Why Some TED Talks Get Millions of Views – Part 1

February 5, 2016.
New Study:

Why Some TED Talks Get Millions of Views, Others Very Few
Part 1

In September 2009 Simon Sinek and Fields Wicker-Miurin delivered TED talks on similar topics, related to leadership. Both speakers were well respected among their peers—but neither was famous—and both talks provided highly interesting content. By now, Wicker-Miurin’s videotaped talk has attracted a very respectable 741,000 views on TED.com.

Simon Sinek’s talk, however, has attracted 25.5 million views—which for a ‘serious talk’ of this kind is nothing short of extraordinary.

The interesting question is—why such a difference?

That was the question Vanessa van Edwards, body language trainer and founder of ScienceofPeople.com, set out to investigate in a study published in March 2015 by Huffington Post.

In the study 760 people were asked to rate a large selection of TED talks on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the highest)—rating the speakers’ charisma, credibility and intelligence.

A 4-minute video summary of the study by Vanessa van Edwards can be found by clicking the YouTube image below.

The study was conducted in 3 parts.

Part 1. First Impressions
Past research by Stanford Professor Nalini Ambady (featured on December 4, 2015) indicated that if we like someone we decide in less than 7 seconds.

Dividing the study respondents into two groups; one watching the selected TED talks for 7 seconds, the other for the full 18 minutes—van Edwards’ study found their results were similar, in line with Ambady’s findings.

Part 2. Verbal vs Non-verbal
Van Edwards’ study investigated potential differences between verbal and non-verbal presentation content by having one group watch the talk muted—i.e. no sound—the other with sound.

The speaker ratings of both groups corresponded—i.e. the most viewed speaker videos were rated most highly by both groups, showing the importance of the speakers’ nonverbal language.

Part 3. Patterns
Parts 1 and 2 of the study indicated that nonverbal communication is of great importance for how people perceive a speaker’s talk—and the researchers therefore created an additional rating study specifically focused around body language.

Based on how the 760 people in the study rated the selected TED speakers, a number of interesting findings emerged—summarized in 5 patterns:

It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

More Hand Gestures Make for a More Successful Talk

Scripts Kill Your Charisma

Smiling Makes You Look Smarter

You Have 7 Seconds

In part 2 (which will appear next week, February 12) we will look in more depth at the above findings, as well as some others—and their implications for how you can improve as a speaker.

Trond Varlid

Full Huffington Post Article: click here

Web site of Vanessa van Edwards:

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Think Fast, Talk Smart

January 29, 2016. STANFORD Talks
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Matt Abrahams:
Think Fast, Talk Smart – Communication Techniques

Matthew Abrahams teaches Strategic Communication and related topics at Stanford Graduate School of Business. He is also Co-Founder and Principal at Bold Echo Communications Solutions—a Silicon Valley presentation and communication skills company.

The video featured here is a presentation lecture given by him at Stanford in October 2014 on speaking in spontaneous situations—which contains a wealth of good tips that can help you improve as a speaker.

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Matt Abrahams is also author of Speaking Up without Freaking Out: 50 Techniques for Confident, Calm, and Competent Presenting (2013). Kendall Hunt Publishing, 2nd Edition. To check out the book on Amazon click here.

In addition to this book he has written a number of articles in various publications on presentation and communication skills.

Here are his 5 tips for planning your presentation:

• What Does My Audience Need to Hear From Me? 
Starting your presentation planning with this question shifts the focus away from yourself and onto your audience.

• Outline Your Talk Using Questions. 
When writing your presentation outline, create a list of questions to serve as prompts for what you intend to say. This will help you feel more confident when you stand up and speak—because you know the answers to the questions. And using questions for your outline will tend to make you more conversational when you present—which audiences find more engaging and they will more easily remember what you said.

• Give Your Audience a Reason to Care. 
Provide your audience with a clear and compelling reason why they should care about your talk—why is it relevant and how could it help them?

