With the famous TED conference celebrating its 30th anniversary, TED “Talks” have been viewed online more than 1 billion times and are streamed 2 million times per day. As an independent communication expert, I can say confidently that, like it or not, your next presentation is being compared to TED.
You may never see a TED stage, and frankly, unless your name is Bono, Sheryl Sandberg or Bill Gates and you’re curing malaria in Third World countries, you probably won’t get invited to TED anytime soon. But TED has set the gold standard for public speaking, and TED speakers work very hard at creating presentations that go viral; many TED talks have been viewed up to 20 million times. The bottom line is this — you can have a great idea, but in the information age if you cannot communicate your idea persuasively in a succinct, compelling pitch, it doesn’t matter. Based on my analysis of 500 TED presentations, here are five techniques for a winning pitch.
1). Tell stories to bond with your prospect. Telling stories is the single best way to make an emotional connection with your listener. After categorizing 150 hours of TED talks, I found that stories make up 65 percent to 72 percent of the content. Researchers at Princeton University are finding that when someone tells a story, the same regions of the listener’s brain and the speaker’s brain light up. That means the two people are literally in sync. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg started a movement called “Lean in.” It started with a TED talk, but right before she got on stage, a friend suggested that she downplay the data and statistics in her talks and tell personal stories of her struggle with balancing work and family. She did and it made all the difference.
2). Stick to the rule of three. Simply put, we can only remember about three to five key messages in short-term memory. There’s a reason why the Declaration of Independence guarantees the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The rule of three is well established among authors in the academic research on persuasion. The rule of three is pervasive across the most famous TED talks. Sheryl Sandberg offered women three ways they can lean in to their careers. Many other speakers tell three stories or offer pieces of advice. My suggestion — if you have a short pitch over coffee at Starbucks, stick to three, four or, at most, five reasons why your prospect should do business with you. The magic formula lies between three to five points.
3). Keep your pitch to under 18 minutes. No speaker at TED is allowed to talk for more than 18 minutes. TED organizers have found that 18 minutes is the ideal amount of time to have a serious discussion without putting your audience to sleep.
4). Use humor without telling a joke. Most small business owners are not comedians. There’s a real art to telling a joke. Don’t feel as though you need to make one. But humor is very important to tear down walls and to connect us to one another. Sir Ken Robinson is an educator and gave the most famous TED talk. It’s been viewed more than 20 million times. He was very funny and never told a joke. He used anecdotal humor — personal observations to elicit a smile and not a belly laugh. For example, he said, ‘I was at a dinner party — actually, if you’re in education you’re rarely invited to dinner parties …’ Keep it light, bring a smile to your audience, but don’t feel as though you need tell a formal joke.
5). Practice more than you think you should. Most business owners I know practice their golf swing far more than they’ve rehearsed a pitch that can make or break their business. A Harvard researcher, Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor, rehearsed her TED talk more than 200 times. That talk was viewed more than 15 million times. One of the viewers was Oprah Winfrey, and it changed Dr. Jill’s entire life and career. When you have a pitch and the stakes are high, practice the entire presentation exactly as you plan to deliver it, and do it many, many times.
You have ideas that were meant to be heard. Don’t sabotage your potential by underestimating the ability to craft and deliver a pitch that connects to your listener and moves that person to action.
Carmine Gallo is a communication coach, and author of Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds (March 2014, St. Martin’s Press). Having counseled some of the world’s most admired brands, Carmine is a former CNN broadcast journalist and bestselling author of such books as The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, and 10 Simple Secrets of the World’s Greatest Business Communicators. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, 20/20 and CNBC. He is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.