Excerpts - Talk Like Ted

July 8, 2022

PART I Emotional

Unleash the Master Within

Dig deep to identify your unique and meaningful connection to your presentation topic. Passion leads to mastery and your presentation is nothing without it, but keep in mind that what fires you up might not be the obvious. Aimee Mullins isn’t passionate about prosthetics; she’s passionate about unleashing human potential.

Why it works: Science shows that passion is contagious, literally. You cannot inspire others unless you are inspired yourself.

For years I started with the same question during my coaching sessions with a client—what are you passionate about? In the early stage of building a story, I don’t care about the product as much as I care about why the speaker is fired up about the product or service. Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, once told me he wasn’t passionate about coffee as much as he was passionate about “building a third place between work and home, a place where employees would be treated with respect and offer exceptional customer service.” Coffee is the product, but Starbucks is in the business of customer service. Tony Hsieh, the founder of online retailer Zappos, isn’t passionate about shoes. He told me he’s passionate about “delivering happiness.” The questions he asks himself are: How do I make my employees happy? How do I make my customers happy? The questions you ask will lead to a very different set of results. Asking yourself, “What’s my product?” isn’t nearly as effective as asking yourself, “What business am I really in? What am I truly passionate about?”

Steve Jobs said, “It’s the intersection of technology and liberal arts that makes our hearts sing.” So today I’ve replaced “What are you passionate about” with “What makes your heart sing?” The answer to the second question is even more profound and exciting than the former.

Question 1: What do you do? “I’m the CEO of the California Strawberry Commission.”

Question 2: What are you passionate about? “I’m passionate about promoting California strawberries.”

Question 3: What is it about the industry that makes your heart sing? “The American dream. My parents were immigrants and worked in the fields. Eventually they were able to buy an acre of land and it grew from there. With strawberries, you don’t need a lot of land and you don’t need to own it; you can lease it. It’s a stepping stone to the American dream.”

According to Ricard, happiness is a “deep sense of serenity and fulfillment.” Ricard should know. He’s not just pleased with his life. He’s really, really happy. Scientifically, he’s off-the-charts happy. Ricard volunteered for a study at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Research scientists placed 256 tiny electrodes on Ricard’s scalp to measure his brain waves. The study was conducted on hundreds of people who practice meditation. They were rated on a happiness scale. Ricard didn’t just score above average; the researchers couldn’t find anything like it in the neuroscience literature. The brain scans showed “excessive activity in his brain’s left prefrontal cortex compared to its right counterpart, giving him an abnormally large capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity.”

“Authentic happiness can only come from the long-term cultivation of wisdom, altruism, and compassion, and from the complete eradication of mental toxins, such as hatred, grasping, and ignorance.”

Amazingly, if your motivation is to share your passion with your audience, it’s likely that you’ll feel less nervous about speaking in public or delivering that all-important presentation in front of your boss. I asked Ricard how he remains calm and relaxed in front of large audiences. Ricard believes that anyone can talk him- or herself into feeling joy, bliss, and happiness when they choose to do so. It all comes down to your motivation. If your only goal is to make a sale or to elevate your stature, you might fail to connect with your audience (and you’ll place a lot of pressure on yourself). If, however, your goal is more altruistic—giving your audience information to help them live better lives—you’ll make a deeper connection and feel more comfortable in your role. “I am very happy to share ideas, but as an individual I have nothing to lose or to gain,” said Ricard. “I don’t care about my image, I have no business deal to cut, and I am not trying to impress anyone. I am just full of joy to be able to say a few words about the fact that we vastly underestimate the power of transforming the mind.”

The only way to have a great career, says Smith, is to do what you love. Smith channeled his frustration into an inspiring, passionate, and humorous TEDx lecture, “Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career.”

“You’ve got to follow your passion. You’ve got to figure out what it is you love—who you really are. And have the courage to do that. I believe that the only courage anybody ever needs is the courage to follow your own dreams.”

happiness is a choice, an attitude that is contagious, and your state of mind will positively affect the way your listeners perceive you.


TED speakers connect with their audiences: they speak about topics that are salient to their self-identity.

Dr. Jill had a great career, as Larry Smith would say, because she discovered and pursued her life’s calling, well before the traumatic event that would make her an inspiring speaker. Dr. Jill became a brain scientist because her brother had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. “As a sister and later, as a scientist, I wanted to understand, why is it that I can take my dreams, I can connect them to my reality, and I can make my dreams come true? What is it about my brother’s brain and his schizophrenia that he cannot connect his dreams to a common and shared

...spoke to Dr. Jill about her presentation style—how she builds the story, practices it, and delivers it. Dr. Jill’s advice to educators and communicators: tell a story and express your passion. “When I was at Harvard, I was the one winning the awards,” Dr. Jill told me. “I wasn’t winning the awards because my science was better than anyone else’s. I was winning the awards because I could tell a story that was interesting and fascinating and it was mine, down to the detail.”

“The brain areas involved in language—the areas that help you talk and explain ideas more clearly—these brain areas become more activated and more efficient the more they are used. The more you speak in public, the more the actual structure of the brain changes. If you speak a lot in public, language areas of the brain become more developed.”

Without saying a word, the highly charismatic individuals were able to affect the mood of the low charismatics. If the highly charismatic person was happy, the low charismatic would report being happier, too. It did not, however, work the other way around. Charismatic people smiled more and had more energy in their nonverbal body language. They exuded joy and passion. Friedman’s study showed that passion does indeed rub off on others. People who did not communicate emotionally (little eye contact, sitting stiffly, no hand gestures) were not nearly as capable of influencing and persuading others as high charismatics.

Richard Branson hires people with the Virgin attitude: they smile a lot, are positive and enthusiastic. As a result, they are better communicators.

The simplest way to identify that which you are truly passionate about is to ask yourself the question I raised earlier in the chapter: “What makes my heart sing?”

Master the Art of Storytelling

Secret 2: Master the Art of Storytelling Tell stories to reach people’s hearts and minds Why it works: Bryan Stevenson, the speaker who earned the longest standing ovation in TED history, spent 65 percent of his presentation telling stories. Brain scans reveal that stories stimulate and engage the human brain, helping the speaker connect with the audience and making it much more likely that the audience will agree with the speaker’s point of view. BREAK DOWN THE WALL WITH STORIES Stevenson spoke for five minutes before he introduced his first statistics about how many people are incarcerated in U.S. prisons and the percentage of those who are poor and/or African-American. Data supported his thesis, but a story took up the first one-third of his presentation. It wasn’t just any story, either. Stevenson purposely chose to tell a story that made it easy for his audience to connect with him on a personal and emotional level.

“If you start with something too esoteric and disconnected from the lives of everyday people, it’s harder for people to engage. I often talk about family members because most of us have family members that we have a relationship to. I talk about kids and people who are vulnerable or struggling. All of those narratives are designed to help understand the issues.”

“Our visions of technology and design and entertainment and creativity have to be married with visions of humanity, compassion, and justice. And more than anything, for those of you who share that, I’ve simply come to tell you to keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.”

Ben Affleck: Director’s Notes Actor/director Ben Affleck considers Stevenson’s presentation among his favorite TED talks. Affleck has seen many presentations, lectures, and talks about social justice, yet it was Stevenson’s conversation—and it was more of a conversation than a formal presentation—that left an indelible impression on Affleck. “Human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson shares some hard truths about America’s justice system … these issues, which are wrapped up in America’s unexamined history, are rarely talked about with this level of candor, insight and persuasiveness.”

Almost all of what we’re trying to do turns on effective communication. You need data, facts, and analysis to challenge people, but you also need narrative to get people comfortable enough to care about the community that you are advocating for. Your audience needs to be willing to go with you on a journey.”


Stevenson has pathos. The Greek philosopher Aristotle is one of the founding fathers of communication theory. He believed that persuasion occurs when three components are represented: ethos, logos, and pathos.

