Some thoughts now that I’ve almost recovered from watching the funniest new comedy series on television: The GOP Presidential Candidates Debates.
Watching or listening to TED Talks is more enjoyable than watching television, with the possible exception of Showtime’s new Homeland series. When my son Nick and I took a three-day cross-country drive last year we passed many enjoyable miles listening to TED podcasts on the car stereo.
TED Talks are enjoyable for two reasons: One, both the speakers and their subjects are smart and interesting, and two, the presentations are almost invariably well-rehearsed and well-delivered. I don’t recall ever seeing a bad TED Talk.
Maybe it’s because the TED organizers send a stone tablet to their speakers listing the Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots of effective public speaking. In case anyone misses the symbolism, these are not simply public speaking tips and suggestions; these are The Commandments of The Angry and Vengeful Public Speaking Gods. For those who cannot decipher the Words Writ on Stone, here they are:
- Thou shalt not steal time. Beware the wrath of those who follow. Honor thy clock.
- Thou shalt not sell from the stage. Boast not your organization, nor your politics, nor your desperate need for funding.
- Thou shalt not flaunt thy ego. Beauty in the mirror reflects poorly upon the stage.
- Thou shalt not commit obfuscation. Shun the abstract. Shred the jargon. Explain! Give examples!
- Thou shalt not murder PowerPoint. Share your images. Spare your text. Cast out your endless bullet points.
- Thou shalt shine a light. Illuminate the beautiful. Simplify the complex. Make visible the mysterious.
- Thou shalt tell a story. For thus have humans connected since the dawn of time.
- Thou shalt honor emotion. The audience that laughs, applauds. They that weep also cheer.
- Thou shalt bravely bare thy soul. Reveal thy passion, thy hope, and thy fear. Speak of failure as well as success.
- Thou shalt prepare for impact. A wondrous, attentive throng awaits your every word. Be ready. Rehearse. This is your moment.
Apparently the Commandments evolve. Here’s a picture of another tablet received a few years back by a TED speaker:
Apparently The Gods were more terse in the olden days. Transcribed:
- Thou Shalt Not Simply Trot Out thy Usual Shtick.
- Thou Shalt Dream a Great Dream, or Show Forth a Wondrous New Thing, Or Share Something Thou Hast Never Shared Before.
- Thou Shalt Reveal thy Curiosity and Thy Passion.
- Thou Shalt Tell a Story.
- Thou Shalt Freely Comment on the Utterances of Other Speakers for the Sake of Blessed Connection and Exquisite Controversy.
- Thou Shalt Not Flaunt thine Ego. Be Thou Vulnerable. Speak of thy Failure as well as thy Success.
- Thou Shalt Not Sell from the Stage: Neither thy Company, thy Goods, thy Writings, nor thy Desperate need for Funding; Lest Thou be Cast Aside into Outer Darkness.
- Thou Shalt Remember all the while: Laughter is Good.
- Thou Shalt Not Read thy Speech.
- Thou Shalt Not Steal the Time of Them that Follow Thee.
Notice that in the fullness of time, “Thou Shalt Not Steal Time” moved from No. 10 to No. 1, and that “Thou Shalt Not Pimp Thyself or Thy Business” moved from No. 7 to No. 2, and that “Thou Shalt Not Flaunt Thine Ego” moved from No. 6 to No. 3. I see this as a logical consequence of people lobbying to get themselves invited to speak at TED events, without fully understanding or honoring the purpose of TED Talks.
And here are the commandments that the TED folks put up on their website after running them through some sort of humor filtering mechanism:
- Dream big. Strive to create the best talk you have ever given. Reveal something never seen before. Do something the audience will remember forever. Share an idea that could change the world.
- Show us the real you. Share your passions, your dreams … and also your fears. Be vulnerable. Speak of failure as well as success.
- Make the complex plain. Don’t try to dazzle intellectually. Don’t speak in abstractions. Explain! Give examples. Tell stories. Be specific.
- Connect with people’s emotions. Make us laugh! Make us cry!
- Don’t flaunt your ego. Don’t boast. It’s the surest way to switch everyone off.
- No selling from the stage! Unless we have specifically asked you to, do not talk about your company or organization. And don’t even think about pitching your products or services or asking for funding from stage.
- Feel free to comment on other speakers’ talks, to praise or to criticize. Controversy energizes! Enthusiastic endorsement is powerful!
- Don’t read your talk. Notes are fine. But if the choice is between reading or rambling, then read!
- End your talk on time. Doing otherwise is to steal time from the people that follow you. We won’t allow it.
- Rehearse your talk in front of a trusted friend … for timing, for clarity, for impact.
Although these Commandments might not be applicable to the GOP presidential candidates, they absolutely apply to anyone else called upon to present ideas to a group. I like especially the one commandment in the stone-tablet versions that curiously was omitted from the TED website: Thou Shalt Tell a Story.