Speaking has become something that I not only study, but I see as an art form. In a great talk, people will not only feel engaged, but empowered to go do something after. No matter what you say, it is important to think about how people feel. Not only do I want them to be inspired and feel that they are on the right track, but it is important that they are challenged to go do something different.
Telling stories is crucial to this art form, but it needs to go beyond simply telling a story in the field of education. It is great when people walk away with questions, but I think that providing some ideas and strategies are crucial to moving forward.
Watching some educator Ted Talks this morning, here were three things that stuck out to me.
- You do not need to provide “the answer”, but need to provide some answers. I have seen people walk out of a talks and say, “Wow! That was absolutely amazing!” I then ask them, what is something that they will try because of it, and often they look perplexed not being able to think of any ideas. The inspiration is absolutely crucial but it is also crucial that we at least give some practical ideas on not just “why” but “how”. This does not mean people have to take exactly what someone has said in their talk and implement in their classroom or practice. There are too many people that talk in “big ideas” but cannot make the connection to actual practice. It is not about providing “the answer”, but some answers, to help people move forward.
- Take a “lawyerly approach” to your speaking. In one of my favourite Ted Talks, Dan Pink discussing the “Puzzle of Motivation”, talks about making a “case” and being “lawyerly” in what he shares. This is something that has stuck with me for years. When I speak, before I plan a presentation, I try to list all of the arguments that may be brought up during my talk, that I may not be able to address at that moment.You will often hear people say things like, “I agree with everything you are saying, but what about…”, which in some ways, they are essentially saying, they don’t agree. What I try to do is think about the argument before it even starts. If you aren’t able to think from the viewpoint of the people that will disagree with you, why are you there in the first place? Think about the “holes” in your case and think about how you fill them during your talk.
- When telling a story, bring the end back to your beginning. This one is crucial. Stories, as said earlier, are a great way to make an hour feel like a minute, when told in a compelling way. But I often try to think about how a keynote or a talk becomes circular. My statement at the beginning, is something that I will need to come back to at the end. Setting the stage of what you are talking about is crucial, but it is imperative that we come back to this at the end so that people can see the connection to what you started off with to what you just told. For example, this quote from a Thomas Friedman article on “How to Get a Job at Google“, is one that I have used as a “thesis statement” in my presentations:“The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it).”If I state that this is what I am trying to discuss, my points, stories, and ending, should somehow come back to this. This also connects to statement 2 on taking a “lawyerly approach” to how we share. If we are unable to connect the dots in work that we are insanely passionate about, why would we expect our audience to do the same?
As stated earlier, stories are crucial to speaking, but they are not enough. I want people to walk away feeling inspired, empowered, and having learned something that they can start them on their journey, We need to go beyond simply telling a story.
(If you are interested in learning more on “becoming a better speaker”, I have been contemplating delivering a self-directed course on the topic over a 5 to 8 week period. If you are interested in this topic, I can send you more information when it is ready for release. Please feel free to share your contact details in this Google Form.)