Watching curator Chris Anderson in speaker rehearsals before a TED conference feels like witnessing the zen of a longtime coach who knows his sport both inside out and backwards. Whenever a trial run of a talk feels just a little askew, a few simple sentences are whispered. Magically, the next time the talk is given publicly, it is mesmerizing — and without a hint that it was ever anything but.
In a new essay in The Harvard Business Review’s June issue, Anderson shares his fine-tuned advice for delivering a powerful talk. A few choice tidbits:
“We all know that humans are wired to listen to stories, and metaphors abound for the narrative structures that work best to engage people. When I think about compelling presentations, I think about taking an audience on a journey.”
“Many of our best and most popular TED Talks have been memorized word for word … Most people go through what I call the ‘valley of awkwardness,’ where they haven’t quite memorized the talk. If they give the talk while stuck in that valley, the audience will sense it … Getting past this point is simple, fortunately. It’s just a matter of rehearsing enough times that the flow of words becomes second nature.”
“Perhaps the most important physical act onstage is making eye contact. Find five or six friendly-looking people in different parts of the audience and look them in the eye as you speak. Think of them as friends you haven’t seen in a year, whom you’re bringing up to date on your work.“