• Include an Emotional Hook. 
Emotion sticks, people remember emotionally charged messages more easily than fact-based ones.

• Structure Sets You Free. 
A powerful way to help you—and your audience—remember your presentation is to use a meaningful structure. According to Matt Abrahams research has shown people remember structured information up to 40% more accurately than information presented in a more free form manner. He has a number of suggested options for good and meaningful structures which we will cover in a later newsletter.

Matt Abrahams has his own Website with extensive information, advice and techniques for creating powerful presentations and becoming a more confident and compelling speaker:

Trond Varlid

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Where Good Ideas Come From

January 22, 2016.
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Study the best TED Speakers!

Steven Johnson:
Where Good Ideas Come From

Steven Johnson, Web innovator, start-up advisor, writer. One of the early online magazine pioneers as Chief Editor of FEED, later co-founding the Web site Patch. His breakthrough book, Everything Bad Is Good for You, was published in 2005. Since then he has published another 6 books, including Ghost Map, a 2006 top 10 non-fiction book.

Key features of Steven Johnson’s TED presentation include his narrative style, making extensive use of stories, great opening which connects directly to the audience and the location of his talk, and well designed and well selected slides.

TEDGlobal 2010 3.3M views on TED.com

This TED presentation is based on his book Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation (2010)—a New York Times best seller, in which he explores the history of innovation.

160122 S Johnson Where Good Ideas Come From

A fascinating 4-minute illustrated summary of the book can be found on YouTube:

Trond Varlid

To access more TED videos:

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

January 15, 2016.
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Study the best TED Speakers!

Amy Cuddy:
Your Body Language Shapes Who you Are

Amy Cuddy, Professor and researcher at Harvard Business School, PhD in Social Psychology from Princeton University. Specializing in research on nonverbal behaviour.

How is your body language when you speak and present? How does it affect how others perceive you?

In this second most watched TED talk of all time—currently with 30.6 million views, Amy Cuddy presents some very some interesting research by her and colleagues at Harvard and Columbia—on how your body language affects people’s perception of you.

Their research confirmed what you might intuitively expect, that body language has a big impact on other people’s perceptions—but perhaps more surprisingly, that your body language can also have an impact on yourself.

Open, expansive body postures are used by people and animals alike to show power and confidence—referred to as ‘power posing’—and closed postures the opposite. However, the research also investigated if using such body language in and of itself could make you feel more confident—and give you more psychological power.

The study showed that, yes, your body language can in fact even change who you are. The research results demonstrated that ‘power poses’—practiced and sustained for even quite short periods of time, cause physiological, psychological and behavioural changes—making you feel more confident and powerful.

The research partly originated from Amy Cuddy’s own personal experience, having suffered severe brain trauma in a serious car accident as a teenager—which, among other effects—made her lose her confidence almost entirely. She did not even think she would be able to go to university, let alone one day become a professor.

Watch her captivating talk and find out how she regained not only her confidence—but became one of the pioneers and leaders in her field.

Trond Varlid

To explore more TED talks go to:

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Building a Tower, Building a Team

January 8, 2016.
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Study the best TED Speakers!

Tom Wujec: Building a tower, building a team
The surprising results of the Marshmallow Challenge

Tom Wujec, Designer, author, business visualization pioneer. Professor at Singularity University, Toronto. Fellow at Autodesk, a leading 2D & 3D design software company.

This is a TED presentation on the important topic of team building and team behaviour, and well worth watching for its dynamic and engaging delivery.

TED2010 2.6M views on TED.com

If you are not familiar with the Marshmallow Challenge, this is a team exercise originally designed by Peter Skillman, VP of Design at Palm—which produced some rather surprising results and provided interesting insights for team building, project management and creativity.

Using 20 sticks of dry spaghetti, one meter of string, one meter of tape and a marshmallow, teams of 4 people are given 18 minutes to compete to build the tallest standing structure.  This exercise has been repeated with various groups of people numerous times over the years—business students, CEOs, architects and engineers, kindergarten children and others.