Bryan Stevenson’s presentation contained 4,057 words. I analyzed those words and assigned them into each of the three categories. If Stevenson talked about his work in prisons, I placed that sentence or paragraph in the category Ethos. When Stevenson delivered statistics, I added those sentences to the category Logos. If Stevenson told a story, I placed the content under Pathos.

Ethos made up only 10 percent of Stevenson’s content, and Logos only 25 percent. Pathos made up a full 65 percent of Stevenson’s talk. Remarkably, Stevenson’s talk has been voted one of the most “persuasive” on TED.com. To “persuade” is defined as influencing someone to act by appealing to reason. Emotion doesn’t appear in the definition, yet without the emotional impact of stories, Stevenson’s talk would have failed to have the influence it’s had. You simply cannot persuade through logic alone. Who says so? Some of the most logical minds in the world.


Dale Carnegie believed in the power of stories to inspire audiences.

Carnegie once said, “The ideas I stand for are not mine. I borrowed them from Socrates. I swiped them from Chesterfield. I stole them from Jesus. And I put them in a book. If you don’t like their rules whose would you use?”

If stories trigger brain-to-brain “coupling,” then part of the solution to winning people over to your argument is to tell more stories.


“We all love stories. We’re born for them. Stories affirm who we are. We all want affirmations that our lives have meaning. And nothing does a greater affirmation than when we connect through stories. It can cross the barriers of time, past, present and future, and allow us to experience the similarities between ourselves and through others, real and imagined.”7 —Andrew Stanton, writer of “Toy Story,” TED February 2012


The first are personal stories that relate directly to the theme of the conversation or presentation; second are stories about other people who have learned a lesson the audience can relate to; third are stories involving the success or failure of products or brands. Personal Stories Stories are central to who we are. The most popular TED presentations start with a personal story. Recall the touching stories Bryan Stevenson told about his grandmother and the janitor who gave him an energizing piece of advice: “keep your eyes on the prize.” The ability to tell a personal story is an essential trait of authentic leadership—people who inspire uncommon effort. So, tell personal stories. What are your fondest memories of a loved one? You probably have a story to tell about that person. My daughters enjoy hearing stories of their grandfather (their “nonno”) who was held captive in World War II, how he tried to escape, and how he and my mom eventually emigrated to America with $20 in their pocket. Stories like this one are central to our identity as a family. I’m sure it’s the same for you.

The first are personal stories that relate directly to the theme of the conversation or presentation; second are stories about other people who have learned a lesson the audience can relate to; third are stories involving the success or failure of products or brands.

Personal Stories If you’re going to tell a “personal” story, make it personal. Take the audience on a journey. Make it so descriptive and rich with imagery that they imagine themselves with you at the time of the event.

Ariely also uses a very effective storytelling technique—unexpectedness. In Made to Stick, Dan and Chip Heath reveal several elements of a “sticky” idea, one that people remember. According to the Heaths, “The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern.”

“Curiosity, he says, happens when we feel a gap in our knowledge … gaps cause pain. When we want to know something but don’t, it’s like having an itch that we need to scratch. To take away the pain, we need to fill the knowledge gap. We sit patiently through bad movies, even though they may be painful to watch, because it’s too painful not to know how they end.”

Tell personal stories, but choose them carefully. A personal experience that led to an unexpected result often makes for a particularly compelling story.

Stories about Other People Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen gives a TED-worthy performance every week to 40,000 people who attend his sermons in person and another seven million who watch him on television.

Osteen always begins a sermon with a theme.

He followed with a short anecdote about a friend of his.

After establishing pathos with the audience, Osteen turned to logos and shared the following statistics with the audience.

Osteen followed the statistics with many more stories. Characters included biblical figures, people who attended Lakewood services, historical personalities (Albert Einstein failed 2,000 times), and his own mother, who was seated in the front row.

Osteen shares a quality with popular TED speakers: they are masters at creating empathy. Empathy is the capacity to recognize and feel emotions experienced by somebody else. We put ourselves in the shoes of the other.

Stories about Brand Success Godin tells three stories that support his theme: smart marketers promote their products differently; ordinary is boring. Godin persuasively argues that the riskiest thing to do is “be safe,” or average, and he uses short and simple stories to do

Godin tells three stories that support his theme: smart marketers promote their products differently; ordinary is boring. Godin persuasively argues that the riskiest thing to do is “be safe,” or average, and he uses short and simple stories to do it.

In a story about Wonder Bread, Godin tells the audience: This guy named Otto Rohwedder invented sliced bread, and he focused, like most inventors did, on the patent part and the making part. And the thing about the invention of sliced bread is this—that for the first 15 years after sliced bread was available no one bought it; no one knew about it; it was a complete and total failure. And the reason is that until Wonder came along and figured out how to spread the idea of sliced bread, no one wanted it. That the success of sliced bread, like the success of almost everything we’ve been talking about at this conference, is not always about what the patent is like, or what the factory is like—it’s about can you get your idea to spread, or not.

the story behind Silk soymilk: “Silk. Put a product that does not need to be in the refrigerated section next to the milk in the refrigerated section. Sales tripled. Why? Milk, milk, milk, milk, milk—not milk. For the people who were there and looking at that section, it was remarkable. They didn’t triple their sales with advertising; they tripled it by doing something remarkable.”

Larger companies are discovering that stories put a human face on an otherwise faceless conglomerate. Tostitos, Taco Bell, Domino’s Pizza, Kashi, McDonald’s, and Starbucks are turning to commercials that highlight farmers who grow the ingredients behind their products. People are more engaged with products when they know where those products come from and if they get to know the real people behind those products. The Lush chain of soap stores puts a small picture of a real employee on each product—the faces are those of people who actually made the product. Lush believes that every product has a story. There’s a reason why many successful brands spend millions on advertising that includes real faces, real people, and real stories. It works.

A Rich Man’s Convenience and a Poor Man’s Lifesaver What is a story? Jonah Sachs offers this definition in Winning the Story Wars: “Stories are a particular type of human communication designed to persuade an audience of a storyteller’s worldview. The storyteller does this by placing characters, real or fictional, onto a stage and showing what happens to these characters over a period of time. Each character pursues some type of goal in accordance with his or her values, facing difficulty along the way, and either succeeds or fails according to the storyteller’s view of how the world works.”16 Sachs believes that in the battlefield of ideas, marketers have a secret weapon—a well-told story. Sachs says that contemporary audiences are so bombarded by messages that they are more resistant and more skeptical than at any other time in history. However, “These same audiences, when inspired, are willing and able to spread their favorite messages, creating a massive viral effect for those who win their love.”

Gladwell, Happiness, and Spaghetti Sauce Malcolm Gladwell, told a simple story about Howard Moskowitz, a man who became famous for reinventing spaghetti sauce. The title of the presentation was “Choice, Happiness, and Spaghetti Sauce.”

Campbell’s Soup approached Moskowitz to help the company make a spaghetti sauce that would compete against Ragu, the dominant sauce of the 1970s and 1980s

Campbell’s Soup approached Moskowitz to help the company make a spaghetti sauce that would compete against Ragu, the dominant sauce of the 1970s and 1980s (Campbell’s made Prego).

If you sit down, and you analyze all this data on spaghetti sauce, you realize that all Americans fall into one of three groups. There are people who like their spaghetti sauce plain; there are people who like their spaghetti sauce spicy; and there are people who like it extra-chunky. And of those three facts, the third one was the most significant, because at the time, in the early 1980s, if you went to a supermarket, you would not find extra-chunky spaghetti sauce. And Prego turned to Howard, and they said, “You’re telling me that one-third of Americans crave extra-chunky spaghetti sauce and yet no one is servicing their needs?” And he said yes! And Prego then went back, and completely reformulated their spaghetti sauce, and came out with a line of extra-chunky that immediately and completely took over the spaghetti sauce business in this country. And over the next 10 years, they made 600 million dollars off their line of extra-chunky sauces.

