talk like ted

If you are not aware of TED, you may well be living on another planet. 'People around the globe have viewed TED presentations more than one billion times online...' (246). [NB: TED is an acronym for Technology, Education, Design].

My visa tells me that I am a communications consultant and so I thought I better engage with Carmine Gallo's unauthorised Talk Like TED. In his final paragraph, the author claims that 'the TED style is infusing our culture' (246). Off he goes and studies 500 presentations and emerges with the '9 public speaking secrets of the world's top minds'.

As I read and engage I find three things happening inside me.

I am assisted
As a communicator, I'd be a fool not to open myself up to these 'Public Speaking Secrets'. They come to us in three categories: (a) Emotional ('they touch my heart'): Unleash the Master Within, Master the Art of Storytelling, Have a Conversation; (b) Novel ('they teach me something new'): Teach Me Something New, Deliver Jaw-Dropping Moments, Lighten Up; and (c) Memorable ('they present content in ways I'll never forget'): Stick to the 18-Minute Rule, Paint a Mental Picture with Multisensory Experiences, Stay in Your Lane.

All sorts of gems surface as he travels along. Image is not everything. Powerpoint does not provide the redemption of contemporary communication - not even close. The role of passion (26-40), stories (69-73), authenticity (238-246, the 'stay in your own lane' idea - it is a goodie), delivery (81-107), simplicity and creativity all feature. He makes a strong case for the appropriateness of 18 minutes. I enjoyed the continuities with my doctoral work on the parables, with the regular appearance of words like 'unexpected' and 'intriguing'. I was working on a 13 minute presentation as I was reading the book - and it helped.

Gallo is big on the 'big idea' and the need to express a talk in 'a twitter-friendly headline of 140 characters, or less'. For him, having three points is consistent with the proven 'rule-of-three'. Goodness me - at one stage he demonstrates how even a Steve Jobs' presentation has a proposition and three points and this is a key to his effectiveness (197-200). I'll dine out on that observation for a wee while yet,,,

I am annoyed
The unrelenting barrage of stories about successful TED talks attracts its own brand of boredom. The overheated and breathless tone becomes wearisome. There is a limit to how many times my interest will be piqued by trumpeting the millions of views on-line a TED talk received - and the length of the standing ovation. For me there are other things which will always trump this 'success'...

An effort is made to buttress conclusions with the authority provided by scientific study - 'the artful element of persuasion is backed by credible science' (240). But some of the analysis is shoddy. Particularly annoying was his misuse of one of my favourites - Aristotle's 'logos-ethos-pathos' (47-49). Aristotle's point is that there is more to persuasion than the words (logos) you use. There is the issue of how you deliver those words (pathos) and the small matter of the character of the one doing the delivering (ethos). But rather than looking for ethos in the lives of these presenters (now, wouldn't that be interesting!?), he seems to focus on the mention of ethos in the talks by these presenters. Completely misses the point - and it is an important one.

It didn't help my state of mind to discover that the only preacher he mentions warmly is Joel Osteen. And my mood did not improve when I saw a sentence about the TED speaker who shared his experience 'in Zambia teaching the local natives how to grow tomatoes' (94). What?!

I am anxious
I can see preachers rushing to this stuff. They already are. 'If we follow this approach it will revive our sermons in the 21st century'. Really?! Intimidated into acquiescence - again!? Is this to be the new intoxication? Has Ted brought redemption, a kind of author and finisher of our communication? Ahh - relevance running amok as we turn every sermon into a TED-like 18 minutes...

Many will think so. But I think not. This book provides a few details to include in the picture which is preaching - oh, yes it does. But there is also a lot of other detail to include and also a biblical-theological frame that encloses and highlights the most important colour and detail in that picture. Science is Gallo's frame - but mine is theology, ultimately. As Stottie used to say. 'the secret is found not so much in mastering certain techniques, but in being mastered by certain convictions'.

When I put the book down, my first thought was to go back to Word and Spirit and reassert my convictions. They had taken a hammering. The author starts by saying the book is for the one who wants 'to speak with more confidence and authority' (2). I don't think I'll be coming here to discover those qualities. The author finishes by saying that 'You have the ability to educate and electrify, inform and inspire, but only if you believe in your ability to do so (247, emphasis his). Nah - again, I don't think so. As a Christian communicator what I believe about my own ability is close to irrelevant.

Relentless stories of success do nothing for me, simply because success is not the criteria by which I am ultimately measured as a preacher. I want to be effective, but that doesn't control me. Preachers embrace certain approaches not primarily because they work, but because they are right  - and under God's hand and in God's time, God will find a way to honour that approach.

PS: a personal note
The 'curator' who oversees the global development of the TED phenomenon is Chris Anderson. He is from a British BMMF/Interserve medical missionary family with whom we grew up in Asia. His parents were some of my parents' closest friends. Chris was in my brother John's class. An older sister was a close friend of my sister Diane (... as a very little boy I used to think she was the most beautiful person in all the world!) and a younger sister was in my class.

I like this photo. It captures how I remember Chris. I am writing this in Los Angeles - and Chris lives in Long Beach... Maybe another time :)

nice chatting



Alistair said…
I wonder if you have come across this blog post before:

It mentions TED further down, and I think the whole thing relates to what you are saying.
Paul RW said…
thanks for alerting me to this, alistair

rob bell is an exceptional communicator - but i don't go to him to help me with my theology.

and, as you say, the points made about ted talks are very helpful.

i'll come back to this

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