Book Review – TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson

Book review provided by Sophia Constanti, BSc Business Management student

This book is a collection of tools to enhance an individual’s speaking and presentation skills. This book emphasises the importance of presenting in a way that suits the individual rather than a set structure for everyone to follow. I was curious to uncover what is involved in a successful presentation and this book reveals the necessary skills to deliver an effective talk.

In terms of its content, it is focused on contrasting examples of previous TED talks that have gone well against those that have gone not so well, and how they could have improved. It is set out in stages from the basic ideas such as “What Should I Wear?” (ch 14) to “How Do I Control my Nerves?” (ch 15), making it very versatile, and capturing all elements surrounding a talk. This meant that I could start reading at almost any part of the book and learn something to improve my speaking skills. A key strength to this book lies within the references to previous talks, and its comparison to weaker scenarios. This enables the reader to discover applicable skills through step-by-step examples, and gain a sense of understanding from the outset.

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The most interesting aspect of this book was learning new concepts, such as a ‘throughline’ which is stated as “the connecting theme that ties together each narrative element.” Not only does this provide structure to your talks, but it explains in depth how to link ideas seamlessly, in “no more than fifteen words” (ch 4). After reading this book I gained a sense of confidence for utilising such skills when presenting to a large audience, with the intention of entertaining, persuading, and encouraging feedback. On the other hand, a more challenging facet was the text’s lack of flexibility; it was primarily focussed on delivering a successful TED talk specifically, as oppose to a powerful speech in general. It was therefore limited in providing tips for other types of presentation which may differ to the format of a TED talk. Nonetheless, this book has highlighted how TED talks are renowned as some of the most impactful and successful presentations, so learning about this was useful in understanding why this is the case, and how some individuals have proved hugely inspiring. For my own aims this was particularly relevant in discovering how communication affects presentation skills, which is a key skill I plan to hone further within the business world.

This text was easy to follow throughout, with Anderson commenting on the different stages of public speaking. From your initial idea to creating a personal connection with an audience, it covers all aspects of preparation required for a talk. The power of persuasion was a particularly interesting concept that can be defined by even the smallest things, such as font size on a slide show: recommends “medium-weight sans-serif fonts like Helvetica or Arial” (pp 120) is often most impactful, which is a great tip I plan to carry forward in my career. This also highlights the granularity of detail that this book goes into, strengthening its rigor.

I learnt a great deal about the effects of eye contact and showing vulnerability in public speaking: “scientists have shown that just the act of two people staring at each other will trigger mirror neuron activity that literally adopts the emotional state of the other person” (pp 49). Knowing the facts behind this psychology was hugely insightful, and again strengthens the validity of Anderson’s tips as it is backed up by facts. This book is comprehensively equipped to teach anyone how to improve their communication skills in speaking, presenting, and overcoming the daunting prospect of being on stage. Alongside these skills it provides real-life examples that help to show the reader how they can be used. For example, when breaking down a talk from Bonnie Bassler, Anderson explains that “she started by making the talk relevant to us” (pp 83). He goes on to reference her talk, commenting “this is getting intriguing” (pp 84) This allows the reader to see at which point it became a great talk and where she sparked curiosity. Anderson summarises why her talk was successful through evaluating it; “metaphors and examples are essential to revealing how an idea is pieced together” (pp 85). Anderson ensures each reference of a talk has a lesson to be learnt.

In terms of how this book relates to my own aims, it has taught me the importance of creating a message that resonates with all types of people when giving a talk. It highlighted the need to consider what you want your audience to takeaway and how relevant your idea is to them, which is something I plan to utilise as I find myself in more presenting environments. Individualism plays a significant role to empower any speaker, and understanding that no two talks should be the same has encouraged me to think of unique presentation ideas. Anderson encourages individualism throughout and reiterates this idea of authenticity. Through my own experiences of public speaking often being accompanied by an overwhelming sense of fear when speaking in front of a large audience, it is invaluable to have taken away some essential tools that can combat this for my future. Anderson emphasises “the only thing that truly matters in public speaking is not confidence, stage presence or smooth talking. It’s having something worth saying” (pp 12). This is particularly inspiring for me as I have feel I have insightful things to share but at times lack the skills to share them effectively.

Throughout this book Anderson captures the excitement of sharing ideas and encourages readers to speak out. This book proved to be exciting, educational and relevant. Anyone can learn about the power of speaking and its relevance throughout any point in life. With so many TED talks that bring passion to speaking, it is useful to read through not only those that were inspiring, but those that failed to deliver, and understand why. Anderson analyses these talks to uncover what influences the effectiveness of a talk, and then makes it relevant to the reader. This book highlights the power of communication through public speaking, and the ability to change opinions of an audience by framing an idea in a specific way. Everyone has the gift to give a great talk as “there’s an empty stage- waiting for your contribution” (pp 252).

References

Anderson, C. (2016) TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. Great Britain: Headline Publishing Group.

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