So how did the different groups perform? One surprising result was that business school graduates consistently perform poorly, closely followed by CEO groups. Interestingly, when CEOs were joined by their administrative assistants in their groups, they performed much better.

Among the consistently best performers, however, are teams of recent kindergarten ‘graduates’! Not only do they produce the tallest—but also the most interesting structures.

Why is that? According to Tom Wujec, the reason is that business school graduates and executives are taught to seek out the one correct solution to problem. They also tend to spend more time discussing and planning, and sometimes getting caught up in who should lead. Kindergartners on the other hand will just start building, and keep trying and testing multiple iterations until they find a structure that works.

As we might expect, architects and engineer groups built the very tallest structures (thankfully!).

Many companies have now used the Marshmallow Challenge with their teams. Says Tom Wujec: “I believe the marshmallow challenge is among the fastest and most powerful techniques for improving a team’s capacity to generate fresh ideas, build rapport and incorporate prototyping—all of which lie at the heart of effective innovation.”

Some of the insights gained from conducting this experiment with large numbers of people:

You learn by doing; discovering problems you can’t predict in advance.
Work in parallel.
• Being first to market isn’t always the best – learn from others’ mistakes first.
Multiple iterations usually beat commitment to making your first idea work.
Fail fast, fail often.
• All projects have resource constraints; but you don’t get more unless you ask.

Tom Wujec has written several books, the most recent being Imagine Design Create (2011).

160108 T Wujec Imagine Design Create

Trond Varlid

To access more TED videos:

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Are You Making Any of These Five Common Delivery Mistakes?

December 18, 2015. Are You Making Any of These 5 Common Delivery Mistakes?

Mastering public speaking is a challenge for most people. One way to improve is to first focus on the ‘low-hanging fruit’—common delivery mistakes which can fairly easily be corrected if you are aware of them and focus on not repeating these mistakes.

Here are 5 common presentation delivery mistakes which you may have made yourself and/or watched other presenters making:

1. Preaching or Giving a Monologue
A common problem you see with some speakers is that they preach to their audience.  This will happen if the speaker only focuses on his or her own point of view, giving little or no thought to the situation of the audience—and verbally trying to impose such a view on the audience, just like a preacher would.  Doing so is a sure way to, at best, lose the interest of your audience at an early stage, and at worst, turn them against you.  A similar mistake is giving a monologue—forgetting that good speaking is a dialogue with the audience.

2. Moving without a Purpose
Some speakers move frequently and without a purpose. This will not only distract people—your audience will also not know what movements are important and meaningful. In some cases movements without purpose reflect nervousness on the part of the speaker, but must nevertheless be consciously resisted. Move with a purpose. When there is no reason to move—don’t!

3. Stepping on Thoughts and Laughter
There are times during your presentations or speeches where you will use humor to illustrate a point, engage the audience, and provide a break from more serious content. Hopefully the audience will laugh. When they laugh, do you stop and let them finish? Or do you rush ahead, stepping on their laughter? Let them laugh, let them laugh fully—then move on to your next thought.

Likewise, you should avoid stepping on the thoughts of your audience. If you say something important, make a powerful statement or express something intended to make your audience think—you need to stop and let them digest it. Too many speakers make the mistake of not allowing sufficient time for the audience to think and reflect in these situations.

So let your audience laugh, let them think.

4. Not Being Attuned to Your Audience
A common reason why speakers lose the attention of their audience is that they fail to attune their own energy level to that of the audience.  If you address a low-key, somewhat quiet audience, with a high-energy, high-powered introduction, you are off to a bad start—and may lose them entirely from the outset. However, if the audience is energetic, come out with more energy.  The key is to attune yourself to the audience.

5. Reading Your Slides
Of all the common delivery mistakes, this may take the prize for most often committed offense. Did you ever experience a presentation where the speaker read all the text on the slides, more or less word by word?  Was that boring?!  Did you read the slide text faster than the speaker?  We have probably all committed this mistake ourselves, on more than one occasion…..  The reason why, is that speakers often use slides as much to help themselves as to help their audience.

