SciComm Lit Review: Jennifer Purrenhage reviews “Talk like TED: The 9 public-speaking secrets of the world’s top minds”

When I first read this book, I was so inspired that I set out to transform every lecture in my Gen-Ed course into a TED talk. ~ J. Purrenhage

talk like ted

What is the reviewer’s motive (expertise, curiosity, sharing lessons learned, etc.) and perspective (research scientist, educator, science communicator, etc.)? 

I am a scientist and a science educator. As a lecturer in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of New Hampshire, and the current Secretary of ESA’s Science Communication Section, I love reading about science communication, and about improving communication in general, both for selfish reasons (personal and professional development) and for my students. I teach the theory and practice of science communication to undergrad majors and non-majors in all my courses.

Who can benefit from reading and referencing this SciComm Lit (researchers, reporters, science communicators, educators, students, etc.)? 

Anyone whose objective is to communicate a story to a live audience (especially if you have watched TED talks and wished that’s how you reached your audience) can benefit from reading this book.

Gallo did not focus on science communication, but scientists are among his examples. The observations, insights, and tips included in this book will speak differently to each of us depending on our roles and our goals. I refer to this book when re-designing my lectures, mentoring students on preparing research presentations, teaching about science communication, and speaking to audiences of colleagues. Many students and colleagues have purchased their own copy of this book after borrowing mine or hearing my favorite tips.

When I first read this book, I was so inspired that I set out to transform every lecture in my Gen-Ed course into a TED talk.

Warning: do NOT attempt to make every presentation a TED talk!

I should have known. Gallo writes that many TED speakers reworked and practiced their 18-minute TED talks for a full year before the filmed event.

Marginal Notes (the good & the bad): favorite takeaways and productive points of disagreement.  

I have referenced my well-annotated copy many times since I first read Talk Like TED. This was the book that got me over my apprehension of writing in books. I had always kept a separate journal for notes on the books I was reading, but I couldn’t keep from writing up and down the margins of this book!

Many of my favorite takeaways were not novel concepts to me. Rather, they expanded on existing ideas, presented familiar information in a fresh context, or served as important reminders of the things we know but do not always do.

I imagine most of us already believe in the power of storytelling. In this book, you’ll read about how some of the best-received TED speakers used stories to power their talks. As I read, I remembered a flood of my own best stories that I’d never before shared in lectures. I started a list of my stories on one of the end pages, noting the lecture topics each story might be paired with. I quickly incorporated some into lectures. Sharing my stories has made presenting more enjoyable for me, and my students return years later to tell me what the stories meant to them.

Lessons from cognitive science. Most of my own presentation improvements are rooted in lessons from cognitive science. This book was instrumental in many of my upgrades! You’ll learn about “the alchemy of laughter” and “the power of icky,” transforming verbal information into visual information (and the Picture Superiority Effect), and more tools for enhancing audience engagement and retention. Also, I personally love meta-teaching, and there are some great tips in this book to help you explain the science behind these techniques to students and colleagues.

Warning 2: If you’re an educator and you’re not into meta-teaching yet, this book may start you on a slippery slope.

The importance of our presence as speakers. Gallo encourages us to “step outside our slides” and use props selectively. We are instructed to share the stage with multiple voices. We are reminded that connecting with our audience requires us to lighten up and be authentic, and that authenticity doesn’t happen naturally. (Yes, you read that right.)

I realize my review is effusive. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things about this book I didn’t like. There is one page in particular on which I crossed out an entire passage (and I might have sworn a little in my marginal note). But, those passages are few, and frankly, I find them just as instructive and helpful as the ones I marked with stars, hearts, and exclamation points. I am intentionally excluding here the passages I took issue with because you and I will undoubtedly find different issues with the ideas presented, and that’s a good thing. I believe that these points of disagreement with the ideas in this book can help us clarify what we understand, as individuals, about good communication.

Book Citation & Summary (from publisher):

Gallo, C. (2014). Talk like TED: The 9 public-speaking secrets of the world’s top minds. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Ideas are the currency of the twenty-first century. In order to succeed, you need to be able to sell your ideas persuasively. This ability is the single greatest skill that will help you accomplish your dreams. Many people have a fear of public speaking or are insecure about their ability to give a successful presentation. Now public speaking coach and bestselling author Carmine Gallo explores what makes a great presentation by examining the widely acclaimed TED Talks, which have redefined the elements of a successful presentation and become the gold standard for public speaking. TED—which stands for technology, entertainment, and design—brings together the world’s leading thinkers. These are the presentations that set the world on fire, and the techniques that top TED speakers use will make any presentation more dynamic, fire up any team, and give anyone the confidence to overcome their fear of public speaking.

In his book, Carmine Gallo has broken down hundreds of TED talks and interviewed the most popular TED presenters, as well as the top researchers in the fields of psychology, communications, and neuroscience to reveal the nine secrets of all successful TED presentations. Gallo’s step-by-step method makes it possible for anyone to deliver a presentation that is engaging, persuasive, and memorable.