Posts tagged TED Talks
Change the World with This Special Speech Structure

Today in my “learn from the best” series I’ll be breaking down Nancy Duarte’s well-known talk about the structure behind some of the best known speeches in modern times. Here's a little clue -  it’s not “3 main points,” nor is it the basic story arc.  For best results, watch it here first and then read on to find out just what this structure looks like.  I’ll start by summarizing Duarte’s talk and then highlighting the take aways  you won't want to miss. 

The Summary


Duarte begins by asserting that an idea communicated effectively has the power to change the world, and that the most effective way of communicating this idea is by telling a story.  She notes that a story can actually create a physiological effect in our audience, for example, people might get goosebumps, or move to the edge of their seat. In contrast, a presentation often leaves our audience limp.


Duarte wanted to find out why. So she did a lot of research over several years, from Aristotle to Joseph Campbell to a German dramatist named Gustav Freytag, who created the classic story arc.  She discovered that unlike bad presentations, the best speeches have a particular shape, or structure.  This structure is the basis of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, Steve Jobs iphone launch speech in 2007, and the Gettysburg address, as well as many others.

If you want to encourage, inspire or motivate your audience into action, this is the speech structure for you! Here's a little clue - it’s not “3 main points,” nor is it the basic story arc. Keep reading to find out how Dr. Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs and others successfully used this structure and how you, too, can incorporate it into your presentations. #speech #publicspeaking #presentation #speechcoach #powerpoint #keynote #conference #motivation #inspiration

Above, you can see the structure that Duarte discovered.  At the beginning, the speaker describes the status quo, and then compares it with her idea of “what could be”, emphasizing the difference between the two.  In the middle of the speech, the speaker toggles back and forth between more vivid description of the status quo and more details of what the future looks like with that idea in place.  During this middle section, the speaker makes a point to demonstrate how unappealing the status quo is, especially in comparison to the incredibly bright future ahead. The toggling helps to break down any possible resistance to the idea. At the end of the speech, the speaker gives a call to action, encouraging the audience to adopt her idea, because in doing so, they will help to usher in that great future that she described. 

During the rest of the TED talk, Duarte demonstrates in detail how both Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King used this style, while also including techniques such as modeling what they want their audience to feel and rhetorical devices such as repetition and metaphor.

Duarte begins her closing in a classic way, by circling back to her original point, that ideas which are communicated well can change the world.  And then she surprises us all by getting really personal.  She tells a mini life story that demonstrates how she herself overcame hardship, believing that she was born for something big, for her own world changing moment. (This part makes me cry every time I watch it.)  And she encourages her audience to change their world and create the future they want to see.

The Take Aways

Wow!  What a great talk.  Here’s what you don’t want to miss….

1. Use this structure for a motivational/inspirational talk.

If you want to encourage, inspire or motivate your audience into action, this is the speech structure for you! Here's a little clue - it’s not “3 main points,” nor is it the basic story arc. Keep reading to find out how Dr. Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs and others successfully used this structure and how you, too, can incorporate it into your presentations. #speech #publicspeaking #presentation #speechcoach #powerpoint #keynote #conference #motivation #inspiration

This format works great for encouraging people to take action around one big idea.  Begin by talking about the status quo, focusing on how bad it is, and then describe the future, when your idea has been adopted, focusing on how great that future will be. Toggle between these two ideas in the middle of your speech, and end on a “high” by urging your audience to accept your idea and live that wonderful future for themselves. It’s simple, genius and effective, all at the same time.   Remember, you don't have to give equal time each time you talk about the status quo or the better future. You can reduce the time between each toggle (as Nancy demonstrates in King's speech) to create a heightened level of excitement.

2. Know what your audience cares about and meet them there.

Steve Jobs talked about the difficulties of using old style smart phones, a problem every cell phone owner was acutely aware of.  They wanted an easier to use, more efficient phone, and Jobs delivered. Dr. King used and made reference to songs and Scriptures of resistance, resilience and overcoming that were especially meaningful to his audience.  These familiar, emotionally charged words inspired them to keep fighting for equality, in spite of the difficult path ahead. What does your audience care about? What songs, people, phrases and images will touch them?  Be sure to incorporate those important points of identity into your speech.

3. Don’t be afraid to get personal.


If you’re a nerd like me, it’s easy to get excited about Duarte’s discovery of this speech structure as an awesome presentation device in and of itself.  But stopping there would be missing her point, which is - go out, use this structure to communicate your great ideas, and change the world!  She concedes that being a world changer is not easy, and that we are prone to give up. That’s when she segues into the personal, describing her own life as an example of what it looks like to believe in yourself and overcome hardship.  So Duarte didn’t just share her idea of the speech structure, but by getting personal, and moving to a more emotional level, she inspired me (and probably a lot of others, too) to not give up on my own “big idea.”  

