This public speaking hack is the reason why TED talks are so good

Ted fellows retreat chris andersonMelia Robinson/Tech InsiderChris Anderson on stage at the TED Fellows Retreat.

Chris Anderson, the head curator of TED, has some sage advice from his upcoming book on public speaking.

“Your goal is not to be charismatic or entertaining, or to tell a story about your life or your organisation,” Anderson said at a TED Fellows Retreat in Carmel-By-The-Sea, California, in August.

“Your real goal is to seed an idea in your audience’s mind,” Anderson continued. “Doing that is a gift.”

In a monologue straight out of “Inception,” Anderson explained that planting an idea and building it up piece-by-piece gives the listener something they can own. They can use it. An idea grows with a person and makes a difference forever after.

First, Anderson says, you have to clear a path for the idea. People may respond to you, the public speaker, with scepticism, distrust, or distraction. You can disarm those defences with simple body language cues, like making eye contact or smiling. Showing vulnerability or sharing a laugh also works.

“You can’t push knowledge into the brain,” Anderson said. “It has to be pulled there.”

Once you’ve accomplished that, you can call on a number of tools, including persuasion, storytelling, and sharing a vision, to build the idea. One of Anderson’s favourite tools is metaphor.

“The only way you can build an idea,” Anderson said, “is to use language and concepts that are already in those minds.”

Anderson’s example: Imagine a mid-19th century farmer teleported to the future. Your job is to explain to him what a modern truck is.

If you say, “The truck is America’s best-selling substantiation of the internal-combustion engine,” that will sound like gibberish to him.

Instead, you might ask the farmer to picture a wagon, like the one he uses to pull hay. But this one is bigger, made of metal, and has rubber wheels. Then you might ask him to imagine a locomotive engine, like the one he sees gliding through the valleys. This one runs on dirt, not rails, and amasses the power of 200 of the farmer’s horses.

The wagon and locomotive engines are both ideas that the farmer already understands. Piece them together, and you’ve got a rough idea of the modern truck.

“Any TED Talk you listen to,” Anderson said, “there is an incredible use of metaphor going on the whole time.”

And the “ideas worth spreading” … spread.

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