I saw a talk recently which ticked many of the important boxes for a good talk. It was well-constructed, the speaker knew her talk exceptionally well without needing notes or slides, there were persuasive points, she spoke clearly and with good use of pauses, and there was a clear message.
Why, then, did I feel it wasn’t a great talk? It’s because there was a missing ingredient, and without it, the talk felt like an eclair without chocolate, or a balloon with no air.
So what was this magical missing ingredient? Herself. There was nothing personal at all in her talk. Why was she talking about this topic? Why did she care? The listener had no idea. Her theory and second-hand examples were not nearly powerful enough.
People don’t want you to spout facts or talk about things that happened to other people. If you’re not the best person to talk about your subject, choose another subject – or another speaker.
Let me illustrate the alternative. This morning I watched a fantastic TEDx talk which had a massive personal element. Scott Stratten (of Unmarketing fame) talked at TEDx Oakville about himself, his family, and things which happened to them. He talked about this story with passion and real emotion, and truly invested himself in his talk.
Watch and enjoy – and try not to cry.
Right, now you know what I’m talking about. Could you imagine that talk being anywhere near as powerful if Scott had talked about these same things happening to someone else? Of course not. Scott had a message for us, and he got that message across by engaging our emotions.
He laid himself bare. This was extremely naked presenting. Scott talked about things he did and felt which he’s not so proud of now – his human failings. He spoke with genuine emotion about his son, his ex-wife and his girlfriend. He didn’t just relate facts – he brought us into his story and made us feel what he was feeling. That’s the magical ingredient which all too often is missing. Scott was the absolute best person to talk about his subject, because it was HIS subject.
He also used some very good techniques, which I’ll mention in passing:
- An amusing opening, about him and Justin Bieber – which also served to introduce him as a well-known social media influencer for those who weren’t aware
- Frequent repetition of key themes (“being a big deal isn’t a big deal”, “you just keep going”)
- No distracting slides – this story didn’t need any
- A clear conclusion which speaks directly to TED audiences (“I think that’s an idea worth spreading”)
The magical ingredient for your talk is yourself. Think of your talk as a balloon, and yourself as the air to pump it up. Make sure you put enough of yourself into it, your own experience, your passion, your emotions, your convictions and even your failings, and the balloon will fly.
However, don’t pump it up too much with “look what I did, look how great I am” – otherwise the balloon will burst. Nobody wants to hear someone talk about how fantastic they are. If you give a great talk full of passion, experience and personal emotion, and have the strength to show your human failings, they’ll realise for themselves how fantastic you are.