Try this structure during your next inspirational keynote or presentation and let us know how it goes! If you found this post helpful, hit one of the “share” buttons so it can help your friends, too.

And, if you want to use this structure but feel like you need some advice, schedule a session with me here. I’d love to help you make a difference!

How Better Body Language Can Improve Your Presentation

I was fascinated when I found this study about the importance of body language for public speakers and what a difference it can make in your presentation. Today I’m going to provide a quick summary of what the research showed, and then I’m going to give you some takeaways that you’ll want to keep in mind when delivering your next speech.

In this study volunteers were asked to rate TED speakers, and the researchers compared these ratings with specific “nonverbal and body language patterns” that they observed among the various speakers.  Here’s a summary of what they found:


Your audience is paying more attention to what they are seeing than the words they are hearing – so much so that even when the volunteers watched a TED speaker with the sound off, that speaker’s ratings did not change.


Using lots of hand gestures, smiling and “vocal variety”  all helped speakers’ ratings.


Ad libbing resulted in better ratings than sticking to a script.


Audiences formed their impression of speakers within the first 7 seconds.

Now, let's look at my 3 takeaways from these findings and ways you can use this information to be a better speaker.



If you’re someone who talks with their hands, laughs loudly and is very expressive in general, you’re already ahead of the game when it comes to delivering a talk.  Being expressive is a kind of charisma that is hard to resist. That’s why the volunteers in the study didn’t care if the sound was on or off - they were watching the speaker, and reading her face and body.  And an expressive person is much more interesting to watch than someone who is very subdued. So if you’re excited about your topic, don’t hold back!

In addition, the study showed that people who smiled a lot received higher ratings.  In my experience, when you smile at your audience, they smile back. It’s quite comforting.  It also makes everyone, including you, feel better. So smile...a lot. The research also showed that  “vocal variety” boosted ratings. Vocal variety refers to things like raising and lowering your voice and pausing for effect. Even yelling is permissible, assuming it’s appropriate in the context of your talk. (Go here to read a great example of this.)

 I’ve found that vocal variety is something that needs to be practiced. The tendency when we are on stage is to speed up, and often to become “smaller”, usually out of nervousness. But if you can slow down, control the pace and use your voice in very deliberate ways, it can greatly increase the impact of your words.



I understand that having all the words you want to say typed out neatly on a page provides a feeling of security.  And then memorizing all those beautiful words seems the smart thing to do...except it’s not. This study showed that your audience likes it better when you ad lib.  That’s why I recommend that you practice from an outline. An outline forces you to use your own “original” words every time. It helps you speak more naturally, because you aren’t trying to remember the specific words that you memorized.  

There’s a subtle energy shift that happens in your body when you are trying to remember what you memorized.  It’s as though you retreat into yourself ever so slightly, instead of moving outward and forward toward your audience.  But if you know what to say next because you can mentally picture the major parts of your speech like a chain of events, you’ll be able to stay connected to your audience and keep that energy flowing from you to them.

Getting comfortable speaking from an outline or short phrases takes practice.  However, once you get used to it, you’ll find there’s a kind of freedom in being able to simply talk about what you know.  



That last finding is worth quoting: “People had largely formed their opinion about a speaker based on the first several seconds.”  How many? Seven.  See those words in bold?  It took me about seven seconds to read them aloud.  That’s how long seven seconds is, and that’s how much time you have to make a good first impression.  It’s almost no time at all. So here’s what I suggest.

Show up BEFORE you stand up.  What I mean is, be that enthusiastic, smiling, powerful and in control “you” before you even get to the mic. Find a place where no one can see you.  Move around to both harness and shake off some of the nervous energy. Walk through your talk while in a “power pose”, both arms raised, to remind yourself that YOU are in control. Listen to a song that makes you feel 10 feet tall and bullet proof.   If possible, find friendly looking people in the audience to make eye contact with. And then, bring all of that excitement and energy to the stage. Because when you’re excited, your audience will be excited, too, and ready to hear what you’ve got to say.

Learn how body language affects your presentation, and what you can do about it. I’ve written a quick review of a fascinating research study for you, and then summed up the takeaways. See for yourself what you can do to have more of an impact through conscious body language. #speech #publicspeaking #presentation #speechcoach #powerpoint #keynote #conference #motivation #inspiration #bodylanguage

I’d like to finish up with one final point that I see as the best part of this research.  