The entire food industry took notice of Moskowitz’s analysis. It’s why we have “fourteen different kinds of mustards and seventy-one different kinds of olive oil,”

Gladwell told the Moskowitz story in 10 minutes. He spent the remaining seven minutes offering the lessons the story teaches us. For example, people don’t know what they want and, if they do, they have a hard time articulating what they truly desire.

Assumption number one in the food industry used to be that the way to find out what people want to eat—what will make people happy—is to ask them. And for years and years and years and years, Ragu and Prego would have focus groups,

And for all those years—20, 30 years—through all those focus group sessions, no one ever said they wanted extra-chunky.

“In embracing the diversity of human beings, we will find a surer way to true happiness.”

WHAT STORY CAN YOU INCLUDE? Think about a story (either personal, about someone else, or related to a brand) that you can include in your communications or in your next presentation. If you already do this, then you are one step closer to being a TED-worthy communicator. In a business presentation, telling stories is the virtual equivalent of taking people on a field trip, helping them to experience the content at a much more profound level.


A powerful narrative can persuade customers, employees, investors, and stakeholders that your company, product, or idea can help them achieve the success they desire.

“To succeed, you have to persuade others to support your vision, dream, or cause. Whether you want to motivate your executives, organize your shareholders, shape your media, engage your customers, win over your investors, or land a job, you have to deliver a clarion call that will get your listeners’ attention, emotionalize your goal as theirs, and move them to act in your favor. You have to reach their hearts as well as their minds—and this is just what storytelling does.”

Guber was the CEO of Sony Pictures. Magic Johnson and his business partner, Ken Lombard, visited Guber in his office, and the first thing Lombard said was, “Close your eyes. We’re going to tell you a story about a foreign country.”20 Guber thought it a little “unorthodox,” but he shut his eyes and went along with it. Lombard continued, “This is a land with a strong customer base, great location, and qualified investors. You know how to build theaters in Europe, Asia, and South America. You know how to invest in foreign countries that have different languages, different cultures, different problems. What you do, Peter, is you find a partner in the country who speaks the language, knows the culture, and handles local problems. Right?” Guber nodded in agreement as his eyes remained shut. “Well, what if I told you a promised land exists that already speaks English, craves movies, has plenty of available real estate, and no competition? This promised land is about six miles from here.”

Lombard and Johnson were pitching Guber on building movie theaters in underserved urban communities.

Lombard and Johnson were pitching Guber on building movie theaters in underserved urban communities. Lombard and Johnson cast themselves as the heroes of the narrative, the characters who would help Guber navigate the waters to reach the promised land.

The Power of Words When you tell a story, by all means use metaphors, analogies, and vivid language, but eliminate clichés, buzzwords, and jargon.

Toshiba Medical Systems introduced a revolutionary new CT scan,

how could we give an equally impressive presentation without drowning the audience in mind-numbing data?

At the press conference we introduced David and Susan, two people who really didn’t exist but who did for the purposes of the launch.

We gave “David” and “Susan” names, faces, and offered detailed information about their lives. We wanted the audience to see themselves or their loved ones in the faces presented on the screen.

made an emotional connection at the same time.


The twentieth-century American writer Kurt Vonnegut was considered a masterful storyteller.

shape of popular stories. Successful stories—those that connect emotionally with most people—have simple shapes. To illustrate, he drew two lines on a graph (see figure 2.3). On the y axis he wrote I for “Ill Fortune” and the letter G for “Good Fortune.” On the x axis he wrote the letter B for “Beginning” and the letter E for “End.”

He called the first story shape “Man in a Hole.” “Somebody gets into trouble; gets out of it again. People love that story. They never get sick of it!”23 The second story shape was called “Boy Gets Girl.” The story starts with an average person on an average day and something good happening to that person. Of course, the person comes close to losing the good fortune and gets it back again to end the story happily. “People love that,” Vonnegut said. He then said the last story shape was the most popular in Western civilization. “Every time it’s retold, someone makes another million dollars. You’re welcome to do it,” Vonnegut said with a smile. 2.3: Re-creation of Kurt Vonnegut’s story chart.

If you want to grip your audience, the story needs to start at the bottom of the G–I access, with terrible misfortune. “Let’s start with a little girl. Her mother has died. Her father has remarried a vile-tempered ugly woman with two nasty daughters. You’ve heard it?” The audience roars with laughter as they see that Vonnegut is outlining the Cinderella story arc. “There’s a party at the palace that night and she can’t go.” After the fairy godmother helps her get ready for the party and she meets a prince, the protagonist stumbles again, slightly below the G–I line but not all the way to the bottom again. As the story continues, the shoe fits, she marries the prince, and “achieves off-scale happiness.”

writing advice: “give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.”

VILLAINS. Whether it’s a movie or a novel, every great story has a hero and a villain. A strong business presentation has the same cast of characters. A spokesperson reveals a challenge (villain) facing a business or industry. The protagonist (brand hero) rises to meet the challenge. Finally, the townspeople (customers) are freed from the villain, the struggle is over, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Isabele Allende revealed the recipe for great characters. “Nice people with common sense do not make interesting characters.

“Passion lives here,” she continued. “Heart is what drives us and determines our fate. That is what I need for my characters in my books: a passionate heart. I need mavericks, dissidents, adventurers, outsiders and rebels, who ask questions, bend the rules and take risks. People like all of you in this room.”

Secret #2: Master the Art of Storytelling

Great speakers tell stories to express their passion for the subject and to connect with their audiences. Ideas are the currency of the twenty-first century and stories facilitate the exchange of that currency.

Have a Conversation

Secret #3: Have a Conversation Practice relentlessly and internalize your content so that you can deliver the presentation as comfortably as having a conversation with a close friend.

Why it works: True persuasion occurs only after you have built an emotional rapport with your listeners and have gained their trust. If your voice, gestures, and body language are incongruent with your words, your listeners will distrust your message.


Have you ever studied dancing? A person is taught to count steps at first. They even talk to themselves. Only after hours and hours of practice do they look effortless. The same rule applies to a presentation.

three steps Palmer took to craft and deliver the presentation of her life.

1. Help with Planning

“crowdsourced” her topic by asking readers for suggestions.

Palmer has maintained a popular blog for years. She literally “crowdsourced” her topic by asking readers for suggestions.

2. Early Feedback

Her old theater director and mentor from high school gave her “brutal feedback” on the early draft.

PRACTICE IN FRONT OF PEOPLE, RECORD IT, AND WATCH IT BACK. Ask friends and colleagues to watch your presentation and to give open, honest feedback. Use a recording device, too. Set up a smartphone on a tripod or buy a dedicated video camera. However you choose to do it, record yourself. It doesn’t have to be professional-broadcast quality. Unless you decide to show it to someone else, nobody’s going to see it except you. You might be surprised at what you catch—vocal fillers like “ums” and “ahs”; distracting hand motions like scratching your nose or flipping your hair back; lack of eye contact, etc. Pay careful attention to the pace of your speech and ask others for their opinions. Is it too fast? Too slow? The video camera is the single best tool to improve your public speaking ability.

3. Rehearse, Rehearse, and Rehearse

On her blog Palmer posted a photograph of about two dozen people at a potluck-style dinner in someone’s living room, watching her perform the TED talk. Among the people she invited: friends, musicians, engineers, a yoga teacher, a venture capitalist, a photographer, a psychology professor. This was brilliant. Creativity thrives in diverse views.

Steve Jobs and the 10,000-Hour Rule It’s a well-known theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a particular skill—playing a piano, shooting baskets, hitting a tennis ball, etc. I strongly believe it applies to the skill of public speaking, too. A lot of people tell me they’ll never be as polished as Steve Jobs or other great business speakers because they’re simply “not good at it.” Well, neither was Steve Jobs at one point. He worked at it. A video of Steve Jobs’s first television interview, in the mid-1970s, appeared on YouTube. It showed him in the chair before the interview began. He was visibly nervous before the interview and asked for directions to the bathroom because he thought he’d be sick. “I’m not kidding,” he said emphatically. In his early presentations, including the 1984 launch of Macintosh, Jobs was pretty stiff, holding on to the lectern and reading from prepared notes. He got better every year. In fact, every decade saw a significant improvement in his style and delivery. Jobs built a reputation for practicing relentlessly for a presentation—many, many hours over many, many weeks. Eventually Jobs was considered among the most charismatic business leaders on the world stage. What many people fail to realize is that Jobs made it look effortless because he worked at it!