Adapted from Craig Valentine, World Champion of Public Speaking and Founder of the World Class Speaking Method.

Trond Varlid

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders

December 11, 2015.
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Sheryl Sandberg:
Why we have too few women leaders

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO.  Held positions at McKinsey and Google prior to joining Facebook. Former Chief of Staff at the U.S. Treasury. First woman on the Board of Facebook. Walt Disney Corporation Board member. Harvard MBA.

No. 10 on Fortune Magazine’s 2014 List of 50 Most Powerful Women.

Why are there so few women business leaders? According to Forbes magazine only 4.8% of Fortune 500 companies are led by female CEOs—and the percentage of women executives has remained flat at around 14% since 2010.

Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk attracted much attention across the business world and in the media, and partly prompted some ground breaking studies and other efforts focusing on women in business.

TEDWomen 2010  5.7M views on TED.com

One of these was Women in the Workplace, a research report produced by McKinsey and the Lean In organization which surveyed some 30,000 employees across a range of companies and industries.

The most recent update of the report was published in September 2015. The survey found that while 74% of companies reported that they are committed to diversity, less than 50% of their employees believe this is true.

You can find the full report here: http://womenintheworkplace.com/

151211 S Sandberg Lean In 2

Source: Women in the Workplace 2015; McKinsey & LeanIn.org

In her talk Sheryl Sandberg makes reference to various studies on women in business, and here are some of the key findings she mentions:

Women face greater barriers to advancement and a steeper path to senior leadership.

Women systematically underestimate their own ability.

Men who are successful attribute their success to themselves, while successful women attribute their success to external factors.

Success and likeability are positively correlated for men, negatively correlated for women.

151211 S Sandberg Lean In

Sandberg is the author of Lean In – Women, Work and the Will to Lead (2013)—which remains an Amazon No.1 Best Seller.

Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk is another example of a speaker not using slides for her talk. Instead, note her extensive use of stories throughout her talk, illustrating key points, as well as humour and voice dynamics.

A talk well worth watching both for the importance of the topic in contemporary business—as well as for its presentation delivery.

Trond Varlid

To access more TED videos:

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Thin Slice Judgements & Nonverbal Communication

December 4, 2015. Thin Slice Judgements & Nonverbal Communication
Long-lasting Impact of First Impressions

The importance of nonverbal behaviour and communication for presenters and people generally in terms of how you are perceived—has become increasingly recognized—not the least due to scientific research evidencing its importance.

One of the leading pioneers of research on nonverbal communication was Nalini Ambady, Stanford psychology professor and a distinguished social psychologist. She also taught at Harvard for many years before joining Stanford in 2011.

The initial landmark study on nonverbal behaviour that laid the foundation for her career-long work in this field was conducted in 1993 and published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 64, No.3). The full study can be downloaded here.

The study recorded college professors delivering a lecture—and then asked people who had never seen the professors previously to assess and rate their teaching effectiveness. They were only shown brief silent video clips (i.e. no sound) of under 30 seconds of the professors lecturing—then asked to rate their teaching effectiveness on a scale from 1 (lowest)  to 9 (highest).

The ratings were subsequently compared to the end-of-semester assessments by the actual students of the professors. Rather unexpectedly, the scores from the independent raters were aligned with the assessments of the students who had spent an entire semester with the respective professors.

In additional studies using shorter silent video clips, down to 10, 6 and even 2 seconds, the results were similar,  and were further backed up by many other studies in subsequent years both by Ambady and other researchers.

Ambady and her colleagues’ research validated the power of first impressions. It showed that people make very quick judgements the first time they meet or see someone—known as ‘thin slice judgements’—which are surprisingly accurate and which can influence people’s long-term impressions of others.

Over the years Ambady and her colleagues did a number of follow-up studies in this field, partly summarized in the book ‘First Impressions’ (2008), published by The Guilford Press.