I believe this study shows that when it comes to public speaking,  it’s a good thing to be yourself. It’s good to speak naturally and ad lib as necessary.  It’s great to smile when you’re happy and to enjoy yourself on stage. And it’s wonderful to use your whole body - your hands, your face, your voice.

I used to worry that my facial expressions were too extreme, that I opened my mouth too wide when I laughed, that I talked too loud when I got excited, and that at times I looked ridiculous  because of how intensely I express myself. (You can guess which one is me in this picture, lol.)  Finally I came to terms with the fact that this is me - this is simply who I am. If you’re like me, the good news today is that this expressiveness is great for public speaking! So go out there and be your big self....your audience will love you for it.  If you found this post helpful, use of the share buttons to the right, so it can help your friends, too!

And finally, if you need some feedback on your own body lanuage and delivery, go here to schedule a session with me. If you’ve already got a video of yourself speaking, I can use that to give you feedback as well - just go here.

3 Necessary Ingredients of a Powerful Story

Increase the impact of your story by including these powerful elements. I wanted to kick off the blog with a post for those of you in the process of creating a new story or presentation.  We’ll be looking at one of the best analyses of storytelling that I’ve seen recently  - this TED Talk by David JP Phillips.  Below, I briefly summarize his main points and then offer my own insights and take-aways.

The Talk


Phillips argues that by including certain elements in their stories, speakers   can induce three powerful hormones, each with their own particular beneficial effects.  (I bet you had no idea we were going to be talking about hormones, huh?  :)  If you're a public speaker, you're really gonna wanna keep reading.) The first hormone you want to induce is dopamine, which improves focus, motivation, and memory.  In the context of a presentation, dopamine will help people listen and remember what you talked about.  To induce dopamine, you need to create suspense.  


Next is oxytocin, which increases generosity, trust and has a bonding effect.  The more your audience trusts and bonds with you, the more likely it is that you can persuade them successfully. To produce oxytocin, you build empathy with your audience.  Simply put, you get them to like you. 


The third hormone you want to induce is endorphins, which increase creativity, relaxation and focus.  Relaxation will make your audience more receptive to your message.  (Remember how much better you did in a class where the teacher helped you relax, and laugh?) To generate endorphins, you make people laugh.     He then explains what happens when you scare your audience - you induce cortisol and adrenalin.  When there are high levels of cortisol, it's not pretty - the results are feeling  intolerant, irritable, uncreative, critical, as well as having trouble remembering and making  bad decisions.

Finally, he encourages the audience to engage in “functional storytelling” by first, recognizing that as humans we are natural storytellers.  Then he suggests that you write your stories, and group them  based on which “good” hormones they induce.  Over time you'll have a collection of stories that you can draw from to use within your presentations.  What's more,  you can strategically choose the best story to create the desired effect at any given time. My “Story Bank” service is designed to help you create this kind of collection.

My Comments

I found it fascinating that much of what I’ve learned about some really basic aspects of storytelling is supported by Phillips’ proposition.  For example, according to Philips, the typical story arc works because it’s creating suspense as it builds to an exciting climax, and releasing dopamine in the process.  And, developing “likeable” characters which your audience can identify with (even if that “character” is you), is effective because it builds empathy, which releases oxytocin.  


On a different note, I decided to try out Phillips’ ideas in a recent talk that I did for a Pecha Kucha Night. Of course, I wanted to induce all of the good hormones, but I only had about 6.5 minutes to do so, so it was a great challenge.  I decided to start out by talking about myself, trying to be transparent in an effort to create empathy.  I talked about how I'm kind of always asking philosophical questions about life, such as "why are we here?" and "what's out there?" I knew that I should throw in some self-deprecating jokes, as this would cover humor and hopefully create even more empathy, so I told a story about how I went salsa dancing and got impaled by another women's high heel.  I included a few more humorous comments at various points later in the talk as well, because my topic - child sex trafficking - was heavy and I didn’t want my audience to become overwhelmed and tune out.  

The suspense aspect was the most challenging, but with this goal in mind, I went back to what I know about basic storytelling.  To build suspense, you need to have a clearly defined, serious problem, and it needs to not be resolved too quickly or easily.  So I reworked my text, very directly stating the problem as close to the beginning of the “story” as I could and then trying to build from there to the resolution.  I wouldn’t call my final version suspenseful.  But I’d like to think that people were curious about what was going to happen next and wondering how I finally resolved my problem.


Obviously, building empathy and suspense while being funny are not new ideas to storytelling.  Nevertheless, I found it helpful to view my presentation from Phillips’ perspective of inducing particular hormones.  You can have a look at my talk here and see for yourself.

If you’d like help to start working on your own story bank, click here. And hit one of the share buttons below if you found this post helpful!