Book Review – Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo

talk-like-tedIf you are a fan of TED talks or at least you’ve listened to any of them, you will know that they present an array of speakers on different topics delivering short presentations usually no more than 18 minutes. Some of these presentations are brilliant and breathtaking, they keep you engaged throughout. In Talk Like TED, public speaking coach Carmine Gallo, analyses these brilliant TED presentations to uncover nine public speaking secrets. In fact the book is subtitled: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the Worlds Top Minds. In my opinion this is no ordinary book on presentation skills. Carmine definitely knows his trade and has spent a lot of hours going through 500 TED presentations, to prepare the material for this book. This is not the first time Carmine has pulled of such a feat. He previously wrote, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, which was an international best seller.

If you do read this book it will be one of the best you’ve read on presentation skills and if you apply just one of the nine principles, it will no doubt improve your public speaking skills. The book is split into three distinct parts which define three key attributes of great presentations. Each part has three chapters, making nine chapters in all covering all the secrets. This is a medium sized book with 248 pages of reading content, but the pages are quite dense. While it’s not a very visual book, pictures of speakers, charts and tables arreview to illustrate key points. There are a couple of things I really like about the book, they include:

  • Carmine’s reference to research that backs up the nine points he writes about,
  • His passion about the subject which clearly comes out in the book,
  • The use of stories and anecdotes,
  • Quality of the writing.

Below I have briefly reviewed each chapter, and I emphasize briefly because there is much more I would have liked to have written, but it would make the review too long.

Part I – Emotional

Chapter 1 – Unleash the Master Within: this chapter can be summarised in one statement: you cannot present brilliantly about a topic you are not passionate about. According to Carmine, ‘passion leads to mastery and your presentation is nothing without it. So the first secret as discussed in this chapter is passion. The best presenters are passionate about their topic. Carmine profiled a number of TED speakers to back up the secret, but there’s much more information here, he touches on research which has looked at the impact of passion and also discusses some key areas in relation to passion such as career success, persuasion, our brains and why passion works.

Chapter 2 – Master the Art of Storytelling: the fact that storytelling enhances presentations is not new, but Carmine goes into more detail as to why that is the case. Not surprisingly he starts the chapter with a story which garners your interest from the onset. According to Carmine, you should, ‘tell stories to reach people’s hearts’. This is the second secret and the story of Bryan Stevenson, another TED speaker that Carmine uses to explain the secret is quite inspirational. Carmine writes that stories work because, ‘brain scans reveal that stories stimulate and engage the human brain, helping the speaker connect with the audience and making it much more likely the audience will agree with the speaker’s point of view. Concerning stories this chapter will teach you about:

  • How stories impact our brains,
  • Three simple and effective types of stories,
  • Leading with stories.

Chapter 3 – Have a Conversation:here is the third secret, ‘practice relentlessly and internalize your content so that you can deliver the presentation as comfortably as having a conversation with a close friend.’ Carmine uses the example of Amanda Palmer, a TED  speaker to explain how to deliver a great presentation going through the process she followed to prepare for her TED talk. I also like the bit on, ‘how to say it so people listen,’ which looks at the verbal delivery rate. But I do feel the aspect of this chapter that people will find most useful is the information on body language and gestures.Carmine uses examples from various speakers such as Colin Powell.

Part II – Novel

Chapter 4 – Teach Me Something New: Carmine’s fourth public speaking secret is, ‘teach me something new.’ He describes it this way, ‘reveal information that’s completely new to your audience, packaged differently or offers a fresh and novel way to solve an old problem.’ This works because, ‘the human brain loves novelty. An unfamiliar, unusual, or unexpected element in a presentation intrigues the audience, jolts them out of their preconceived notions, and quickly gives them a new way of looking at the world.’ To explain this secret, he used examples of speakers who have used the secret. One of them is TED speaker, Hans Rowling (I’ve watched this one), who used animated charts to show changes to the world from 1962 to 2003. He presented a new way of looking at global population trends. Han’s talk has been viewed over 5 million times. The summary of this secret is that great presenters showcase things in ways we haven’t previously seen or thought about them, they apply an element of novelty.

Chapter 5 – Deliver Jaw-Dropping Moments: when Bill Gates wanted to make a point about the spread of malaria at his TED  2009 presentation, this is what happened: ‘while on stage he opened up a glass jar and said, “malaria is spread by mosquitoes. I brought some here. I’ll let them roam around. There is no reason only poor people should be affected.”‘ The audience sat there stunned, seconds later he let them know the mosquitoes he brought were malaria free. The people were relieved. Not only had Gates made his point, he had got the audience’s attention. Carmine uses this story to illustrate the fifth secret which he describes this way, ‘the jaw-dropping moment in a presentation is when the presenter delivers a shocking, impressive or surprising moment that is so moving and memorable, it grabs the listener’s attention and is remembered long after the presentation is over. Carmine believes it works because it creates an emotionally charged moment that people don’t forget. Throughout this chapter Carmine uses various stories to get his point across and he touches on good storytelling again which we know can be used to deliver emotionally charged moments. The key message here is, find and use emotional events or moments in your presentation that people will be talking about the next day.

