TED Commandments V, VI & VII : Get Engaged

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No, not engaged to be married. (Though, if you are, good on ya!)

The fifth, sixth, and seventh TED commandments direct speakers to get engaged with their audience. They ask us to create a conversation, rather than just deliver information.

Which, if you think about it, is the clearest path to success currently on offer. The biggest moneymakers, the most successful web properties, the media that are the message—all are built around the idea of creating a conversation. The current success of the web is because people can create, share, and engage one another in a discussion around common interests.

Commandment the Fifth: Thou Shalt Freely Comment on the Utterances of Other Speakers for the Sake of Blessed Connection and Exquisite Controversy

That’s fine when you’re standing on stage to address the crowd at a TED talk or conference, because there are other speakers involved that you can comment on. But what about those times when you’re speaking on your own?

In those cases, this commandment still holds. Audiences are resentful of speakers that talk at them, rather than with them. It requires an effort on the part of a good speaker to break out of “speaking mode” and really engage in an exchange of ideas. You have to draw on the experiences of your audience, or challenge the ideas and behaviors that they are accustomed to.

Creating conversations, building controversy, and commenting on others is the thing that has made blogs and social networks so successful. It is every bit as important to making a speech successful. We are social creatures, and we seek connections with others. The triumph of the social web is that it has enabled conversations to take place worldwide. We can connect, share, and converse with people in ways we never thought possible.

We, as speakers, need to take that to heart. Connection, sharing, conversation, and controversy are the things that make your presentation valuable. Your audience won’t remember you if you just throw some information at them. They will remember that you made the effort to engage their imagination.

Commandment the Sixth: Thou Shalt Not Flaunt thine Ego. Be Thou Vulnerable. Speak of thy Failure as well as thy Success.

On a slightly different—but no less important—note, a great speaker needs to open up, and let her real self shine through. That is the fundamental message of the sixth TED commandment. It’s hard to keep up a façade when you’re on stage. Much better is to allow yourself to be a little vulnerable.

Not a one of us is perfect, and that’s why we tend to be a little resentful of people who appear perfect. One sure way to lose your audience is to turn your speech into a total brag-fest. Your audience needs to know that you’re human. They need to know that you’re one of them. They need you to be honest about where you fail.

One of the reasons that people voted for George W. Bush was that they identified with him as a person. He passed the “beer test”—people felt as though they could sit down and have a beer with him. One of the reasons that his popularity declined so heavily toward the end of his presidency was because he refused to admit to his failures. The administration came off as arrogant, and turned off many who had been supporters.

Internet Marketing Guru Laura Roeder often talks about how important it is to be authentic as a part of generating internet fame, and making the most of social media. She suggests that you have to make sure you put yourself into everything you do. Again, the same is true for public speakers. To gain acceptance and respect from your audience, you have to be willing to open yourself up to them. Be real with them, and they will be real with you.

Commandment The Seventh: Thou Shalt Not Sell from the Stage: Neither thy Company, thy Goods, thy Writings, nor thy desperate need for Funding; Lest Thou be Cast Aside into Outer Darkness.

The other thing that will turn your audience off, immediately and completely, is to stand in the front of the room and act like a salesman. You have a platform for the creation of discourse, and the advancement of new ideas. Don’t waste that time trying to hector people for money. It undermines your credibility, puts your audience in a defensive posture, and actually makes them less likely to buy from you.

One of the greatest fears people have is that they will be ripped off, or taken advantage of. The ubiquity of advertising has inoculated us against being sold to. As soon as we hear a pitch start, our hackles go up, and we start blocking out even the most well-intentioned message.

So don’t use the stage as a bully pulpit for hocking your goods and services. It will only backfire (and guarantee that you’re not invited back to speak again). If you talk about what you’re good at, and you give your audience something to engage with, they will remember you. They will experience your expertise. They will come to you for advice, and suggestions. They will buy what you’re selling, you just have to make sure that when you’re speaking, your speech is purely good quality content.

So, how do you get engaged with your audience? What do you do to build connections, and create conversations? Drop your knowledge in the comments!

Next Up: The Finale – Commandments 8, 9, and 10: Be Entertaining

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