HOW TO SAY IT SO PEOPLE LISTEN The four elements of verbal delivery are: rate, volume, pitch, and pauses. RATE: Speed at which you speak VOLUME: Loudness or softness PITCH: High or low inflections PAUSES: Short pauses to punch key words

The Ideal Pace of Public Speaking

Studies show that 150 to 160 words per minute is the ideal rate of speech for audio books. ideal pace of dictation is slightly slower than the rate of speech in normal conversation. When I asked Stevenson about his speaking style, he told me that he likes to sound like he’s talking to a friend over dinner in a restaurant. A great presenter speaks slightly faster than the ideal audio-book narration of 150 words per minute Stevenson speaks at the slightly faster pace of 190 words a minute. Motivational guru Tony Robbins, who gave a TED talk in 2006. In that talk Robbins spoke 240 words per minute.That’s fast. For comparison, an auctioneer speaks at 250 words per minute. That speed works very effectively for Robbins, who leaps on stage, waves his arms wildly, jumps up and down, and is there to pump up his audience. The audience expects ultra-high energy from Robbins’s delivery in both nonverbal body language and verbal pace.

SPEAK IN A CONVERSATIONAL TONE. Lisa Kristine Punches Key Words presentation, she slowed the pace of the delivery, enunciated every word clearly, and punched key words (accented with an underline): “Today’s slavery is about commerce, so the goods that enslaved people produce have value, but the people producing them are disposable. Slavery exists everywhere, nearly, in the world, [pause] and yet it is illegal everywhere in the world.”

Dr. Jill Acts Out a Story Conversational delivery takes practice. She rehearsed her presentation not once, twice, or even 20 times. She rehearsed it 200 times! Here’s how

Dr. Jill created her popular presentation. Dr. Jill’s Indianapolis presentation was conceived in Cancun.

Delivery takes practice. She rehearsed her presentation not once, twice, or even 20 times. She rehearsed it 200 times! Here’s how Dr. Jill created her popular presentation. Dr. Jill’s Indianapolis presentation was conceived in Cancun. She was in a creative state of mind as she walked the beach with a notepad. She wrote down everything that came to mind, free-flowing words and ideas, and read what she had written out loud to feel how the words and sounds worked together. She didn’t edit. She simply wrote down everything that she thought her audience (teens and parents) needed to know about the subject. When Dr. Jill arrived back at the hotel room, she typed out the notes she had written in longhand. Back home after her vacation, she had 25 single-spaced pages. Her next step involved condensing the material into five major points (key messages). Dr. Jill’s final step was to figure out how to deliver the key messages to be visual, interesting, and entertaining. We’ll talk about the visual display of information in chapter 8, but notice that Dr. Jill weighs the entertainment component of her presentation as equally as she does the others.

The problem with most technical or scientific discussions is that the presenters fail to make their content visual, interesting, and entertaining. The people who do all three stand out, get noticed, and inspire positive changes in behavior. Now think about the last

DEBUNKING BODY LANGUAGE MYTHS Believe in what you’re saying (chapter 1). “If you don’t believe what you’re saying, your movements will be awkward and not natural. No amount of training—unless you’re a trained espionage agent or psychopath—will allow you to break that incongruence between your words and actions. If you don’t believe in the message, you cannot force your body to act as though you believe in the message.”

Incongruence between your words and actions. If you don’t believe in the message, you cannot force your body to act as though you believe in the message.”

How easy it would be to take down the officers by the way they were dressed (sloppy or sharp) and how the officers carried themselves (slouching or straight). “As an officer you can invite trouble if you slouch, avoid eye contact, use vague, imprecise language, and are generally sloppy in your attire.”

Great Leaders Have an Air of Confidence He or she understands the material best, shows it, and has the confidence to take charge. They are typically dressed a little better than everyone else. Their shoes are polished and their clothes pressed. They make stronger eye contact and have a firm handshake. They speak concisely and precisely. They don’t get flustered. They remain calm. They use “open” gestures, palms up or open and hands apart. Their voices project because they’re speaking from their diaphragms.

Don’t get flustered. They remain calm. They use “open” gestures, palms up or open and hands apart. Their voices project because they’re speaking from their diaphragms.

“Great leaders have an air of confidence,” he replied. “Subordinates need to look up to somebody who is still standing strong, like an oak, regardless of events around them. You need to convey a feeling that you will always be in control despite the circumstances, even if you don’t have an immediate solution … someone who doesn’t lose focus, doesn’t cower, doesn’t waffle. The air of confidence must come out.”

THE GIST ON GESTURES Are gestures necessary? The short answer is—yes. Studies have shown that complex thinkers use complex gestures and that gestures actually give the audience confidence in the speaker.

Cisco CEO John Chambers in person. He’s an astonishing

here are four tips you can use today to improve the way you use your hands:

  1. Use gestures. Don’t be afraid to use your hands in the first place. The simplest fix for a stiff presentation is to pull your hands out of your pockets and use them. Don’t keep your hands bound when you present. They want to be free. Use gestures sparingly. Now that I’ve told you to use gestures, be careful not to go overboard. Your gestures should be natural. If you try to imitate someone else, you’ll look like a Saturday Night Live caricature of a bad politician. Avoid canned gestures. Don’t think about what gestures to use. Your story will guide them. Use gestures at key moments. Save your most expansive gestures for key moments in the presentation. Reinforce your key messages with purposeful gestures … as long as it feels genuine to your personality and style. Keep your gestures within the power sphere. Picture your power sphere as a circle that runs from the top of your eyes, out to the tips of your outstretched hands, down to your belly button, and back up to your eyes again. Try to keep your gestures (and eye gaze) in this zone. Hands that hang below your navel lack energy and “confidence.” Using complex gestures above the waist will give the audience a sense of confidence about you as a leader, help you communicate your thoughts more effortlessly, and enhance your overall presence.

you try to imitate someone else, you’ll look like a Saturday Night Live caricature of a bad politician. Avoid canned gestures. Don’t think about what gestures to use. Your story will guide them.

“confidence.” Using complex gestures above the waist will give the audience a sense of confidence about you as a leader, help you communicate your thoughts more effortlessly, and enhance your overall presence.

trained actors to approach shoppers and try to persuade them to buy a box of Christmas candy. They discovered that when the sales strategy was to make a product more attractive (reducing the cost, covering its benefits, etc.), the “eager nonverbal” style proved most effective. The eager nonverbal style includes three elements: very animated, broad, open movements; hand movements openly projected outward; and forward-leaning body positions.


Fidgeting, Tapping, and Jingling These are annoying habits that many of us exhibit during our presentations and conversations. Fidgeting makes you look unsure, nervous, and unprepared.

The quick fix: Move with purpose. Use an inexpensive video camera or your smartphone to record yourself delivering the first five minutes of your presentation, then play it back. Watch yourself and write down all the mannerisms that serve no useful purpose, such as rubbing your nose, tapping your fingers, and jingling coins. Simply seeing yourself in action makes you stop

nose, tapping your fingers, and jingling coins.

Standing Rigidly in Place Great presenters have animated body movements; they do not stay in one spot or look motionless. Standing absolutely still makes you appear rigid, boring, and disengaged. The quick fix: Walk, move, and work the room. Most business professionals who come to me for presentation coaching think they need to stand like statues … or behind the lectern. But movement is not only acceptable, it’s welcome. Conversations are fluid, not stiff. Some of the greatest business speakers walk among the audience instead of standing in front

Hands in Pockets Most people keep their hands in their pockets when they’re standing in front of a group. It makes them appear uninterested or bored, uncommitted, and sometimes nervous. The quick fix: This one’s too easy—take your hands out of your pockets! I’ve seen great business leaders who never once

The power pose works like this—stretch out your arms as far as they’ll go and hold that pose for two minutes. You can do it in an elevator, at a desk, or behind the stage, preferably where nobody will see you!

