Sometimes you may experience great presentation that does everything right; a good story, interesting data, good visuals and has the wow factor that keeps the audience attentive. I can remember having attended many different seminars based solely on the topic. In those cases I was always hoping the speaker would interesting as well. I am a science nerd so it is easy for me to be excited about someone who had done (geological) research in some far off land. I remember attending special sessions at national meeting so I could see on the new data coming from the Mars rover. In those cases, I wasn’t particularly concerned with the speaker (whether they were actually good or not) but rather I wanted to see the latest cool data that was from another planet! More often than not the speaker would do all the wrong things, and lose the attention of the audience boring people to tears. Thinking back to those talks, it is difficult to remember the content, even though I was already self motivated to learn!
Conversely there have been other times when I went to a seminar based only on the name of the person presenting. I had heard that Professor so and so is a great orator and I wanted to experience their presentation. The most memorable example, was a talk given by the blind paleontologist Dr. Geerat Vermeij. It was incredible to hear a presentation from someone who did not rely on the visual aids, but rather use the power of the spoken word to paint a vivid picture. The point is that a good delivery can only add to the message you are trying to convey. I believe that the most often overlooked fact is that everyone has something interesting say, and it only becomes boring if the delivery is done wrong.
Simon Sinek is a great orator. Despite his TEDx talk being business oriented (and using phrases such as “differentiated value proposition” and “proprietary process”) I was enthralled the first time I saw it. His talk is a shining example of how one can use a good delivery to communicate a story. Whether your next talk is on the latest discovery in the lab or another lecture given to your class, there is a lot we all can learn from Simon’s example.
So what makes this a great talk? We can break it down to two main parts, the message that Simon Sinek delivers, and the mechanics of how he actually delivers the content. As we look deeper into this TEDx talk you will see how Simon has constructed a well thought out and pointed speech. He uses many specific techniques to make the material stick, and the message is also inspiring.
Probably the most interesting thing to me when analyzing this talk is the fact that Simon has really no fancy visuals at all. In fact he is using maybe the worst visual aid you can possibly try to use for a presentation. A large writing pad is hard to even see from the middle row of the audience let alone the back. Luckily, however, there are not many visuals needed for this talk. Additionally for the first five minutes he is using a microphone that is hissing and doesn’t even project his voice very well. (Talk about distractions!) Despite these shortcomings his TEDx talk has become the third most popular of all time with 22 million views at the time of this writing. I believe this is in large part due to the message of the message of the talk. His modus operandi is to inspire the audience. He does this with anecdotes of amazing accomplishments in American history, such as Dr. Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech, and the Wright brothers first flight. These stories are almost larger than life, and in a way Simon is telling us that if follow his “Why, How, and What” method rather than the “What, How, and Why” method then we too can achieve greatness. Whether it be in business or social change it is just a matter of changing the way we think about what we do. This is pretty deep stuff and it can make the audience dream and wonder on what their potential could be. The point is that he has crafted an inspiring talk by talking about other inspiring people.
In a sense when analyzing this TEDx talk we can see the careful crafting of a thesis, while using proven techniques to improve audience retention. The mechanics and timing of his material is superb and you can bet a lot of careful planning and practice went into such a presentation. Simon begins his TEDx talk with an interesting question which has the hopes of grabbing the audience’s attention right away.
“How do you explain when things don’t go as we assume? Or better, how do you explain when others are able to achieve things that seem to defy all of the assumptions?”.
Posing a question at the start of your presentation can work as a lead in to the rest of the talk. It can intrigue the audience so that they pay closer attention and begin thinking in line with what you plan to tell them next. Simon does this perfectly not only setting up the tone for the rest of the talk but also to begin to establish himself as an authority figure of why some people and companies succeed and while others do not. The authority figure aspect of his talk is strengthened by his next statement
“About three and a half years ago, I made a discovery. And this discovery profoundly changed my view on how I thought the world worked, and it even profoundly changed the way in which I operate in it. … None of what I’m telling you is my opinion. It’s all grounded in the tenets of biology. Not psychology, biology. If you look at a cross-section of the human brain, from the top down, the human brain is actually broken into three major components that correlate perfectly with the golden circle.”
The above statement allows Simon to reinforce the idea that he is an authority figure on the idea of success, and that he knows the real reason why some succeed and others. In addition, he also has information that he has discovered three years ago and which implies that he has been studying this phenomena since that time. Think about how much weaker of an authority figure he would be, if said something like “I came up with an answer for why apple is a successful company the other day, let me tell you all about it.”. Adding a reference to the anatomy of the brain also serves to give him more support as an authority figure.
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
Repetition plays an important role in Simon’s TEDx talk. He repeats the above phrase several times over the course of it. More importantly he does so in a strategic manner throughout. The first time he actually mentions this phrase is about 5 minutes into the talk. By this point he has tactfully posed an interesting introduction question, established himself as an authority, presented his formula for success, rooted his idea in science, and given a short example of his idea. Think about your last presentation, and ask yourself, by five minutes how many of these points had you hit? What would the impact be on audience retention if you had used this kind of format? He goes on to repeat the above phrase in the middle and the end of the talk so that the audience will walk away remembering the main point.
There is no set of laws when it comes to communication through the spoken word. Each presentation and talk will necessarily be different based on the audience and the content. However, a well constructed and practiced talk can go much farther to get your message out in the world than just showing new and exciting data alone. Consider using some of the above methods to improve your next talk and you may be surprised by the response of your audience.
Simon gave second TED talk in May of 2014, building on some of the same ideas as the above TEDx talk and yes, it is also just as amazing (see below).
To learn more about Simon Sinek and the books he has written visit his website