Content Is King: Public Speaking Secrets from TED


Jessica Stillman recently published an article on Inc. called “5 Secrets of Public Speaking From the Best TED Presenters.”  Naturally, I gobbled up her “secrets” which come directly from Jeremey Donovan’s book How To Deliver A TED Talk.

TED has, thankfully, revolutionized the way some people present information.  Presentations are no longer about delivering a report to an audience and relying on your eye contact and the sparkle in your voice to get you through.  Content is key, as Stillman explains in her article.  Her 5 secrets include crafting one big idea or central message; focusing your content on your audience; creating an effective hook; repeating a catchphrase that will resonate with your audience; and telling stories (Source).  Many of my colleagues are still teaching that basic report style of presenting.  They believe that content is secondary to delivery and that the speaker’s message should be information-packed and logos-driven.  As long as the delivery is charming, they say, the speaker will be successful.  I disagree, and this fundamental difference is what drives the presentation revolution.  I believe in Donovan’s advice.  I believe in TED.  I believe in Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds.  I also believe the tired way of teaching public speaking relies on Carol Dweck’s fixed mindset (check back for tomorrow’s post elaborating on these issues), and a teaching environment where only so-called naturally charismatic people can deliver great speeches is an environment I do not want to be in.



Let’s examine two TED Talks to prove Donovan’s point.  Take Sir Ken Robinson’s “Schools Kill Creativity.”  Perhaps one of the most famous and well-loved TED Talks, Robinson’s 2006 presentation has been viewed 20 million times because of the story-driven content.  I don’t remember Robinson’s factual evidence.  I remember his humor when he talks about his wife and children, and I remember my sadness when he talks about a young Gillian Lynne.  My emotional connection to the content of the speech is what makes “Schools Kill Creativity” successful.  It certainly isn’t Robinson’s delivery!  Stricken with polio at a young age, Robinson doesn’t use movement to get his point across.  His power comes from his content.  Some of my colleagues argue that “Schools Kill Creativity” is too story-driven.  That means they don’t understand how people learn and how ideas are successfully transmitted.  To me, that also means they don’t need to be teaching a public speaking and presentation class.

Let’s also look at Susan Cain’s “The Power of Introverts.”  Her point is that we aren’t all extroverted, social, outgoing people, and we live in a world where these qualities are prized.  So what happens to introverted people?  Does that mean they are poor communicators?  Does that mean they are poor public speakers?  Some of the best presentations ever delivered in my classroom were given by introverts, and that is because I look much deeper than superficial things like eye contact and a powerful voice.  It’s a good thing that I can look deeper, because during her TED Talk, Cain’s delivery isn’t perfect.  She does appear shy, soft-spoken, and timid.  If I prized delivery above all else, I might not even give her speech a chance.  Thankfully, 5 million people did give Cain a chance and watched her TED Talk.  In fact, Cain’s presentation holds the record as gaining 1 million views faster than any other speech in TED Talk history and is one of the most-viewed Talks of all time.  Cain’s TED Talk shows the power of authenticity over showmanship (Source).  To me, that’s what public speaking is all about.  The power of presentations don’t lie in flashy delivery but in that content.  Stillman’s article on Donovan believes this.  The presentation revolution was founded on this.

Why do you think so many people – especially public speaking and presentation instructors – resist the ideas of the presentation revolution?  Is there anything we can do to help them see the light?


How To Give An Awesome Presentation


This short video is a great explanation of why the old model of presenting doesn’t work and what we can do to make sure our ideas resonate:


We are truly stuck in the old model of presenting.  It’s everywhere; it’s all around us.  This old model can be found in classrooms, in meeting halls, and in convention centers.  We’ve been inundated in the old model of presenting for 20 years now.

Since the invention of PowerPoint, presentations have changed.  Instead of an exciting knowledge-exchange, a presentation is an excuse for the audience to roll their eyes and pull our their iPhone.  If the medium isn’t being used properly, and if our ideas aren’t connecting, why do some people still insist on using PowerPoint in this uninspiring way?

What can we do to encourage people to join the presentation revolution?

Faculty Development: Introduction to the Presentation Revolution


This morning, I delivered my first Faculty Development workshop called “Introduction to the Presentation Revolution.”  As you might recall, I’ve been working on this for quite some time.  In fact, my FacDev slides inspired me to completely reboot my first day of class slides.

In class on Wednesday, I asked my students to help me prepare for today’s workshop.  I asked them what they’d like to see teachers learn from the workshop and how they, the students, could benefit from a faculty-only workshop like this.  My students gave me some honest, thoughtful advice.  They felt that teaching teachers how to be better teachers might be problematic because of the “big egos” we professors have.  They told me not to be discouraged if the other teachers frowned upon my advice.  (Have I mentioned how much I love this class?  They’re so adorable.)  They also agreed that more teachers should join the presentation revolution so that they could have a better learning experience in the classroom.

Well, I am happy to report that the workshop was a success!  In a room that could seat 100 people, we had about 20 attendees, which was just fantastic because we could actually talk to one another.  Several attendees offered great, supportive advice about things they do in their own classroom to push their teaching and presenting into the 21st century.  A few more kind attendees talked with me afterward – and one emailed me – to express their excitement to implement some of the material we’d gone over.

Though I prepared for a whole lot of this…

… to my surprise, I didn’t feel/hear/see any negativity at all.  The faculty seemed to really embrace the presentation as a three-legged stool concept.

