all 5 pieces but after analyzing numerous TED talks, this common model shines through.

Here’s what you can do. In my nudge below I show you how to create a 2×2 matrix with specific/general in one dimension and external/internal along the other dimension. Map your favorite TED talk and see what parts fit in the four quadrants. Now, map your own you can capture the elements which will make your talk great.

David Marquet/Forbes/May, 2017