How Tony Robbins Gets into a Peak Presentation State

Featured in an Oprah Winfrey special, Robbins demonstrated his prespeaking ritual, which involves incantations, affirmations, and movement—lots and lots of movement.

energized movement can change your state of mind. Robbins gets himself in the zone for about 10 minutes prior to taking the stage. He jumps up and down, spins around, pumps his fists, stands with his arms outstretched, and even bounces on a trampoline.

adopt some sort of physical pre-presentation ritual since movement and energy are so intimately connected.


4. Teach Me Something New Secret #4: Teach Me Something New Reveal information that’s completely new to your audience, packaged differently, or offers a fresh and novel way to solve an old problem.

Why it works: 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.

When you introduce a new or novel way of solving an old problem, you are tapping into millions of years of adaptation. If primitive man hadn’t been curious, we would have been extinct a long time ago.

Your audience craves knowledge, even if they have only a mild interest in the topic. As long as you relate your topic to the audience by teaching them something new they can use in their daily lives, you’ll hook them, too.


Learning something new activates the same reward areas of the brain as do drugs and gambling. “A big part of the answer to why some of your students hold onto the information you teach and others do not has to do with a little chemical in the brain that has to be present

EXPLORE OUTSIDE YOUR FIELD You’ll become a more interesting person if you’re interested in learning and sharing ideas from fields that are much different from your own. Great innovators connect ideas from different fields.

This thirst for knowledge, the craving to force the brain out of “predictable perceptions,” is why Edi Rama captivated a TEDx audience with his solution to curb corruption and reduce crime in his native Albania. For about a decade, Rama was the mayor of Tirana, the capital of the tiny country. Tirana was once considered one of the most corrupt cities in the world. It was the city of mud, garbage, derelict buildings, and gray … lots and lots of gray. It was a depressing and demoralizing place. In 2000, Rama implemented a series of reforms that included demolishing old buildings and, most noticeably, painting the outside of Tirana’s buildings in bright colors. He treated the exterior of the city’s buildings as his canvas and, as he’d been a painter before he became a politician, he knew a little about art. “Within weeks of being elected to City Hall in 2000, Rama began hiring painters to coat Tirana’s gray, drab façades with dazzling colors, reminiscent of Marseilles or Mexico City. Today parts of Tirana, a city of about 650,000 people, resemble a Mondrian painting, the blues, yellows and pinks a shattering break from Albania’s 45-year grim isolation under a communist dictatorship.”18 As gray gave way to color, crime dropped and parks sprang up. People felt safer and had more pride in their city. Rama walked down a newly colored street one day and came across a shopkeeper tearing down the old shutters from his window and putting up a glass façade.

“Come on, man! What policemen? You can see it for yourself. There are colors, streetlights, new pavement with no potholes, trees. So it’s beautiful; it’s safe.” Rama’s passion for art, along with his natural curiosity, allowed him to solve a problem most people thought could never be solved. Rama did exactly what Gregory Berns recommends—he perceived the information differently.

Audiences of any type, speaking any language, love to hear about new and novel ways to solve problems. After all, we’re wired for it!

THE TWITTER-FRIENDLY HEADLINE If you can’t explain your big idea in 140 characters or less, keep working on your message. The discipline brings clarity to your presentation and helps your audience recall the one big idea you’re trying to teach them.

The answer, says Pink, is not an accumulation of little things, but the one big idea. “Executives and experts tend to get lost in the weeds and aren’t always able to see things with a beginner’s mind and from the audience’s perspective.”

The first step to giving a TED-worthy presentation is to ask yourself, What is the one thing I want my audience to know? Make sure it easily fits within a Twitter post, what I call a “Twitter-friendly headline.”

Oftentimes my clients create what’s really a tagline instead of a headline, but it still doesn’t tell me the one thing I need to know. From a well-crafted headline I should be able to identify what the product, service, or cause is as well as what makes it different or unique. Make sure your headline fits within the 140-character limit of a Twitter post. It’s not only a good exercise; it’s essential for marketing.

WE’RE EXPLORATION ADDICTS Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, wanted to make a point when he appeared at a conference of some of the biggest leaders of the tech industry. 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 infected.” We’re told the audience just sat there stunned, as any of us would be. Moments later he let them off the hook, letting the audience know the mosquitoes he brought were malaria free, but he did it to prove a point and point taken.

Why it works: Jaw-dropping moments create what neuroscientists call an emotionally charged event, a heightened state of emotion that makes it more likely your audience will remember your message and act on it.

Gates spoke for 18 minutes. The mosquito shtick took up less than 5 percent of his total speaking time, yet today the mosquito moment is the part of the presentation people remember the most.

The brain was not meant to process abstract concepts.


Two minutes into Dr. Jill’s presentation she said, “If you’ve ever seen a human brain, it’s obvious that the two hemispheres are completely separate from one another. And I have brought for you a real human brain. So this is a real human brain.”7 With that, she turned to an assistant carrying a tray with a brain. Dr. Jill put on gloves, picked up the brain, and let the brain stem and spinal cord flop over the tray. The vocal expressions of disgust were audible from the audience. “This is the front of the brain, the back of brain with the spinal cord hanging down, and this is how it would be positioned inside of my head,” Dr. Jill said as she held the organ for everyone to see.

THE UNDISPUTED KING OF WOW Steve Jobs was the king of the emotionally charged event, the “wow moment.” In every presentation, he informed, educated, and entertained. Jobs transformed a presentation into a spectacle worthy of a Broadway production. His presentations had heroes, villains, props, characters, and that one memorable showstopper when you knew that the price of admission was well worth it.

CREATE A HOLY SMOKES MOMENT I call the “emotionally charged event”—or what some refer to as the wow moment—the “holy smokes moment.” It’s the one moment in a presentation when you drive your point home, your listener’s jaw drops, and she says to herself, “Holy smokes, I get it now!” It’s the first thing they remember about your presentation and the first thing they say to someone else who didn’t see it but wants to know about your presentation.

Props and Demos Mark Shaw created Ultra-Ever Dry, an invention with one astonishing feature—it repels liquids and stays dry. At TED 2013, he demonstrated his superhydrophobic nanotechnology coating that he said acts as a shield against most liquids. Shaw took a bucket of red paint and threw it on a whiteboard. As the paint dripped down and off the board, letters began to be appear—the giant capital letters were coated with Ultra-Ever Dry. Slowly the audience saw a T followed by an E and finally the D to spell TED.

Unexpected and Shocking Statistics “This country is very different today than it was 40 years ago. In 1972, there were 300,000 people in jails and prisons. Today, there are 2.3 million. The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.” —Bryan Stevenson “Why are we ignoring the oceans? If you compare NASA’s annual budget to explore the heavens, that one-year budget would fund NOAA’s budget to explore the oceans for 1,600 years.” —Robert Ballard “One in a hundred regular people is a psychopath. So there’s 1,500 people in this room. Fifteen of you are psychopaths.” —Jon Ronson I work with many executives to help them craft their stories. Delivering statistics in new and novel ways can often result in jaw-dropping moments. I recall a meeting with an executive who represented the strawberry industry in California—the same executive I discussed in chapter 1. Most Californians do not realize that strawberries are an important crop to their state, even those people who live in the counties where strawberries are grown. A full 90 percent of all strawberries consumed in the United States are grown in California. Importantly, strawberries enrich the communities where they are grown. In

“This country is very different today than it was 40 years ago. In 1972, there were 300,000 people in jails and prisons. Today, there are 2.3 million. The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.” —Bryan Stevenson “Why are we ignoring the oceans? If you compare NASA’s annual budget to explore the heavens, that one-year budget would fund NOAA’s budget to explore the oceans for 1,600 years.” —Robert Ballard “One in a hundred regular people is a psychopath. So there’s 1,500 people in this room. Fifteen of you are psychopaths.” —Jon Ronson I

Make numbers meaningful, memorable, and jaw-dropping by placing them in a context that the audience can relate to. A statistic doesn’t have to be boring. My advice: never leave data dangling. Context matters. If your presentation has a number or data point that is groundbreaking or paramount, think about how you might package it and make it appealing to the listener.

