by Margaret Heffernan
I recently attended a TEDGlobal conference. It was (as the veterans say) my ‘first’ TED and, while I was nervous about my own talk, I was thrilled to hear everyone else’s. Apart from some genuinely provocative ideas which have stuck with me ever since, this was an opportunity to watch some wonderful presentations and reflect on what makes a great talk.
Here are my top observations:
1. Stories always work.
Human beings remember things that matter. So lots of charts, slides, and numbers may be important, but they’re hard to retain. Memorable speeches build a connection between the speaker and the audience and stories–especially personal ones–are what make that connection last. Researcher Mina Bissell’s narrative about what led her to think differently about the structure of cancer took an abstract idea and made it real.
2. Images are meaningless–with one exception.
I saw a lot of slides and most of them I can’t even remember. But the few that I do I’ll remember forever. One of the best was journalist Andrew Blum’s picture of the physical reality of the Internet: a bunch of divers laying cables across the sea bed. Every time anyone mentions the cloud now, I know it isn’t a cloud, and it isn’t in the sky; it’s wires under our feet.
3. Enthusiasm isn’t everything.
I heard a number of very eager speakers whose content evaporated a few moments after they stopped talking. I even remember what they looked like and the fancy fonts in their slides, but not what they said. Information really does matter and however evangelical the delivery, substance beats style every time.
When you’re doing corporate presentations, the same rules apply. Stories–the right stories–take facts out of the abstract and make them engaging and memorable. Images only work when they say something. And bouncy salesmanship evaporates faster than perfume. Even the biggest presentations are, at heart, great conversations.
Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur and author. She has been chief executive of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation, and iCAST Corporation. In 2011, she published her third book, Willful Blindness. @M_Heffernan