Thank you to all of the public speaking gurus who inspired me to share these ideas with our faculty.  We’re signing people up to join the presentation revolution one at a time! :)

Ethos3: The Presenter’s Manifesto


Ethos3 is promoting a fantastic opportunity today… If you commit to joining the presentation revolution, the public speaking and presentation design company will send you the Presenter’s Manifesto!




I received my copy this morning, and, of course, it is exceptional.  It summarizes the common goal we presenters share and definitely promotes the art of 21st century presenting.

Get your copy of the Presenter’s Manifesto here.

Matt Gilhooly: Presentation Design Convert


I am happy to report that a brand new member of the presentation revolution is now spending his time creating effective visual design.  In September, 2012, Matt Gilhooly officially joined the presentation revolution!

Since Mr. Gilhooly is the Program Manager of Undergraduate Studies at Full Sail University, he spends a lot of time attending and presenting at meetings.  Fortunately, Matt’s audience will no longer be massacred with bullets.

Here is Matt finishing up a deck of amazing slides for a meeting:

The Keynote even received the Chiara Ojeda thumbs-up, the official slide seal of approval.

Have you joined the presentation revolution?

A Work In Progress: Slides for a Faculty Development Workshop


Each year, I make three personal work goals to help me continue progressing as a faculty member of the English Department at my university.  In early 2012, I made three goals: 1) to return to school to pursue a second M.A. degree in Interpersonal Communication, 2) to build stronger relationships with my online students and to build a stronger “classroom” experience for them, and 3) to present a Faculty Development workshop on campus.  Well, I began school again in August, 2012, and Chiara Ojeda and I have retooled the online class a total of three times already this year with a fourth and fifth reboot on the way.  The last goal to fulfill is the Fac Dev Workshop.

You can see my slideshow-in-progress above.  I plan to introduce classroom faculty to the presentation revolution and to give them a basic idea of what it is, who started it, and why it is important.  It was inspired by many, many things, but especially:

1) Re-reading Nancy Duarte’s Resonate again (and again)

2) How To Be A Presentation God by Scott Schwertly

3) Suzy Johnson’s guest lecture about design and typography

4) Chiara Ojeda’s absolutely gorgeous, inspiring, amazing “Your Speech Is Toxic” deck

5) Continuous student feedback on the terrible quality of their teachers’ presentations.

I plan to present it to faculty in November or December of 2012 so that I can close out another successful year of meeting my personal career goals.  Hopefully, I can also inspire a teacher or two to ditch the bulleted slides, to come out from behind the podium, to turn the lights on, to tell stories, and to start actually teaching.

What goals did you set for your career this year?  With time running out, how do you plan to achieve them in the next three months?

How To Join The Presentation Revolution


Ever since I met Chiara Ojeda and sat in on a few minutes of her Professional Communication and Presentation class, I’ve been a steadfast member of the presentation revolution.  People who’ve guided me on my mission to change presentations from awful to engaging include Garr Reynolds, Nancy Duarte, Phil Waknell, Ethos3, Andrew Dlugan of Six Minutes, Seth Godin, Chip and Dan Heath, Julie Dirksen, John Medina, a half dozen Slideshare superstars, and the entire TED website/organization.

So what, exactly, is the “presentation revolution?”  The best way to begin to describe it is to explain Jim Endicott’s three-legged stool metaphor:

Consider each of the legs of the presentation “stool.”  Each must be strong in order for the presentation to resonate with others.  You can also check out Nancy Duarte’s three-part “presentation ecosystem” based upon Endicott’s stool.

The presentation revolution requires us to concentrate on developing strong, solid content.  Most people don’t have a problem embracing this; content is important.  When it comes to content, my students don’t even blink when I tell them their content should be well-organized and audience-centered.  However, when I explain how much time they should put into this brainstorming/audience analysis/organization phase, I do get some pushback.  This is probably because the typical presenter spends very little time revising, changing, and developing content once a first draft has been completed.  The presentation revolution requires us to spend more time, effort, and planning when it comes to our speech content.

People often ignore presentation delivery because they feel you’re either good at delivery or you’re not.  You’re either born with it or you’re not.  You’re charismatic or you’re not.  Garr Reynolds’ The Naked Presenter changed my perspective on delivery.  It’s a must-read if you’re interested in joining the presentation revolution.  The text is about seeing delivery as connection with an audience as opposed to being perfect.  Effective delivery does lead to charisma in front of an audience, and it’s something we can learn. Do some people learn it more quickly than others? Certainly! But is is a quality we can all grow to possess. We must approach delivery with a growth as opposed to a fixed mindset if we ever hope to join the presentation revolution.

When it comes time to study design concepts to improve visual presentation, most people resist this drastic change from the start.  People embrace and agree that presentations are broken, but they have a tough time understanding WHY we shouldn’t use the death-by-bulletpoint method.  Teachers and educators don’t understand visual presentation AT ALL; most outright refuse to embrace effective design because it’s so different from the template and clip art rut they are stuck in.  Whether it’s a student or a fellow teacher, I hear the same protests against visual presentation; these protests are grounded in habit and history.  In order to use visuals effectively, one must know the purpose of those visuals as well as how people learn.

Creating Communication has a brand new section to help us navigate this new world of content, delivery, and visual presentation together!  If you’re new to the presentation revolution, this section is essential.  Learn more by clicking here.  You can also find the “Join The Presentation Revolution!” link at the very tip top of the page.