Would you like the secret to delivering a speech that is as powerful as a TED talk?
Akash Karia studied over 200 of the most popular TED talks for his book, TED Talks Storytelling. He analyzed the structure, message and delivery of each speech. What he discovered was that the “magic ingredient” that made each TED presentation so captivating was that each of the speakers had mastered the art of storytelling.
Based on this research, and with case studies drawn from the talks of Sir Ken Robinson, Susan Cain, Mike Rowe and Malcolm Gladwell, Karia offers seven core principles that anyone can use to tell highly impactful stories.
- The Story Start
Karia begins his analysis of the best storytelling at TED by highlighting the importance of beginning every speech with a compelling story. He discourages the use of traditional opening remarks such as introducing oneself. This makes the speech weak from the start, as audiences are more likely to get bored early on. On the other hand, a speaker who dives right into a relatable story will grab attention and keep the audience mentally engaged.
- The Power of Conflict
The stories told by the best TED speakers are not typical narratives. They are personal stories that contain conflict–keeping audiences curious about what will happen next. Because conflict stirs the listeners’ emotions, they remain engaged and interested throughout the speech. And since it’s a personal account, it’s guaranteed to be fresh material—content the audience hasn’t heard before—and will be delivered in a more natural manner.
- Show Don’t Tell
Another important aspect to consider in storytelling is instead of just merely telling it, the great speakers that Karia studied create visual images. When describing characters, great storytellers provide a lot of detail—not just a physical description but also the quirks in personality, too. The goal is to create a mental picture in the listener’s mind. By showing instead of telling, audiences are taken to the full experience of the speaker as each detail slowly builds a mental picture of the narrative.
- Remember VAKOG
An important part of creating a mental picture is through tapping our five senses: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory and gustatory, which Karia shortens to the acronym “VAKOG”. By combining these senses in the story, the audiences are treated to a movie-like mental description since the speaker uses the power of sight, sound, touch, smell and taste through his words.
- Add Specificity
Karia also emphasizes the impact of being specific in relating the story. Instead of saying, “I was speaking to a large group of people,” say “I was speaking to a group of 500 CEOs.” By using characters, exact dates and detailed scenes, the speaker is able to establish credibility in his story. The more specifics there are, the better the audiences relate to what is being said.
- Stay Positive
Another element in a great speech underlined by Karia is the use of positive stories. These are success stories that inspire audiences because of the optimistic nature that they bring. They leave the event feeling hopeful that they too can be successful. In addition, Karia differentiates dialogue from narration where the former allows the audiences to be in the “scene” of every story whereas the latter only brings them to a superficial level. Through the use of dialogue, the storytelling becomes engaging and dynamic.
- Story Structure
Finally, Karia recommends the use of a classic story structure: conflict, spark (the process or wisdom that inspires the character to overcome the conflict), change (what positive event has transpired), and takeaway (what audiences need to learn). This makes storytelling more organized and structured.
Karia makes a convincing case that the magic ingredient in great TED talks is great storytelling. If you master the art of storytelling, your audiences will be easily captivated. Stories are inherently interesting and memorable. And whether you are delivering an actual TED talk or a corporate presentation they can turn boring material into a brilliant presentation.