Uncovering gems to effective speech message from TED talks
2022, 7th February 7 min read
Communication skills have over the years powered up. When we watch presentations or speeches these days, we will realize that we get the ideas more succinctly and remember them longer.
There are so many aspects to effective communication skills including delivery, content, and language. I like to share my findings on how speakers make their contents stick. I shall list three ways gleaned mostly from watching TED talks.
1 Effective speaker use the multi-sensory experience
For the following reasons;
a) Powerpoints are no longer effective.
Remember the days when we were shown PowerPoint slides with bullet points to read?
It is found that a slide usually has as many as 40 words.
b) It is better to display an image and speak to the audience.
Research has shown that the audience can’t listen to the words and read the wordy slide at the same time. This is explained by the dual coding theory by Prof Paivio from Canada.
What is dual coding theory?
Prof Paivio explained that when you just give your audience a term or word, they will register it as a verbal code.
But when you give an image and a term, they will register it visually and verbally, making it a clearer concept.
Eg you mention a chow dog, we know it as a kind of dog
But when you attach an image of a chow dog, you will remember it as a very furry cute dog that looks like a bear.
Therefore, give your audience a double coding effect if you want the message to stick.
C) Neuroscience experiments have also proven the PSE (Picture superiority effect)
Evidence has shown;
A picture helps one to recall 6 X more than listening to words alone. If you hear information, you can only recall 10% 3 days later compared to a visual impact of 65%
The picture is now etched into your brain and will remain with you for some time to seek action.
Visuals should enhance words, not duplicate — -TED Commandment
Use more images and even videos and narrate along with them. Appeal to the senses of visual, auditory, and touch if possible. Taste and smell may only be possible through narration.
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2 Speakers use the rule of 3 — –
It has been discovered that 3 is the magic number of items or headings that people will remember in short-term memory. As the number increases, the retention reduces.
Under each heading, you elaborate and they could be further broken down into another 3 items.
The rule of 3 pervades our lives too;
In literature, we have 3 little pigs, 3 musketeers, 3 wishes granted to Aladdin.
In art, we have 3 primary colors — red, blue, and yellow
At the dinner table, you have 3 pieces of cutlery — spoon, fork, knife.
Steve Job’s 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech is a fine example that employs the Rule of 3.
He used a message map in 3 steps
First is the Headline
The headline is supported with 3 key messages
Under each key message, he had organized his storytelling into 3 points.
Steve Job’s talk can be viewed on Youtube.
It would be more effective if he had added more images and elaborated his rule of 3 speech. But that was back in 2005 when he spoke at the podium during his Stanford Commencement Speech and there were no visual aids used.
Forward to 2009 TED talk by Bill Gates Ted talk about “Mosquitoes, Malaria and Education” — nicely categorized under 3 headings, yet each category has poignant and relevant slides that drove the message home.
Bill Gates told the story simply. As the images were flashed, we see only relevant headings that did not clutter the images.
His statistical slides were also clean-cut and attractive.
He also used a short animated video to show the increased or decreased effect of an outcome.
3 Speakers use special techniques
1) Using Humor
Humor lowers defenses and makes the audience more receptive. The audience loves humor and if you package your message around it, it will be more impactful.
A good example is employed by Bill Gates in his TED talk about the elimination of mosquitoes worldwide. He mentioned that “there is more money put into baldness than malaria drugs. Baldness is a terrible thing and rich men are afflicted that’s why the priority has been sapped” — —This elicited a smile from the audience who found it amusing.
He then opened the container to release some mosquitoes. He said, “ I brought these to let them roam around a bit; There is no reason why only poor people should have the experience” causing a burst of laughter. Meanwhile, behind him, an image of a mosquito drawing blood from the skin was displayed.
2) Using rhetorical devices like analogies and metaphors
An analogy is a clear comparison that something is like something to explain the situation better. You are comparing two different things that share similarities.
Eg Life is like a race
A metaphor is an implied comparison that something is something else with the same similarities.
Eg My baby brother is a cute little teddy bear.
These rhetorical devices are effective because they paint vivid imagery of the object or the situation that allows a clearer understanding in the audience’s minds.
They are also a more colorful and entertaining way of expressing the words making them more poetic, persuasive, and pronounced.
3) Using relevant quotes — -Motivational, inspirational, and realistic quotes by famous people help the audience develop a new perspective, enlighten them or shock them into reality. Many of these quotes are so wise that they continue to ring in the audience’s ears long after reciting them.
The quality of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts — -Marcus Aurelius
Good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity — Nat Turner
Quotes may be used in the beginning or in the conclusion to give additional impact to the message. Many times, a good quote has lingered in my mind so I know it can be effective.
In Summary, to make messages stick;
1. Use the multi-sensory experience of visual, auditory. Taste, smell, and touch where applicable
2. Deliver your message in a package of 3 headings.
3. Use special features like humor, rhetorical devices, and effective quotations.
May your speeches from now on be like a precious gift to your audience that they would forever cherish your message and carry out your appeal for action.