Pictures, Images, and Videos Memorable Headlines

Stewart Brand is a futurist who presented a bold prediction

In Brand’s opinion, that means we can bring extinct animals back to life. “We will get woolly mammoths back,” he said. We will get woolly mammoths back.

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” —Sir Ken Robinson “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” —Susan Cain “Don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it.” —Amy Cuddy “Behind most Afghan girls who succeed is a father who recognizes that her success is his success.” —Shabana Basij-Rasikh “Numbers are the musical notes with which the symphony of the universe is written.” —Adam Spencer

Personal Stories In February 2013 Hrabowski mesmerized a TED audience with stories—success stories showcasing his students as well as stories of his personal transformation. He began with a story about a transformational experience in his life at the age of 12. One week in church, I didn’t really want to be there, I heard this man say, “If we can get children to participate in this peaceful demonstration here in Birmingham, we can show America that even children know the difference between right and wrong and that children really do want to get the best possible education.” I looked up and said, “Who is that man?” They told me it was Dr. Martin Luther King. I said to my parents, “I want to go.” And they said “absolutely not.” We had a rough go of it. Somehow I said, “You guys are like hypocrites. You make me go to this, make me listen, the man wants me to go and now you say no.” They thought about it all night. They literally cried and prayed and thought, “Will we let our twelve-year-old participate in this march? He’ll probably have to go to jail.” They decided to let me … while I was there in jail, Dr. King came in and said, “What you children do this day will have an impact on children who have not been born.”14 Great communicators are good storytellers. Stories create impact moments.


concert by the pop musician Pink: Near the end of the concert, Pink, dressed in a gold bodysuit, jumped into a harness that propelled her high in the air like Tinker Bell and carried her across the entire length of the sold-out 17,000-person arena. Perches were stationed around the arena, where Pink would land for a few moments, closer to fans, then get pulled away to zip across the stadium while belting out one of her anthems.

Pink’s “mind-blowing” moment in the show was designed to leave the artist—and audience—on a high note. Everyone needs a showstopper: musicians, actors, and performers of all types, including presenters and public speakers. The showstopper seals the deal and permanently brands the message in our minds.

Secret #5: Deliver Jaw-Dropping Moments Every performer has at least one jaw-dropping moment—an emotionally charged event that your audience members will be talking about the next day.

Secret #6: Lighten Up Don’t take yourself (or your topic) too seriously. Why it works: Humor lowers defenses, making your audience more receptive to your message. It also makes you seem more likable,

SIR KEN ROBINSON ARTFULLY WOVE anecdotes, stories, and humor into a narrative that drove home his main theme: America’s educational system rewards test takers and stifles creativity, risk taking, and innovation.

“I heard a great story recently—I love telling it—of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson. She was six and she was at the back, drawing, and the teacher said this little girl hardly ever paid attention, and in this drawing lesson she did. The teacher was fascinated and she went over to her and she said, ‘What are you drawing?’ And the girl said, ‘I’m drawing a picture of God.’ And the teacher said, ‘But nobody knows what God looks like.’ And the girl said, ‘They will in a minute.’” “I lived in Stratford-on-Avon until about five years ago. In fact, we moved from Stratford to Los Angeles. So you can imagine what a seamless transition that was. (Laughter) Actually, we lived in a place called Snitterfield, just outside Stratford, which is where Shakespeare’s father was born. Are you struck by a new thought? I was. You don’t think of Shakespeare having a father, do you? Do you? Because you don’t think of Shakespeare being a child, do you? Shakespeare being seven? I never thought of it. I mean, he was seven at some point. He was in somebody’s English class, wasn’t he? How annoying would that be? Being sent to bed by his dad, you know, to Shakespeare, “Go to bed now and put the pencil down. And stop speaking like that. It’s confusing everybody.” “Anyway, we moved from Stratford to Los Angeles, and I just want to say a word about the transition, actually. My son didn’t want to come. I’ve got two kids. He’s 21 now; my daughter’s 16. He didn’t want to come to Los Angeles. He loved it, but he had a girlfriend in England. This was the love of his life, Sarah. He’d known her for a month. Mind you, they’d had their fourth anniversary, because it’s a long time when you’re 16. Anyway, he was really upset on the plane, and he said, “I’ll never find another girl like Sarah.” And we were rather pleased about that, frankly, because she was the main reason we were leaving the country.” “I like university professors, but you know, we shouldn’t hold them up as the high-water mark of all human achievement. They’re just a form of life. But they’re rather curious, and I say this out of affection for them. There’s something curious about professors in my experience—not all of them, but typically—they live in their heads. They live up there, and slightly to one side. They’re disembodied, you know, in a kind of literal way. They look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads, don’t they? (Laughter) It’s a way of getting their head to meetings.”

A joke poorly told or, worse, a well-delivered but tactless joke can diminish your reputation with your audience very quickly. I once held a workshop for a group of sales reps at a large, global travel company. Each sales agent gave a short presentation to the rest of the group. The person—a male—who delivered one of the most nicely designed presentations ended his pitch with a tactless joke about women. Sexist jokes are not acceptable in any professional business presentation, and, given that the majority of his audience were successful saleswomen, it really bombed. As we went around the room to critique the presentation, nearly everyone complained about the joke. It distracted his audience from the very strong story he had told about the product. A comedian like Chris Rock can get away with jokes about the sexes, he gets paid handsomely to do it, and his audiences expect it. Your audiences don’t expect you to be Chris Rock, so don’t try to be.

THE BRAIN LOVES HUMOR humor to “reinforce their own status in a group hierarchy. For example, you are more likely to crack jokes and amuse others in a group in which you are the leader or have a position of dominance than in a group in which you have lower status and less power than others.”

people use humor to “reinforce their own status in a group hierarchy. For example, you are more likely to crack jokes and amuse others in a group in which you are the leader or have a position of dominance than in a group in which you have lower status and less power than others.”

a group in which you are the leader or have a position of dominance than in a group in which you have lower status and less power than others.”

Laughter also plays an important role in strengthening group cohesion, according to Martin.

an example of what Martin calls affect-induction: “a method of communication, designed to capture the attention of others, to convey important emotional information, and to activate similar emotions in others …

to convey important emotional information, and to activate similar emotions in others …

LAUGHING ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK Here are five ways to add just the right amount of humor to your speech or presentation without spending two years developing a joke.

  1. Anecdotes, Observations, and Personal Stories
Think back to anecdotes, stories, observations, or insights that have made you or your colleagues smile in the past. 
If they worked there and are appropriate to your presentation, weave them into your narrative and practice telling it.
  1. Analogies and Metaphors
Many popular TED presenters provoke laughter by using analogies.

“Chris Anderson asked me if I could put the last 25 years of antipoverty campaigning into 10 minutes for TED. That’s an Englishman asking an Irishman to be succinct.” —Bono

“If you hear an expert talking about the Internet and saying it does this or it will do that, you should treat it with the same skepticism that you might treat the comments of an economist about the economy or a weatherman about the weather.” —Danny Hillis, inventor, TED 2013

“Trying to run Congress without human relationships is like trying to run a car without motor oil. Should we be surprised when the whole thing freezes up?” —Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist

Americans want to live the American dream, they should go to Denmark.” —Richard Wilkinson, professor at the University of Nottingham

An easy way to get a laugh without being a comedian or telling a joke is to quote somebody else who said something funny.