Chapter 6 – Lighten Up: Ken Robinson is not the most popular person to have spoken on a TED stage, but his talk is the most viewed at over 15 million views. Why? Carmine believes one of the reasons is his use of humour. According to Carmine Ken Robinson expertly weaves anecdotes, stories and humour into a narrative that catches the audience’s attention. And Ken Robinson’s example perfectly explains what the sixth secret is about, using humour in our presentations. This is how Carmine describes the secret: ‘don’t take yourself (or your topic) too seriously. The brain loves humor. Give yourself something to smile about. It works because humour lowers defenses making the audience more receptive to your message. It may also make you more likeable. Carmine even presents some of Ken Robinson’s speech which in all honesty is quite humourous, and I know that because I’ve seen the talk too. There are lots of advice on how to use humour here, below are some quick points:

  • Using humour can be risky and it takes courage, so when using it be authentic. Don’t try to be somebody you are not,
  • Use funny videos, photos, quotes, analogies and metaphors,
  • Don’t take yourself and your presentation too serious.

Part III

Chapter 7 – Stick to the 18-Minute Rule:if you are a lecturer used to giving hour long talks, how do you deliver an 18 minute speech? That was Larry Smith’s challenge at the November 2011 TED conference, to give an 18 minute talk.Smith stated that, ‘I think my students asked me to do it because they thought it would kill me!’ It didn’t kill Smith and when asked later by Carmine why the 18 minute rule works, this was his answer: ‘thinking is hard work. In 18 minutes you can make an argument and attract people’s attention.’ This is the seventh secret and Carmine describes it this way, ‘Eighteen minutes is the ideal time for a presentation. If you must create one that is longer build in soft breaks (stories, videos, demonstrations) every 10 minutes. Carmine says it works according to research because too much information prevents the transmission of ideas. In other words, a long presentation can prevent people from learning because too much information is being presented at once.Chris Anderson, TED curator, stated that, ’18 minutes is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention. Carmine presents more arguments to support the 18-minute rule. These include:

  • Listening to too much information is draining,
  • It takes a lot of energy to listen and learn and the brain gets tired easily,
  • Constraints are key to a creative presentation.

My favourite aspect of this chapter is Carmine’s discussion of the rule of three, which alludes to the fact that it’s difficult for people to remember more than three items of information, so condense your presentation into three items. He shows us a practical way to do that.

Chapter 8 – Paint a Mental Picture with Multisensory Experiences: during the TED conference in 2009, Michael Pritchard used pictures of a child drinking dirty water, statistics, actual dirty water on stage and a demonstration of purifying and then drinking the water to showcase his invention, the LIFESAVER filter, which turns filthy water into drinkable water. During his presentation Michael used multisensory experiences to paint a vivid picture that grabbed the audience’s attention. He used three things to make his presentation memorable – photographs, statistics, and demonstrations. His presentation has been viewed over three million times. Painting a mental picture with multisensory experiences is the eight secret. Carmine describes it this way: deliver presentations with components that touch more than one of the senses: sight, touch, taste and smell. This works because the brain does not pay attention to boring things. Also multimedia experiences enhance learning. Here is some advice to deliver multisensory compelling presentations:

  1. Use visuals that are catching,
  2. Complement the visuals with sound, preferring the sound of you speaking and make sure what you say is congruent to your visuals,
  3. Do something that people feel, something that touches their emotions.

Great presenters have the ability to combine all three and Carmine presents some good examples in this chapter.

Chapter 9 – Stay in Your Lane: And finally the last secret. It can be sumnarised in two words, be authentic. Unlike the other eight secrets, Carmine does not present any practical or technical skill here. He uses an example from Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook to illustrate his point, and describes it as: be authentic, open and transparent. And why does it work? Most people can spot a phony. If you try to be something or someone you’re not, you’ll fail to gain the trust of your audience, so be you. Carmines emphasizes that while you can learn from others and the success they have achieved, you will never be a successful presenter unless you leave your own mark, hence you are adviced to stay in your lane.

I tremendously enjoyed reviewing this book, and to be honest I’ve written more of a summary than a review because I found the book to be very informative and practical. I wanted to curate as much lessons as possible from it, so instead of just reviewing, I have summarised some lessons from it. The book is is so well written that you don’t need to read it cover to cover to get a good grasp of the nine secrets. If you really want to improve your presentation skills, this is one book you must read.

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