This article is based on the webinar delivered by business consultant, author and speaker Gihan Perera, which can be viewed here.
TED has transformed the way people present, raising the bar for presentation skills along with audience expectations. While this has had much positive impact in the physical world of business, in some ways it’s created new challenges for online presenters, as many of the techniques advocated by TED don’t lend themselves particularly well to the online environment.
However, there are certain things TED speakers do really well, aided by ‘the TED commandments’ which are sent out to speakers in advance of their talk. Amy Tan in her TED Talk describes the arrival of these as “something that creates a near-death experience; but near-death is good for creativity”. Engraved on a stone tablet, they comprise 10 golden rules on presenting, which every speaker must try to follow.
While not all of these commandments can be perfectly transferred to the online environment, many of them can be, if tweaked slightly. Gihan Perera explains:“as an online presenter, there are certain pros and cons compared to the real world environment. Online, my slides are my visuals along with my webcam. But in person, I can use the whole stage and have my body there, present.”
Perera outlines five ways in which you can adapt TED techniques to the online world, to help transform your online presentations and webinars…
Humour: “Thou Shalt Remember all the while: Laughter is Good”
While TED Talks often tackle some of the most serious, thought-provoking issues challenging the world today…this is very often done with an injection of humour along the way. Having the ability to make an audience laugh is a unique gift which not everyone possesses, and when you add to that the differing dynamics of an online environment, it can be doubly hard. Perera argues an online presenter should set slightly different standards for themselves, and aim to make an audience smile, rather than laugh.
Aim for quirky or witty anecdotes or sayings, which might raise a smile among some of your listeners. Cartoons are an obvious choice, providing you have the suitable permissions. Funny photographs, which don’t need to be professionally shot, can be amusing if used at the appropriate moment. Tailor it to the sector you’re speaking to, so if you’re presenting to a finance audience for example, funny car insurance claims sourced online might help to spark a few giggles. It’s critical that humour has a point of relevance to the overall presentation.
Perera explains: “The difficulty with online humour is that you can’t rely on audience feedback, so to avoid uncomfortable pauses as presenter,it’s important you keep going. You won’t know who’s laughing, but the humour will have connected with some.”
Storytelling: “Thou Shalt Tell a Story”
Some TED presentations are one long compelling story. Very often, it’s the big ideas that are wrapped up in the personal stories of the speakers.
At TED 2016, Shonda Rhimes, the titan behind Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, gave a deeply personal and moving talk, taking the audience on a journey through her “year of yes” . In its first week on the TED.com website, the talk was watched nearly 775,000 times, and today it’s received well over two million views. The talk begins: “So a while ago, I tried an experiment. For one year, I would say yes to all the things that scared me. Anything that made me nervous, took me out of my comfort zone, I forced myself to say yes to. Did I want to speak in public? No, but yes. Did I want to be on live TV? No, but yes. Did I want to try acting? No, no, no, but yes, yes, yes.” The story that follows is ‘unputdownable’, and through the vehicle of storytelling, Rhimes inspires action.
Most of us don’t have the luxury of being world experts, so we sprinkle stories throughout our presentations instead. There is a simple four-step formula for telling a story, Perera explains:
“Retell and incident or a story, make a link to a point, and then describe the benefit of it.”
One helpful hint for online storytelling is to design slides that change more frequently than they would in a real world event. A static slide is often more effective in person as the audience will be engaging with you as a physical presence; but online, that opportunity is lacking.
Interaction: “Thou Shalt Not Read thy Speech”
While most TED Talks don’t allow for Q&A, speakers often find innovative ways to connect with their audience. Bill Gates, for example, famously unleashed a swarm of mosquitoes in one of his talks, to highlight the dangers of malaria. Audience interaction is just as critical within an online presentation, but when the audience is virtual, the opportunities are more limited. The obvious danger is to forget the audience, when they can’t be seen, and focus solely on the slides and script.
“Stopping for questions is the simplest way to achieve audience interaction in an online scenario,” says Perera. “But instead of a traditional Q&A, challenge yourself to flip it, so that you ask the audience questions too. Engage the audience by getting them to think and do stuff.”
Running a poll is a go-to interactive opportunity for online presentations. While it can be used to gauge audience opinion, an alternative approach is to use a poll as a test of participants’ industry knowledge or awareness. You see TED speakers doing this sometimes, utilising a concept called the ‘reveal’. A nice touch can also be to incorporate a prize or giveaway within the poll, which can be carried out live. The first person to answer three questions correctly within the question pane, for example, scoops the prize.
Brain teasers or wordplay are other lighthearted techniques for building audience interaction, says Perera. Use these to make a relevant or serious point. “The purpose is not to get the answer right, but to get the audience to interact and engage, in the same way that TED Talk speakers do,” he explains.
Stunning visuals: “Thou Shalt Not Simply Trot Out thy Usual Shtick”
TED presenters have raised the bar on the standard of slides, shying away from those loaded with bullet points and stock images.
Hans Rosling, a professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, is renowned for presenting data in a strikingly beautiful and engaging way. His talk, How not to be ignorant about the world, is evidence of this, among several others. The TED website says: “What sets Rosling apart isn’t just his apt observations of broad social and economic trends, but the stunning way he presents them. Guaranteed: You’ve never seen data presented like this. By any logic, a presentation that tracks global health and poverty trends should be, in a word: boring. But in Rosling’s hands, data sings. Trends come to life. And the big picture — usually hazy at best — snaps into sharp focus.”
Visual opportunities are so much more restricted in an online presentation. In an online scenario, the presenter has no visible audience; just a laptop and headset for company. “Webcam and slides are the only visual components available, so use your webcam as much as possible, when it’s appropriate,” says Perera. “I don’t like to use my webcam all the way through a presentation as when I’m showing slides, I would rather the audience engages with those. But when we stop for questions, where slides aren’t so relevant, I’m happy to turn my webcam on so that you can see me. I’m trying to create a personal rapport, as TED presenters do.”
Be careful of background and lighting, and it takes a bit of practice to get comfortable talking to camera. But video in online presentations is going to become more and more important, moving forward.
When it comes to creating slides for an online presentation, never use slides just containing bullet points. Always make images full screen, and as you talk through individual points, they can appear as graphics. SmartArt graphic in PowerPoint can be a helpful tool for creating graphics animation.
One core message: “Thou Shalt Dream a Great Dream, or Show Forth a Wondrous New Thing, Or Share Something Thou Hast Never Shared Before”
TED’s motto is’Ideas Worth Spreading’, and within any of its talks, there is always one core message or one big idea the speaker is focused on sharing.
“You may not have one TED-worthy idea for every presentation you deliver, but you can have one clear idea, and provide signposts along the way,” explains Perera.
“Tell them what you’re going to tell them…then tell them…then tell them what you’ve told them,” has become common advice for public speaking. “It’s a courtesy to the audience, and helps the presenter keep the audience engaged, as they feel comfortable knowing where they are,” says Perera.
Always include a summary slide at the end of any presentation, to recap on the single core message, and show how you got there.
Gihan Perera is a futurist, conference speaker, author and consultant who gives business leaders a glimpse into what’s ahead – and how they can become fit for the future.