PART III Memorable 7. Stick to the 18-Minute Rule Secret #7: Stick to the 18-Minute Rule Eighteen minutes is the ideal length of time for a presentation. If you must create one that’s longer, build in soft breaks (stories, videos, demonstrations) every 10 minutes. Why it works: Researchers have discovered that “cognitive backlog,” too much information, prevents the successful transmission of ideas. TED curator Chris Anderson explained it best:

It [18 minutes] is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention. It turns out that this length also works incredibly well online. It’s the length of a coffee break. So, you watch a great talk, and forward the link to two or three people. It can go viral, very easily. The 18-minute length also works much like the way Twitter forces people to be disciplined in what they write. By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say. What is the key point they want to communicate? It has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline.

LISTENING IS DRAINING listening is an exhausting activity because the learner is continually adding material to be remembered—retrieved—later. This is what he means by “cognitive backlog.”

listener has to organize, comprehend, and remember. The burden increases along with a listener’s anxiety.

CREATIVITY THRIVES UNDER CONSTRAINTS Kennedy’s inaugural speech is an excellent example of a short, inspiring message. A more instructive example is an influential though lesser-known speech that Kennedy gave at Rice University on September 12, 1962. It was there that Kennedy outlined his vision to explore the moon. When Kennedy challenged America to “go to the moon” by the end of the decade, he galvanized the collective imagination of millions of Americans as well as thousands of its top scientists to put their time and energy into the effort. It was one of the most important speeches in American history. At 17 minutes and 40 seconds, Kennedy’s speech would have made the ultimate TED talk.

In The Laws of Subtraction, Matthew May explains the science behind it. According to May, “Creativity thrives under intelligent constraints.”5 May persuasively argues that by establishing a boundary or limit to your presentation, you provide a focus and a framework for creativity to flourish.


THE RULE OF THREE All the science behind the importance of conciseness is interesting, but it doesn’t mean much unless you can apply it to improve the impact of your pitch or presentation. How can you condense your knowledge into an 18-minute presentation? Understanding the rule of three will help. The rule of three simply means that people can remember three pieces of information really well; add more items and retention falls off considerably. It’s one of the most powerful concepts in writing and communication. I’ve used the rule of three very successfully with communicators in nearly every industry. It works for me every time, and it works for some of the most popular TED talks. Neil Pasricha’s blog covers a lot of ground. It’s dedicated to “1,000 awesome things” such as snow falling on Christmas, your birthday landing on a weekend, someone naming their kid after you, etc. The simple blog idea landed Pasricha a book deal, 25,000 Twitter followers, and a TEDx talk in Toronto that has attracted more than one million views. In this presentation Pasricha did not attempt to cover all 1,000 small things that make life worth living. Instead he focused on three secrets—all starting with the letter A—to leading a life that’s truly rewarding. He titled the presentation, “The 3 A’s of Awesome.”

The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two Pasricha intuitively understood and leveraged this powerful communication technique: The rule of three. Simply put, the human mind can consume only about three “chunks” of information in short-term, or working, memory. As more and more items are added to a list, the average person retains less and less. Four items are a bit harder to remember than three. Five items are even harder. Once the number of items on a list hits eight, most people have little chance of remembering the entire sequence. In 1956, Bell Labs reached out to Harvard professor George Miller, who published a classic paper titled “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two.” Miller found that most people have a hard time remembering more than seven pieces of new information. Now you know why phone numbers are seven digits. Contemporary scientists, however, have put the number of items we can easily recall in short-term closer to three or four chunks of information. Think about it. When someone leaves a phone number on a voice message, you’re likely to recall the number by “chunking” the number into two parts—one section made up of three digits, the other comprising the remaining four digits.

The Rule of Three Pervades Our Daily Lives Every July fourth America celebrates the three inalienable rights voiced in the U.S. Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Life, liberty, and happiness might very well be the three most important words in American history. The words are so eloquent, so impactful, that they warrant their own Wikipedia page. According to Wikipedia, some consider the phrase one of “the most well-crafted, influential sentences in the history of the English language.” Those three words inspired other countries, most notably France, to seek its own freedoms from oppression and to delineate the rights of its citizens into groups of three. The French motto “liberty, equality, and fraternity” traces its origin to the French Revolution. The list of countries that were directly inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence is so large, I don’t think it’s a stretch to argue that those three words might very well be the most important three words in human history. Why did Jefferson choose three rights instead of, say, twelve? Jefferson was a skilled writer and his famous phrase reflects a rhetorical technique that can be traced to ancient Greece—a figure of speech using three words to express one idea. The rule of three pervades every aspect of our business and social lives. In literature you’ll find three little pigs, three musketeers, and three wishes granted to an ambitious Aladdin. Painters are familiar with the three primary colors; they know their three secondary colors, too. In science, Newton discovered three laws and scientists discovered three elements that make up the atom. At the dinner table, you’ll find three pieces of cutlery: spoon, knife, fork. The flag of the United States of America has three colors, as do the flags of the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Argentina, the Russian Federation, Nepal, and many others. There are three medals in the Olympics. Three wise men appeared with three gifts for baby Jesus. Jesus himself is part of the holy trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The rule of three helped get U.S. president Barack Obama elected; “Yes we can,” voters chanted. Some of the world’s most famous brands are ING, UPS, IBM, SAP, CNN, and the BBC. Three is everywhere. In writing and speaking, three is more satisfying than any other number. It’s no accident that threes are all around us. It worked for Jefferson, it worked for the world’s greatest writers, and it works for many TED speakers. Dr. Jill, who delivered the second-most-popular presentation in TED history, divided her talk, “My Stroke of Insight,” into three parts, each lasting six minutes. By doing so, the presentation was easier for her to remember and deliver, and it made the presentation easier for the audience to follow. Here are some other examples of the rule of three in TED presentations.

TED Talkers Who Talk in Threes You’ll recall Kevin Allocca from chapter 6, the YouTube trends manager who gets paid to watch videos. Actually he studies the viral nature of popular videos. Allocca says 48 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute and only a tiny percentage go viral, generating millions of views in a short period of time. “So how does it happen? Three things: tastemakers, communities of participation and unexpectedness,”8 Alloca began. In his 10-minute presentation, Allocca offered marketers valuable information and, by dividing his presentation into three areas, made the material easy to remember. Allocca isn’t the only TED speaker who divides content into three. Don Norman explained three ways design makes you happy. Tom Wujec talked about the three ways the brain creates meaning. V. S. Ramachandran revealed the three clues to understanding your brain. Tim Leberecht discussed the three ways brands lose control of their identity. Ric Elias talked about the three things he learned when his plane crashed. Mikko Hypponen revealed the three types of ways crooks can steal your digital data. Dan Ariely offered three irrational lessons from the Bernie Madoff scandal. There’s even a three-minute TED talk—“TED in 3 Minutes”—featuring snack-size nuggets of inspiration from Arianna Huffington, New York Times tech columnist David Pogue, and Terry Moore, who gave the first-ever three-minute TED talk and showed the audience a better way to tie their shoes. The “shoe talk” has been viewed more than 1.5 million times. People want to be taught something new and they don’t want to wait too long to learn it!

THE THREE-STORY STRUCTURE In the spirit of the rule of three, many effective TED presenters and TED-worthy presenters use three stories as the outline for their presentations. Here is one example followed by a detailed explanation of how to create an outline of your own.

Build a Message Map in Three Easy Steps.

A message map is the visual display of your idea on one page. It is a powerful tool that should be a part of your communication arsenal. Building a message map can help you pitch anything (a product, service, company, or idea) in as little as 15 seconds or to shape the framework for a longer, 18-minute presentation. Here is the three-step process for using a message map to build a winning pitch. For this exercise you will need a notepad, Word document, PowerPoint slide, or whiteboard.

Step One: Create a Twitter-Friendly Headline “What is the single most important thing I want my listener to know about my [product, service, brand, idea]?” Draw a circle at the top of the message map (or page) and insert the answer to this question—this is your headline.

