Let’s play with some of the top 20 most popular TED talks, and of course we will start with the “must-see” speech from Sir Ken Robinson Do schools kill creativity. Sir Ken Robinson gave several speeches on that same subject, each adding differences in perspectives or information. At the time of writing this post, the speech Do schools kill creativity, has been seen more than 41,812,233 times; and from my enthusiasm, you have guessed… It is one of my favourite talks. Let’s leave that aside for a moment, andrewind to the first time you or I watched that speech.
First, we have an idea.
It is actually more than an idea, it’s a question, and it is right there in the title. This is important: by using a question, the speaker is doing two things. He is engaging with us at a pair level, with a pre-supposed follow-up question “What do you think?”; and he is stimulating our curiosity: the speech is going to talk about school, and about creativity, the rest is unknown, actually nearly unknown… The question, by itself, pre-supposed a fact, which is “Schools kill creativity”. This is simple linguistics: to make sense of the question, we do have to pre-suppose it is possible, and therefore we do have to pre-suppose the idea is true.
Then, we have the speaker himself, and his delivery style.
He appears really grounded. He barely moves still remains fluid and natural. He uses one of this arms/hands just enough to emphasize or expand an argument. He is taking his time, speaking with a good rhythm, easy to follow with many spaces for the audience to relax. More important, he is having fun; he appears to really enjoy giving his speech.
Next, the content, and let’s start by looking how that content is organised.
Do we have a clear structure? It does not strike as being specially fixed and square; there is a frame, a red line, and much flexibility around it. The flexibility is actually linked to the content, especially the jokes used along the talk to punctuate it. When we looked at content versus timing, we can pick up a few interesting elements (and in italic comments on their impact):
1 – Introduction: the use affirmative statement e.g. “We are all interested”
No listeners will actually contradict that statement, since they are sitting listening; being interested is actually part of what makes sense to come to a TED (or TEDx)
2 – @3 minutes 04: another affirmative (presented as fact) “All kids have tremendous talent and we squandered them.”
Everybody, in the room, has either been a kid or have kid(s); in addition, everybody as a kid has been crushed at some point (even if it was one time, independently of school); therefore all audience will engage with that sentence, and emotionally connect at that point.
3 – And then the speaker gives the two focus of his speech 1) creativity 2) education
4 – @3 minutes 13: another affirmative to present an idea, “Creativity is as important as literacy and we should treat it with the same status”.
The idea is brought forward cleverly: first a fact, then from the fact the idea, presented as a solution.
5 – @5 minutes 49: another fact/opinion, “If you are not prepared to be wrong, you are not prepared to be original”. The speaker repeats the same steps, first the fact, then the idea presented as a solution.
Thought nothing is said yet about changing education system, as listeners we are being “pre-framed” to be ready for that next idea.
6 – @6 minutes 41: the problem is presented: only now the speaker is stating the problem, “We are educating people out of their creative capacity” ”Stigmatisation of being wrong”.
6 minutes, and the problem is given, though we already know it and we even have some solutions, this is the efficiency of “pre-framing” at the time the point is given, we are already in agreement.
7 – @9 minutes 01: another fact is presented, the notion of “hierarchy of subject”, the speaker adds facts/observations to make his argumentation robust and solid
8 – @12 minutes 11: back to the fact: the notion of “stigmatisation of subject” and the negatives consequences: kids are losing motivation for being good in non-valued subjects.
9 – @18 minutes 18: wrap-up, the speaker comes back to the main point, the actual idea “We have to rethink education” “the gift of human imagination”
Now, we can see how the title was the “Teaser”, the title gets us curious on an actual fact that is the reason for the idea.
So much is about connecting with the audience in the moment. Just a few elements, but we immediately see how they are used to create connection -and engagement- with the audience:
First the subject: everybody has gone to school, therefore everybody is concerned.
Next the style: the speaker often uses tag questions or direct questions, followed with pauses.
Still the style: the speaker brings humour with jokes (himself as primary target for humour); this not only engages with the audience, it also includes him as the audience (treating the audience as pair level). Interestingly, without saying anything about him or what he has done, by using that type of humour, the speaker is able to make the speech very personal.
Then the choice of the anecdotes: they include other people which make it possible for everyone to relate to the speech.
Next the chosen vocabulary is very inclusive such as “we” “everyone”; and “I” is only used when making fun of himself, therefore making him, what he thinks/does, reachable.
The chosen vocabulary is also very visual, which allows the audience to run their own movie in their head e.g. “educated from the waist up” “body as transportation for their head”.
Last he pauses often, he gives time to the audience to acknowledge the information, relaxes, thinks and reacts; and when needed he repeats important point, e.g. with the sentence “If you are not prepared to be wrong”.
The speaker has no visuals and we can focus our full attention onto him.
There is another great quality to this speech. On both introduction and conclusion, the speaker is taking the time to link his speech to what is happening around him and in the conference, by doing so he facilitates integration of his upcoming content into the audience’s mind (head).
If you have done that exercise on your side, please use the comments section to share your thoughts. You will have come up with different details, different impressions, picked-up on other elements. That’s great. Each listener brings their own sensibility in such analysis exercise.
Still common elements will be there: the speaker does connect with the audience and creates curiosity; the speaker sparks an emotional reaction at the audience; the speaker uses factual information.
Studying speeches, good or bad, is like gold mining. There is always something to learn from the exercise. Studying good speeches, is like digging into role model, and becoming it. See you tomorrow for our next episode, an exploration into another excellent speech from Amy Cuddy, Your body shapes who you are.