Talk Like TED

"The world was and still is clearly hungry for great ideas presented in an engaging way."

- Talk Like TED, page 4

Carmine Gallo’s most recent book, Talk Like TED, follows his earlier work, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, and offers another dose of solid, helpful, practical communication advice. Two things make this book especially compelling. First, he leverages his career as a communication consultant and years of experience to give the reader the most help possible. Second, he surveyed thousands of hours of TED Talks to distill the communication secrets of the highest level communicators in our day. As an auxiliary benefit, this book curates countless TED Talks, highlighting the most engaging and effective for future viewing.

Talk Like TED, fittingly, reads like a TED Talk. It is well-organized, humorous, engaging. While on the one hand it is a comprehensive quality guide to speech and public communication, on the other hand, it really says nothing new.

He not only goes all the way back to Aristotle, he has chapters on pathos, logos, and ethos (with different labels). He uses Jesus, JFK, Socrates and Abraham Lincoln as role models. And, well he should. Human communication is not new. What’s new is the TED Talk platform where consistently strong oral and visual communication is expected, appreciated and most importantly, delivered.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Don't underestimate the power of presentation

"Don't ever let anyone get away with calling public speaking a ‘soft skill.’"
- Talk Like TED, page 121

If you expect a book on TED Talks to focus on how to make a quality presentation, you won’t be disappointed.

Here’s my bias. I am a preacher. I am the butt of jokes that remind me just how bad speaking can be. And, I have to do things that no other communicator has to do. I have to get up every week and deliver a new speech to the same audience, sometimes 2-3 speeches a week.

My main concern is content. I want to speak what is right and true. I needed to be convinced again of the role of the communicator in the act of speaking and Talk Like TED did that for me. Think about it. Given identical content, who wouldn’t rather listen to a well-delivered, well-ordered talk than a poor one? And which would you remember better?

Consistently throughout the book Mr. Gallo repeats, “without [whatever the chapter is about] the speech would not have been so memorable or effective.” He makes a good case. Ultimately, the presentation serves the content. Have something to say and say it well.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

KISS – Keep It Short Stupid!

"After someone listens to your presentation the real test is when they leave and someone asks, ‘What did that person talk about?’ I want to be good enough that they have a clear answer to that question."
- Dan Pink, Talk Like TED, page 131

The stereotypical complaint about a preacher is we talk too long. TED Talks have a well-publicized 18-minute limit. Gallo explains why that 18-minute threshold makes for much better retention and enjoyment than anything longer.

He talks about the rule of three. People can remember three things better than more. They appreciate a symmetry in three items more than higher multiples. You see this illustrated in many places, not the least of which are Actionable Books summaries. We have a The Big Idea, insight #1 and insight #2. It is easy to read, retain, and I might say, to write.

I also coach speakers. My standard exercise is to have them deliver a 7 minute talk. I had one man last week promise seven points in seven minutes – he actually brought 12 points in 12 minutes! Don’t ask me if I remember any of them!

One way to handle this would be to crystallize the big idea of your talk into a 140-character Tweet that you could post on Twitter. If you cannot do that, Gallo maintains it will not be clear enough to you. And as a result, it will be hard to bring it to your audience with sufficient force, clarity or brevity.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Make it Multi-Sensory

"People remember vivid events; they forget mundane ones."
- Talk Like TED, page 141

I read the chapters about visual content and the engagement of senses right before I began to speak about the parables of Jesus. One of the reasons we remember Jesus’ speaking so much is that it is multi-sensory. He said, “A sower went out to sow…” “A man on a journey fell among thieves…” “You are the blind leading the blind.” Jesus routinely did this.

So, I attempted to take this one step further in my Sunday message. I was speaking about the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-21). So I passed around a bag full of kernels of wheat to my suburban congregation and asked them to take one and roll it around in their fingers during the remainder of my (more than 18 minute!) talk. I tried to add, not only a tactile experience, but one that would help them think about what kind of miracle it takes for that little kernel to produce any kind of harvest!

And in that same message I heeded another piece of his advice: use fewer words on a PowerPoint slide! One could maintain that the impact of a slide is inversely proportional to the number of words on the slide. This would make a slide with a picture and no words the most impactful. He says, “Use visuals to enhance words, not duplicate.”

I would love to violate the “rule of three” and pass along other Insights from the book, but you would be best served to pick up a copy and read it yourself.

Because of the practical and enjoyable nature of Carmine Gallo’s writing, I will read his next book, too. I am convinced that I need to be a better communicator and he has shown me how! After all, as he says, “Failure to communicate effectively in business is a fast road to failure.”

You may not have the immediate application for Talk like TED quite like I did. But, your opportunity will come. What one thing can you do today to communicate more effectively?

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Scott Reavely

ABOUT Scott Reavely

I am husband to one, father to five. By day I am a pastor, by night a softball coach for 10 year-old girls. In my free time I serve on the board of Western Seminary...
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