May 25, 2019

Why can't every talk be a TED talk?



TEDxUCLA
TED talks are the "it girl" of speaking. Everyone wants their presentation to be as cool as a TED talk, as profound as a TED talk, and as viral as a TED talk.

I'm a huge fan of TED talks (and their locally-produced TEDx brethren). I've written about many of them here on Speak Schmeak, in fact. I admire the ability of TED speakers to quickly and concisely express their big idea in a compelling way, using stories, analogies and sometimes visuals to share their message.

When you only have 18 minutes or less to make an impact, you keep it simple.

However, in a TED talk, you also have minimal tools at your disposal. TED talks are time-limited on purpose: "...short enough to hold people's attention, including on the internet, and precise enough to be taken seriously. But it's also long enough to say something that matters."

In my workshops (which are often a day and a half long), I'm asked by my corporate training clients to address specific learning objectives and teach specific skills. Not only do I teach skills, but I also give my participants time to practice the skills they've learned.

I teach a range of public speaking concepts, provide activities and exercises to help the group internalize and remember the concepts, and then provide practical feedback as they practice the skills related to the concepts. There's also a lot of "white space," time to process what the group is learning, to take breaks and to sleep on new concepts.

Sorry, but 18 minutes isn't enough.

I remember reading a Seth Godin article once where he gave tips for effective presentations, and he suggested that the perfect length for a presentation was: "Most of the time, the right answer is, 'ten.' Ten minutes of breathtaking big ideas with big pictures and big type and few words and scary thoughts and startling insights. And then, and then, spend the rest of your time just talking to me. Interacting. Answering questions. Leading a discussion." Most of the time? I have to disagree.

There is no one right answer for how long a presentation should be. There is no one right answer for what style a presentation should be. There is no one right answer for "slides or no slides." 

There is no one right way to achieve the desired outcomes of a presentation, because there are many, many reasons we give presentations, and there are as many presentation styles as there are reasons to give presentations!

There's a reason we have 60-minute conference breakouts, and 20-minute keynotes, and short TED-style talks, and 2-minute quick tips, and "un-presentations," and PechaKucha, and pitch weekends, and group discussions, and Ignite-style talks, and 3-day workshops, and other alternative ways of presenting.

Each kind of presentation serves a unique purpose. Each audience has different needs and goals. Each presenter has different ways of achieving results.

My jam is training. Sure, I can do a ten-minute talk, and I have! I can do 60 seconds if necessary. I can be persuasive and inspiring and even teach some public speaking skills in that amount of time.

But it's not my preference, and the people who hire me do so because my jam is jumping into the deep end with their people and getting into the nitty gritty details of presentation skills, speaker mindset, confidence-building, audience engagement, ditching perfection and creating connection.

Truthfully, only about four hours of a 1 1/2-day training is straight content, though experiential. The rest of the time is practice, which sparks questions and discussion.

In follow-up surveys with clients who did experiential training vs. clients who only received the content but no practice, 90% of participants with experiential training are still using their skills three months later and 95% feel from 50-300% more confident about their speaking skills than they did before the training.

Contrast this result with participants who only received content (as well as all the tools at my disposal except practice: stories, analogies, exercises, activity, group discussion, visuals and more): only 79% of participants are still using their skills three months later. The confidence numbers are slightly lower, too. Okay, so these follow-up results aren't terrible (what can I say? I'm good at what I do...), but if my participants could do better with experiential learning, they should get experiential learning!

What are the needs of your audience? What is your jam as a presenter? 

I know everyone wants the "magic bullet," the one "right answer" to every question. What's the one magic way to lose weight and keep it off forever? What's the one magic way to make a million dollars and never have to worry about money again? What's the one magic way to give a presentation that wins you raving fans, clients and viral success?

Nope. There is no one right answer. No magic bullet. And no, every talk can't be a TED talk, nor should it be. 

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Are you an entrepreneur or professional who's looking for better results from your speaking? Are you hoping to build credibility and visibility for your business or cause? Tired of just "getting by" and ready to deliver truly engaging and powerful presentations? Click here to fill out my consultation questionnaire and we'll schedule a time to talk!

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