What Virtual Events Can Learn From TED

| By Vivien Hudson

I recently submitted an idea to TEDx. In the funneling down process of who out of the 200 nominees would make it to the stage, I did some research. What makes a great TED talk? In my readings one book stuck out to me: ‘Talk Like TED’ by Carmine Gallo. As I read through the pages, I started to see some analogies that could relate to a successful virtual event.

The foreword of the book discusses the currency of the 21st century: Ideas. Some companies have been pulling back on remote work, citing that it kills creativity. What if they are just doing it wrong? ‘Talk Like TED’ brings some insights into delivering great ideas and great presentations and can easily be used virtually. After all, the most views of TED talks come from YouTube!

We can also use insights from the book to help us generate some of those great ideas and craft a great presentation that works on a virtual platform.

Each chapter has a TED note at the end. Some of the TED notes that struck a chord with me were:

1. ‘Invite passionate people into your life’

Help your events come to life by using people who are passionate about their subject. TED shares the ideas of people who are passionate about what they talk about. The main reason that TED talks are effective. Many people have heart felt and connected stories, data and visuals that show their passion. Use those passionate virtual gurus that are out there to help you lift your game so you can better share your ideas.

2. ‘Use Aristotle’s components of persuasion – ethos (credibility), logos (evidence and data) and pathos (emotional appeal)’

The most powerful TED presentations rank higher in emotional appeal through the connection of ideas to stories. The best presentations were shown to have 50% or more of the content related to storytelling. Storytelling, can include a personal or brand story, or a story about someone else. The human brain is naturally wired to listen to a good story. Alternately, ask for stories from your attendees.

3. ‘Speak in a conversational tone’

Speaking conversationally creates a more open and safe arena for collaboration. Let your audience feel like you are speaking with them and not at them. This can require practice! Be willing to record and listen to yourself and really hear how you sound. Add vocal variety and inject enthusiasm.

The more you practice virtual delivery, the more conversational your tone will become. This requires you to really own the content of your session, so your words really resonate with you. If they resonate with you, they will resonate with your audience. Don’t be afraid to gesture too even though people may not be able to see you!

4. ‘Bombard the brain with new experiences’

The virtual classroom enables you to delight your audience with some new experiences – creative tools and games, videos and more. Many of the tools in a virtual event can be new for first time users. As Seth Godin states, if you drive down a road and see a cow, you think nothing of it. If the cow were purple however, you would notice, until of course, all the cows are purple you wouldn’t notice anymore.

Using novelty in a fun way can help create some great ice breaker activities but be careful not to make too much, too new in case you scare people away.

5. ‘Create a Twitter friendly headline’

If you can’t title your event in 140 characters or less then it’s too long. Thing about what is the one key thing you want your audience to know and go with that as your central idea and theme for your event. Better still, make it tweetable!

6. ‘Stats can rock’

Persuasion occurs when you reach a person’s heart and head = logic and emotion. Present statistics in a relatable manner. Add context to your data to make it more appealing to the listener. How does that statistic relate to what they do or something else they might be familiar with?

7. ‘Remember what worked’

It's all about knowing what makes people smile. Unfortunately, as a ‘blind and deaf’ facilitator you may have trouble hearing or seeing your audience reactions. Take your real life interactions and make notes of what works – what made other people smile, laugh or want to know more?

8. ‘Lighten up your presentation with video and photos’

Photos add color, interest and say a lot more than words on a slide. Images can be used to help connect emotion through imagery, helping with memory and recollection. Images can directly tell part of your story or add interjections of humor where appropriate. Keep text on a slide to a minimum. Text and bullet points are the least memorable way to transfer information.

Think how can you use graphics instead to demonstrate your points.

9. ‘Stick to the 18 minute rule’

18 minutes is long enough to provide some serious content but not too long to provide cognitive overload. Consider how you can build in the ‘18 minute rule’ – alternate speakers, take a poll break, show a short video or switch to the next point or topic. It is difficult for people to continue to listen for lengthy periods of time as it creates a cognitive backlog. If a soft break is not interspersed, there is the risk that all the learning could be dropped because of this brain overload.

10. ‘Build a message map’

Use the rules of 3 to create a message map – what is your idea, thought or topic? What 3 ideas stem from that and what 3 points deliver each of those ideas. If you need more than 3, divide your topic again. Use stories, examples, anecdotes or data to support each point.

11. ‘Paint a mental picture with multisensory experiences’

Incorporate the senses in the language that you use in your virtual presentations. Dr Richard Mayer, a Psychology professor at UC Santa Barbara conducted experiments that demonstrated recollection of information was much greater when listeners were exposed to multisensory environments including text, pictures, animation and video. Building both a verbal and visual model creates significantly stronger mental connections than using a single mental representation. This is even stronger for those that have no prior knowledge of the subject.

This rule is even more powerful when using it for a new idea, product, pitch or launching new training.

12. ‘Stay in your lane’.

Bring authenticity to what you deliver. If you connect to your content because it is what you think and believe the congruence will come through in how you present it. Practice presenting to family members or friends to help find your unique connection to your message. Those that speak from the heart with sincerity, confidence and knowledge will be compelling in their delivery.

As virtual presenters, facilitators and designers, we can take valuable lessons from TED and apply them to what we do virtually. Approach your presentation as a big chance opportunity to make your idea worth spreading, virtually. You can certainly learn how to from Carmine Gallo.

By the way, I didn’t make the final cut for my local TEDx. Very nearly! But not this year. Thankfully, there is always next year. 

Author: Vivien Hudson

Vivien fell into the virtual world around the time she moved from Australia to the US in 2013. She has a diverse past from working in healthcare as a pharmacist and business owner to sales, coaching and brain fitness. She has led a national remote team and now works with Virtual Gurus developing virtual mastery and presence.  

In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family of 3 kids, nature where she can unplug, cooking and reading anything that relates to EQ, connection and self-leadership.

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