“All the great speakers,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson, “were bad speakers at first.”
You already know the value of practice, but it doesn’t always need to be YOU on stage. “You can observe a lot just by watching,” said Yogi Berra.
The question is, what to watch?
Recently, I watched five things while reviewing two Ted talks on happiness.
1) Opening: Does the first minute grab attention?
2) Main message: Is there a single, memorable, most important thing?
3) Call to action: Is there anything you can do with this info?
4) Level of detail: Too much? Too little?
5) Energy: How enthusiastic is the presenter?
Let’s look at those Ted talks.
The first was by Dan Gilbert, a Harvard psychology professor, on “The surprising science of happiness” (21 minutes).
1) Opening: One way to capture attention is with surprising info, and Gilbert had some about lottery winners vs. paraplegics.
You’d think the first group would be happier. Think again. One year after either event, research showed no difference in happiness scores. (Skeptical? See p.s. below.)
2) Main message: We’re bad at predicting what will make us happy, or unhappy, in the future.
3) Call to action: Stop buying lottery tickets! Ok, he didn’t really say that. He said, stop getting carried away by either your longings or your worries.
(It’s better if your call to action is positive, e.g. what to DO so you don’t “get carried away.”)
4) Level of detail: Before explaining several studies, he warned, “I’m going to marinate you in data.” That didn’t sound too appealing. It wasn’t.
5) Energy: High, mostly expressed through Gilbert’s non-stop movement. (Better: alternate movement with stillness.)
The second talk was by Shawn Achor, an expert on happiness, on “The happy secret to better work” (12 minutes).
1) Opening: Achor told a story about a childhood accident. Good story, relevant point.
2) Main message: Success will not make you happier, but being happy will make you more successful.
That’s a powerful idea (I’ve paraphrased it) but it was buried. (Better: a clearly stated—and repeated—main message.)
3) Call to action: Use six techniques to create a happy brain.
4) Level of detail: Too much on Harvard, which he mentioned five times, plus showed pictures. Not enough on those six techniques, which he raced through.
5) Energy: High, mostly expressed by Achor’s rapid, vocal speed. (Better: speak fast and slow—similar to alternating movement with stillness.)
Tip: When others speak, don’t just listen. Watch.
p.s. Dan Gilbert, to his credit, years later corrected several mistakes in his talk, including one about those lottery winners. Turns out they’re happier than paraplegics—but not happier than a control group.
© Copyright 2015 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.