151204 N Ambady First Impressions

The studies of first impressions have a number of implications, not only for presenters and speakers—but also for other situations, such as who you hire for a job, who you decide to sit next to on the train, and the CEO’s impact and influence on his managers and employees.

Sadly, Professor Ambady passed away prematurely in 2013, at the age of 54, due to leukemia—and after a year-long, but unsuccessful effort to find a matching bone marrow donor.

Trond Varlid

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Presenting Without Slides

November 27, 2015.
Improve Your Presentations.
Study the best TED Speakers!

Presenting without Slides:
Pico Iyer – Where is Home?

Pico Iyer is an acclaimed British-born travel writer and novelist of Indian origin, who previously taught writing and literature at Harvard. Born and educated at Oxford, he also spent many years in the U.S and now lives in Japan.

He has travelled extensively across the globe and written numerous articles on travel, literature and other topics for Time, The New York Times, The Financial Times and National Geographic, among other publications. Here is his Web site:

Do you always use slides when you present? These days, when everyone has easy access to computers and slide presentation software, using slides when you present has become the norm rather than the exception.

There are, of course, many occasions—especially for business and science presentations—when using slides is both useful and even necessary, particularly when you have a lot of numerical data or technical information to present.

However, the merits of presenting without slides—in terms of impact and audience engagement—may not be fully appreciated by many presenters. And many speakers become totally reliant on their slides, to the extent that if technical problems prevent slides from being used—they are ‘stuck’.

Even for presentations where slides are useful and necessary, presenting some parts without slides—using the ‘B’ key in PowerPoint or Keynote presentation mode—can be very effective, for impact and to get the full attention of the audience, and also to provide variety in the presentation delivery.

Pico Iyer’s TED talk is a powerful example of, and excellent benchmark for, presenting without slides—showing how engaging this can be. Also, assuming your topic lends itself to it, he makes full use of the delivery ‘tools’ that we all possess: voice dynamics, eye contact and body language—combined with a clear and easy-to-follow structure for his talk.

TEDxGlobal 2013 Edinburgh, Scotland
2.4M views on TED.com

Pico Iyer has written 10 books, 8 non-fiction and 2 novels—including:

The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto
Falling Off The Map
The Open Road: The Global Journey of the 14th Dalai Lama

His most recent book is The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere (2014), on TED Books.

151127 P Iyer Art of Stillness

Trond Varlid

To access more TED videos:

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

The Ten Laws of Simplicity

November 20, 2015. John Maeda: The 10 Laws of Simplicity
Guidelines for needing less and getting more

A fun and great way to improve your presentations—both in terms of content and delivery—is to seek out, learn and get inspiration from a wide range of people and professions. One such source of potential inspiration and ideas is John Maeda.

John Maeda is a world-renowned Japanese-American designer, computer scientist and author—and currently Design Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm. He has had a diverse career, past positions including Professor at MIT Media Lab for 12 years and researcher at a Tokyo media think thank.  He is currently a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on New Growth Models.

His best selling book is: The Laws of Simplicity (2006).

151120 J Maeda Laws of Simplicity

‘Complexity is overrated’, says Maeda half jokingly—in his book offering 10 laws to balance simplicity and complexity in business, technology and design—and prescribing how ‘less is more’.

However, his laws of simplicity also provide good ideas for how to improve your presentations.  For now I will leave it up to you to ponder how—and revert to this topic in a later newsletter.

John Maeda: The 10 Laws of Simplicity

Law 1: Reduce
The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.

Law 2: Organize
Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.

Law 3: Time
Savings in time feels like simplicity.

Law 4: Learn
Knowledge makes everything simpler.

Law 5: Differences
Simplicity and complexity need each other.
151120 J Maeda Laws of Simplicity 2

Law 6: Context
What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.

Law 7: Emotion
More emotions are better than less.

Law 8: Trust
In simplicity we trust.

Law 9: Failure
Some things can never be made simple.

Law 10: The One
Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.

Trond Varlid

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.