How to be a better presenter – by the Jedi Master of TED talks

Top tips for better storytelling from one of the world’s best speaking coaches

March 20, 2017

Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions EMEA Blog

The great thing about hosting a B2B marketing podcast is that, when you need advice, you get to reach out to relevant experts and invite them on the show. I’ve just finished developing a new keynote presentation on B2B content marketing – and so I wanted to know how to be a better presenter, and do the material justice. What a coincidence that the latest episode of our podcast features Tamsen Webster of TEDx – one of the world’s leading experts on giving better talks!

Tamsen is the Jedi Master of telling compelling, life-changing stories. As the Executive Producer of TEDx Cambridge, she’s helped to shape many of the most popular talks on the TED platform. As a speaking coach she’s helped some of the biggest brands in the world to engage audiences more effectively with their ideas. However, Tamsen is more than just a source of top tips for better presenting – she’s also a brilliant thinker on B2B storytelling and content marketing in general. If you want to improve the way that you communicate ideas, there’s nobody better to spend time with.

Listen to the latest episode of The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast on the link below, and you’ll discover the truth behind giving talks that will change how people think. Tamsen doesn’t believe in just reeling off TED top tips that everyone should blindly follow. Instead, she explains the role of storytelling in helping people make sense of the world – and how a good presenter can make use of that in the way they tie their ideas together. Spend an hour with her and you won’t just be a better presenter – you’ll be a far more challenging and effective content marketer as well.

So what are the most important principles for being a better presenter? Here are five key Tamsen take-outs that any speaker at marketing events can learn from. I’ll certainly be applying them the next time I’m on stage:

Remember that speaking is content marketing

In fact, it’s the most criminally under-utilized form of B2B content marketing. Speak is content’s last frontier, as Tamsen puts it. It differentiates you, your brand and your ideas in a way that’s wholly unique and not replicable by anybody else. It allows you to forge an in-person connection with more people than you could ever hope to land face-to-face meetings with. And since speaking is so valuable as a form of content marketing, no speaker should be thinking about just striding on stage and winging it. Invest time in understanding the ideas you are sharing, their value to the audience, and the narrative that you will weave to bring it all together. If you find yourself struggling with confidence when speaking in public, I would seriously consider investing in some time with a speaking coach like Tamsen as well. Don’t think of speaking as vanity – it’s a serious content marketing investment.

How long should you present for? Here’s the science…

It’s probably the question most frequently asked by anybody planning a keynote presentation – or a pitch for that matter: how long should you present for? How much time do you need to get your ideas across? And for how long can you reasonably expect your audience to pay attention?

Lots of people know about the 18-minute rule for TED talks. What’s really interesting is to hear Tamsen explain why it works so well – but also why people should think long and hard about whether it’s appropriate for their presentation. Apparently, It takes around 12 minutes for a speaker to land a point effectively during a talk. The average attention span of someone listening to a talk is between seven and 10 minutes (take that any of you who still think the human attention span is less than a goldfish) – and so the maths works out pretty well. A 15 to 18-minute talk gives you ample time to make your point – and provided you give the audience at least one fresh reason to pay attention during that time, you should be able to bring them with you throughout the journey.

Does Tamsen therefore think that all speakers should aim to speak for 18 minutes? Not at all. There are good reasons for talking for 10 minutes, good reasons for talking for 20 minutes, and good reasons for landing points over the course of a day-long conference. It all depends on the complexity of the ideas that you are trying to get across and the journey you therefore need to take your audience on.

Be curious – your storytelling will be better for it

Tamsen spends 90 minutes a day reading – and she regards that time as particularly well-spent. She reads neuroscience studies and SEO papers that may not be directly related to what she does, but which provide fascinating perspectives on how to engage people effectively, change how they think, and ultimately shape their choices. What’s more, finding time for curiosity in your weekly routine helps you to think differently about the world – and find genuinely original, fresh and stimulating stories that bring that to life. Nobody wants to hear another keynote speaker kicking off their talk with an explanation of why Blockbuster went bust. If you are genuinely passionate about understanding disruption then you ought to be able to find far more interesting examples that you can use to fire that same passion in your audience.

Don’t confuse stories with anecdotes

How good are marketers at telling stories? Are public speakers any better? Tamsen gives both what she calls a ‘near-fail’ grade – and the biggest reason for that is our tendency to confuse stories with anecdotes.

Think of how your own ears prick up every time a presenter opens a talk with ‘Once upon a time’ and you’ll understand how strongly programmed we are to respond to a story. Think about how many times you’ve been frustrated when that story bears no relation to the rest of the talk, and you’ll have a good sense of where so many speakers go wrong. Anecdotes are just things that happened – and they have no real connection to the point that you are trying to make. Stories are about people pursuing what they want – and as such, they are an immensely powerful vehicle for transferring meaning, taking the audience on a journey and changing the way that they think. At the end of the day, the story only matters if the meaning matters. If you don’t truly understand why you are telling a particular story, that story will never change anything.

Remember the Red Thread

The Red Thread is Tamsen’s analogy for connecting together the essential elements that any talk should have. It’s taken from the myth of Theseus slaying the Minotaur by finding his way through the labyrinth – and it incorporates the essential elements that our brains expect from any story. As a speaker, you need to be able to connect the goal that your audience wants with the problem that needs to be overcome, the solution that you want to talk about, and the unique belief, perspective and philosophy that ties it all together. It’s a great analogy – and it’s well worth listening to the podcast in full to hear Tamsen explain it. Suffice to say that when you can keep hold of the red thread, you communicate ideas and meaning in a way that people will never un-hear. And at the end of the day, that’s what great speaking is all about.

Thanks to Tamsen for joining me for this episode. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or @tamadear on Twitter.

If you’re just discovering us, you can catch up on all the previous episodes of the Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast here. And if you subscribe to the podcast, you’ll never miss an episode. Thanks for tuning in!

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