Step Two: Support the Headline with Three Key Messages Dr. Jill divided her popular TED talk, “My Stroke of Insight,” into three sections that lasted six minutes each: the circuitry of the brain, the day of the stroke, and the insight the experience offered about life, the world, and her place in it.

Step Three: Reinforce the Three Messages with Stories, Statistics, and Examples Add bullet points to each of the three supporting messages. You don’t have to write out the entire story. Instead, write a few words that will prompt you to deliver the story. Remember, the entire message map must fit on one page.

Steve Jobs’s famous commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005. The speech comes in a very TED-friendly 15 minutes. It has one theme, the Twitter-friendly headline: DO WHAT YOU LOVE. It’s divided into three parts (connect the dots, love and loss, and death) with three supporting points for each part. The result is a clear view of what the listener needs to know in one glance. Creating a message map for your presentation content is an efficient and effective way to ensure your presentation isn’t too long or unorganized.

insert in the bubble at the top the headline I asked you to create in chapter 4. Now, what’s your rule of three? Take the product, service, brand, or idea you built your headline around and create three points to support it. If you have more than three key messages, divide the content into three categories. Insert your points in the three bubbles below the headline bubble. Finally, can you create sub-points of three within each category? Supporting points can include stories, examples, anecdotes, or meaningful statistics, as we’ve discussed in earlier chapters. You can use the message map to pitch any idea, product, service, or company. It’s one of the most effective and valuable communication tools you’ll ever use.

Secret #7: Stick to the 18-Minute Rule

The 18-minute rule isn’t simply a good exercise to learn discipline. It’s critical to avoid overloading your audience. Remember, constrained presentations require more creativity.

8. Paint a Mental Picture with Multisensory Experiences

Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In those events, people died or became seriously ill because they lacked safe drinking water. Pritchard invented the portable LIFESAVER filter, which turns filthy water into drinkable water.

Pritchard opens the presentation with a photograph of a little boy, dressed in rags, scooping up rancid, dirty water from a muddy field. “Now I see you’ve all been enjoying the water that’s been provided for you here at the conference over the past couple of days. And I’m sure you’ll feel that it’s from a safe source,”1 he begins telling the audience. “But what if it wasn’t? What if it was from a source like this? Then statistics would actually say that half of you would now be suffering with diarrhea.” Pritchard had grabbed the attention of the audience right out of the gate (a jaw-dropping moment) with a simple yet evocative photograph and a statistic that made the audience squirm. And he was just getting started. Three minutes into Pritchard’s presentation, he walks up to a fish tank filled to about three-quarters with water he took from the nearby river Thames. It’s mostly clear, and only slightly murky. “I got to thinking, you know, if we were in the middle of a flood zone in Bangladesh, the water wouldn’t look like this. So I’ve gone and got some stuff to add into it.” And with that Pritchard begins adding more water—water from his pond, sewage runoff, and, in an act that really turned up the emotional vividness of the demonstration, a “gift from a friend of mine’s rabbit.” Pritchard scooped up some of the water with his device, gave it a few pumps, and poured clean, safe drinking water into a glass. He drank it, as did curator Chris Anderson, who was seated near the stage. The entire demonstration lasted no more than three minutes. Pritchard’s presentation consisted of photographs, statistics, and demonstrations. It wasn’t one thing that made his presentation especially memorable—it was all three.

Deliver presentations with components that touch more than one of the senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Why it works: Remember, the brain does not pay attention to boring things. It’s nearly impossible to be bored if you’re exposed to mesmerizing images, captivating videos, intriguing props, beautiful words, and more than one voice bringing the story to life. Nobody is going to ask you to build multisensory elements into your presentation, but once they experience it, they’ll love every minute of it. The brain craves multisensory experiences. Your audience might not be able to explain why they love your presentation; it will be your little secret.

Learning,” Mayer suggests that it’s far more effective to explain concepts using multiple methods of sensory inputs—such as auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Mayer is convinced that one of the most important areas of study in cognitive psychology is the understanding of how multimedia can foster student learning. In Mayer’s experiments, students who were exposed to multisensory environments—text, pictures, animation, and video—always, not sometimes, always had much more accurate recall of the information than those students who only heard or read the information. Mayer said the principle should not be surprising. When the brain is allowed to build two mental representations of an explanation—a verbal model and a visual model—the mental connections are not just a little stronger. They are much, much stronger. Add touch and you’ve got a winner!

The differences between two types of learning (auditory and visual) were even more striking when the “audience,” the people learning the information, lacked prior knowledge of the material. Students with high prior knowledge of the content can generate their own mental images while simply listening or reading.

Think about the most important presentations you deliver—they are probably given to people with “low” prior knowledge of the information: pitching a new idea, product, company, or campaign explaining new rules, processes, or guidelines teaching students on the first day of class training employees or salespeople on new tools or customer-service initiatives selling a product to a customer who’s never used or heard of it launching a unique, revolutionary product or service asking an investor for money to grow your company

pitching a new idea, product, company, or campaign explaining new rules, processes, or guidelines teaching students on the first day of class training employees or salespeople on new tools or customer-service initiatives selling a product to a customer who’s never used or heard of it launching a unique, revolutionary product or service asking an investor for money to grow your company

Great public speakers know this and build presentations around one of the senses predominantly, but they incorporate at least one or two others: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Smell and taste are harder to incorporate in a presentation, but Pritchard offered an example of how to stimulate both senses without physically touching the audience (if a person imagines how water smells or tastes, it triggers the same areas of the brain as if the person has actually ingested the water). So, with smell and taste out of the way, let’s focus on sight, sound, and touch.

See It In presentation slides, use pictures instead of text whenever possible... Pictures Are Superior

If you hear information, you are likely to remember about 10 percent of that information three days later. Add a picture, however, and your recall rate will soar to 65 percent. To put that into context, a picture will help you remember six times more

Our brains are wired to process visual information—pictures—very differently than text and sound. Scientists call the effect “multimodal” learning: pictures are processed in several channels instead of one, giving the brain a far deeper and meaningful encoding experience.

Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Don’t think just about what you want people to know; think about how you want them to feel.

Lisa Kristine capture the beauty and expose the hardships of indigenous peoples.

Instead of showing the photographs as she spoke, she started reciting the story first and then displayed the photo shortly after she began the narrative. This technique forced the audience to listen to her words carefully before seeing the photo of the characters she revealed in her story.

Feel It The holy grail of a presentation is to transport the audience to another place. The visual display of information helps them to see it, but if the audience cannot physically touch something, how do we complete the journey? Again, think about a presentation as a Broadway play. An award-winning play has a wonderful story, intriguing characters, and relevant props.

HELP THE AUDIENCE TO “FEEL” YOUR PRESENTATION. Step outside the slides every once in a while. Build in demonstrations, show products, ask the audience to participate. If you’re launching a product, it’s fairly easy to do this because you can show people a physical product to see and touch. But what if your content is pure idea or concept? You can still create multisensory experiences. In one of my keynote presentations on the topic of customer service, I talk about a chain of soap stores called Lush. It’s expensive soap. I hold a bar up and ask how many people would pay $37 a pound for it. Nobody’s hand goes up. I walk into the audience and ask for a volunteer to smell and feel the soap. I ask the question again. If they still say they wouldn’t pay for it, I give them the bar “for free.” I continue to build the story and to give away soap. Soon the audience realizes that the more they learn about the soap, the more likely they are to pay for it. It’s a fun way to get the audience involved while helping them improve brand communications and the customer experience.

9. Stay in Your Lane

Secret #9: Stay in Your Lane Be authentic, open, and transparent.

Why it works: 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.

PRESENT YOUR CONTENT TO A DIFFERENT AUDIENCE. One way I help clients to be more authentic when they are “on” is to have them present their content to a friend or spouse before they have to present it to the intended audience. They are more likely to let some of their “real” self come out when delivering the information to someone they have a relationship with than to a group of listeners they don’t necessarily have a close connection with.