Book Review: Talk like TED

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When my husband and I went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University as part of our premarital counseling, I remember Dave saying (though I wasn’t sure if it was in the DVDs or on the radio) that everyone should read at least one nonfiction book a month (my goal is two; the other this month was Stephen Hawking’s, “An Illustrated Brief History of Time”, but I didn’t understand all of it quite well enough to write a review), and that reminded me of this list:  http://www.daveramsey.com/blog/20-things-the-rich-do-every-day.  I’d tried to keep it in mind, but it serves me better on my fridge, where I’ve posted all my other goals (most of them writing, ones but that narrow focus has made me well-rounded in all of the wrong ways).

So, the first Tuesday of every month, I’ll be posting a nonfiction book review, as I didn’t care for the way the Goodreads widget looked on my blog. 

Even if you’re not a public speaker, you will love this book (especially if you’re a writer), because it will point you to some really great TED talks.  (TED stands for technology, education, and design.)  Even though I don’t plan on public speaking any time before I graduate from college (too many irons in the fire), one thing Mr. Gallo said resonated with me, and that was that PowerPoint sucks.  I wish my online instructors would use the TED template for teaching some of their material so I wouldn’t find myself spacing out during “lectures”.  I’ve often found the text on PowerPoint slides to be distracting (like closed captions on television, even though background noise over dialogue forces me to resort to them); stunning visuals (or slides) should be used instead.  It was how Al Gore convinced people of man-made global warming.

However, even though Mr. Gallo claims that talks shouldn’t be more than 18 minutes, I’ve listened to professors and speakers for three hours, and, as long they were interesting and I had an intermission, I remained engaged.  Think about it:  How many men watch a four-hour football game or how many women binge-watch “Big Love”?  If they can sit through that, they can sit through more than an 18-minute talk.  Joel Osteen, a wildly popular, “pop” minister, often speaks well over that time frame.  The problem isn’t with the length (albeit within reason), it’s with our attention-span.  Maybe we need to learn how to focus on listening more and talking less.  We are overstimulated as a society with our cell phones, we can’t just be.

That said, I agreed that the objective of a talk should be able to be expressed in “Twitter time” (140 characters or less).  Creativity does thrive under constraints, because I’ve found it easier to write for a deadline, a certain word count, or theme, as it gives you a framework.

When I watched David Christian’s talk, “The History of our World”, I was left wanting more, but maybe a Ted Talk is supposed to leave us feeling that way, so we will explore the issue further.  See:  http://www.ted.com/talks/david_christian_big_history?language=en.  That talk led me to reading Stephen Hawking’s “The Brief Illustrated History of Time” (I don’t claim to understand everything in it, but even if you don’t, you will get something out of it; nevertheless, it’s a fascinating read).

As for Susan Cain’s talk, “The Power of Introverts”, (https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts?language=en), it inspired me to read her book, being an introvert myself.  I remember in school, if you were introverted, you were considered an outcast, except with other introverts, but I look at it this way:  When you’re an introvert, you love your own company, and you’re less likely to be bored.  Boredom is something I haven’t experienced since I was a child, and even then, I found my own way out of it.  Maybe that’s why I loved making up stories, spending time with people who didn’t really exist.

Another book I was inspired to check out was “The Book of Awesome” (see:  http://1000awesomethings.com/the-top-1000/); however, after seeing “picking your nose” on the list, I’m dubious (maybe he ran out of ideas?).  I prefer Maria von Trapp’s “favorite things”, or maybe even Oprah’s, as I’m currently reading through some of her Book Club selections.  When my cable went out for about a week, I’d felt more at peace than I had in awhile, for I’d grown weary of the talking heads and punditry.  It was like a spell had been broken.  I didn’t need to know what was going on at every minute of every day, and I hadn’t realized what a negative effect it had had on me.  I find myself longing for the days when I was a little girl and news was a 30-minute primetime event.  I remember growing up to the calm, comatose-inducing lull of C-SPAN at my maternal grandparents’ house.  I dug out my old “Wings” collection and it was nice to laugh about silly things, rather than be entertained by “political theatre”.

Sir Ken Robinson’s speech on education (https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity?language=en) was my favorite (and not just because of the English accent).  Large portions of his speech are included in the book, but it was nothing like listening to him give it.  I’ve heard that poetry is best when read aloud, and now I know why.  Sir Robinson’s speech only confirmed my belief that education is on the decline.  Case in point:  I will never forget my tenth-grade English teacher telling me the epic poem I wrote for our semester project (our theme that year was Greek mythology) was too creative.  She gave me a C, and I can still remember her face when I showed her that I won first place in fiction in a regional writing contest (and this was at the age of 16).  That said, she was a good sport and had me read it in class.  It was one of the few times my shyness (now having matured into introvertedness) was forgotten.  I believed in what I’d written, for someone else had believed in it, too.

However, he was careful to say don’t just live inside your head.  You have a body, too, that can do amazing things.

Needless to say, I got more out of this book than mere information, which has led me to seek more information; it also inspired me to do a TED talk someday many, many years from now.  When a book inspires you, that’s saying quite a bit.  Furthermore, I learned more from reading this book than I did taking a Basic Speaking and Listening class at college.

One of the things I agreed with the author about was that it isn’t wise to tell jokes unless you’re a comedian.  Rather, weave anecdotes into your story/narrative.  This goes for being a writer, as well, and I have to say that I don’t care for stand-up comedy, but I love (good) situation comedy—humor that arises organically through situations, with characters you get to know more than you do in a movie.  I rarely ever tell a joke in any of my stories, because it takes you away from the story.  The only time I’ve used a joke was through the voice of a young girl who fancies herself as a comedienne, where the jokes are intentionally lame, where the joke is simply a tool providing insight into the character and not about the joke itself.

Mr. Gallo did promote TED speakers as much as he gave advice, but I didn’t mind.  Though it sounds rather crass, we are all in sales now.  We’re all in the business (or should be) of selling ourselves to an employer (also known as an interview).  Many things sell themselves, but they have to be presented in the right way, which is what a TED talk does—it presents information in a fun, conversational way—not as a series of bullet points on PowerPoint, but through a multi-sensory experience.  Stories that employ the use of metaphors and analogies are my favorite (after anecdotes).  Even Jesus used parables to convey His message, and relate to His audience.  Images, videos, quotes, and props, also add to the experience (and they don’t even have to be your own).

A few tidbits from the book.  The three components of inspiring presentation are (and forgive the bullet points):

• Emotional—they should touch your heart
• Novel—they should teach you something new
• Memorable—they should present content in unforgettable ways

According to Aristotle, the power of persuasion resided in three things:

• Ethos:  credibility
• Logos:  logic, data, statistics
• Pathos:  appealing to emotions

I like to say I prefer movies that were made back during a time when people were more sophisticated than their technology, but believe it or not, people are getting smarter (p. 127). That alone gave me hope. I was also heartened to read that it’s never too late to learn something new (p. 33).  “Neuroplasticity…as a person becomes an expert in a particular area….the areas of the brain associated with those skills actually grow.”  Being an avid, lifelong learner, this made me realize I still have time to learn all the things I wish I’d learned as a child that my undomesticated goddess mother did not know how to do.

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