Why TED Talks Continue to Dazzle While Corporate Presentations Continue to Bore.

Here are 19 (mildly entertaining) signs you're being led astray

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TED has raised the bar for business talks to never before witnessed levels of information, enlightenment and entertainment. Many of their most popular talks are actually funnier than the funniest movies of all time. Stakes for giving a TED talk have never been higher. These days Murphy’s law of what can go wrong will go wrong, fuelled by social media has the potential to be 10 times worse and go viral. On the flip side researchers, engineers, activists, business leaders and authors words now have to power to reach and impact millions overnight and truly change the world. All the while those of us subject to everyday business presentations seem to be suffering the same data driven, information stuffed, over caffeinated, ninety-seven slide snoozefests, broken only by exaggerated robotic looking hand gesticulations and awkward eye contact. Why?

The folks at TED are experts in moulding, shaping and curating great talks. They give great support to their speakers. The speakers themselves, often acting in Murphy’s shadow are willing to pay expert coaches out of their own pocket to help them craft and delivery their content.

Monica Lewinsky prepared for her TED talk in her own words by doing “various warm-up exercises with my public-speaking coach, and power posed with the inimitable Amy Cuddy.” (Amy Cuddy being one of the world leading experts on body language with her own great talk on the topic). Susan Cain, with one of the most viewed talks of all time also had some true expert advise. In her own words “The Friday night just before my talk, the amazing Wharton professor Adam Grant gathered an audience of his thirty top students and alums, and I gave my talk to them. Their feedback was so insightful that I stayed up all night to rewrite the final third of the talk.”

Usually the same level of expertise just isn’t available to those giving a standard talk. As former trainer to CEO’s and executives Kristi Hedges notes in Forbes “for most people, public speaking training is not worth the time nor the money and “can even do more harm than good.” All too often the people training you dispense the same old tired advise because they have no experience on stage, outside that spent in front of you teaching you about being on stage…because your company were willing to pay them to…which is completely nuts. Why does this keep happening?

A handful of companies represent the bulk of everyday corporate training delivery. Most have their origins with a well-intentioned founder who logically as demand on their time grew, hired extra people to train new clients and meet the extra demand. Not so logically, these new trainers often come from customer service roles and usually have little or no experience with public speaking and being on stage.

Usually the founder has developed a certain style of teaching. Their approach, system, or methodology. Rather than hiring experienced stage performers, TED speakers or high level coaches to add their wisdom they usually prefer to hire staff who they train from scratch to avoid managing someone who has their own opinions about how to teach public speaking…. from, well…actually being on stage and doing it…a lot.

Worse still if the extra demand doesn’t exist to buy into a companies “methodology” they hire sales people to create it, whom to maximise profits, they often train to also deliver this methodology. With no experience on stage whatsoever. This of course isn’t every company but it’s an alarmingly high number and a core reason I think many people like me who have taken classes in public speaking but not had any noticeable improvement, while also still holding a big fear of it.

With this in mind here are 19 (mildly entertaining) signs your public speaking trainer might be making things worse and moving you or your team away from TED and rapidly towards snooze fest:

1. They tell you how to get audiences interested and excited in a way that is not interesting or exciting.

2. When asked about their own speaking experience, they get glassy-eyed, crumple to the floor and sob deeply.

3. After the presentation they put on their barista uniform and go back to work at Starbucks.

4. They focus on delivery over content even though rubbish content delivered beautify is still rubbish.

5. They encourage you to hold eye contact with an audience members for three seconds before freaking out the next unsuspecting victim.

6. They ask you to say some random unprepared words into a camera and then insist you watch it back to see how nervous you were saying random unprepared words into a camera.

7. They tell you to spend a few weeks working a McDonalds drive through to master the art of using the headset mic.

8. They repeatedly tell you to avoid repetition.

9. They tell you to make yourself relatable to the audience while wearing an Armani suit.

10. They use the age old “picture the audience naked” and then they go take their clothes off and sit in front of you.

11. They tell you to speak slowly even though you don’t naturally do this. Instead of sounding engaging and entertaining you end up sounding like a GPS voice while your audience is re-routing.

12. Out of force of habit after they introduce themselves they tell you about today’s chef specials.

13. They tell you to keep your hands dangling awkwardly by your side. This seems particularly cruel to Sign Language Interpreters, and hearing impaired people.

14. They never teach you how to memorize your talk, which would be helpful as most people’s biggest fear around public speaking is going blank on stage.

15. While telling you to make eye contact with the audience you realize they haven’t blinked during the whole conversation.

16. They tell you to project your voice for the back of the room, forgetting that this hasn’t been an issue since the invention of the microphone.

17. When you ask questions specific to your situation they reference their “methodology” and swiftly exit the building.

18. Their “methodology” is based on a book not written by the person training you that has six reviews on Amazon. Three of which have the last name as the author. One is by the author.

19. They are highly specialised and also offer programs on PR, communications, leading meetings, conflict resolution, real estate investment, Bikram yoga and ultimate Frisbee.

Businesses often happily accept a Tony Robins certified trainer in place of Tony Robbins but an audience expecting entertainment would never accept a Jerry Seinfeld certified comedian in place of Jerry Seinfeld. Can you imagine it? Packed out room. An excited buzz of expectation and anticipation building, above the chatter the microphone crackles to life to announce:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I know you were expecting him but Jerry Seinfeld isn’t available tonight. The good news? We do have a man who’s been certified in Jerry’s methodology and although he’s never been on stage before we’re delighted you’ve paid to come here and listen to him. Ladies and gentlemen please welcome to the stage your Jerry Seinfeld certified comedian… Karl “Chipper” Chipawalski.”

Groan, scroll, zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Comedians, Storytellers, Actors, Improv performers are on stage all the time. Often nightly. They are out there, available, often more economical, and usually only too excited to be asked to help. Not to mention that the extra income helps them pursue their dreams as a performer and create more entertaining content for all of us. They may not be as good at selling you their methodology but the world would be a better place for all of us if the business community accepted and took advantage of their wisdom.

Do the world a favour and hire Jerry in place of Karl, help rid the world of boring presentations and make public speaking less of a fear for all of us.


PS. As some of you will know I hate public speaking but have for some strange reason I been studying this topic for the last few years to try and get over my own fears. During this time I have come across some pretty epic folks on this topic. Here are a few if you need a place to start: David McQueen, Marty Wilson, Michael and Amy Port, Andrew Whelan,Corey Rosen, Speechless, Nick Morgan, Ann Randolph,
Dhaya Lakshminarayanan, Darren LaCroix, and Scott Berkun.