Jeremy Donovan’s Advice: How To Be A Good Speaker

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Most of you have probably heard of the TED talks. Jeremy Donovan is a man who discovered his true passion very early in life and has devoted his time and effort to exploring the science of human communication. He asked himself: what makes a good speaker and a high quality speech? Why do people sink their teeth into some ideas more than others? How to generate good ideas and how to spread them? He has summed up his knowledge and conclusions in an interesting book called How to Deliver a TED Talk.

This book is an actual manual on how to construct a speech that would be good enough to match the quality of TED talks. Speakers at TED conferences are exquisite speakers, but also amazing and creative individuals who honestly have something to say. TED talks have elevated their status over the years, and it is considered a privilege to be selected as a speaker. If you are a speaker at a TED conference, it says something about the progressiveness and usefulness of your ideas. TED talks have really become a modern way of social networking and disseminating ideas, but also a great way to communicate at a higher level, discussing problems that are well hidden or at least not visible enough. How To Deliver a Ted Talk is divided into four chapters. All of the chapters include real analysis of the most succsessful TED talks, which is a great plus. These analyses illustrate the positive impact that comes with integrating certain elements into your speech, and combining them with behavior that is considered desirable while delivering the speech.

The first chapter deals with the content of your speech. Do you have an idea that is worth spreading? How to you maintain a clear and firm structure in your speech, so that your idea doesn’t fall through the cracks of your composing mistakes? How do you use the method of storytelling in your talk and how do you catch your audience’s attention? One piece of advice that Jeremy Donovan gives us in this first section is to make it personal. You shouldn’t smother your audience with factual data. Instead, you should show them what your idea means to you, as that can make them relate, connect emotionally, and understand better what it is that you are trying to say. Donovan says:

The first question that arises is which story or stories should you tell? The easy answer is that it is always best to tell stories drawn from your personal experience or observation. Imagine you chose to share the greatest lesson you ever learned. Your story becomes how and when you learned it.

So, the first chapter focuses on the core of your speech, on generating your ideas and finding the best way to share them with the audience. It will help you to understand better what parts are necessary in one speech, in order for it to have a great effect on the listeners.

The Second chapter focuses on the actual delivery of the speech. How can you make the best of it? How to be charismatic and likeable? What to do in order to get your message across to the audience? All of these questions are answered in a pragmatic way, with concrete suggestions. Your idea may be good, but if it’s not effectivly delievered – it is useless and won’t get through. So, the delivery is just as important as the preparation, if not more so. They say that you have to hook the attention of your listeners within the first couple of minutes of your speech, show them that you are indeed worth listening to. The emotional connection is extremely important, because we are humans, not robots who only process information and then decide whether or not the incoming data is worth anything. This chapter is all about communication and the elements that are to be considered engaging: simple tricks that include taking into account the possibilities of language (i.e. rhetorical wordplay) and humor, as well as non-verbal communication. You should try to keep your speech in balance. For example, humor is good, if it’s done right. You shouldn’t use it too much, because then you will turn your speech into a comedy act. Yes, you want your audience to be amused, it’s a great way to boost their attention, but your primary goal is to share an idea. Here’s a useful piece of advice regarding the creation of emotional momentum with the audience, from the second chapter:

The most memorable speakers bring their audiences through the broadest possible emotional range. However, few novice speakers have ever taken the time to define what that range actually is. If you vaguely strive to connect on an emotional level, you are just as likely to hit as miss the mark. 

You should always learn from more experienced speakers and try to pick up some tricks from them. Don’t try to imitate them in every way, but rather see how they manage to get their idea through and then compose your own elements, based on what you’ve learned.

The third chapter is all about designing your presentation. It is about the visual elements of your speech that serve to enhance your words. They are there to make your idea more concrete, more appealing, and easier to follow. Donovan gives useful advice about these means of speech delivery: slides, drawings, videos. They should be simple, and they shouldn’t draw too much of the audience’s attention. That would implicitly mean that they have drifted away from your idea. This chapter also gives advice on how to leave an impression of a confident speaker, how to dress for success, and how to radiate leadership skills. Dressing may seem like an irrelevant thing in your preparation, but there are many mysterious factors that play their role in forming impressions. Dressing appropriately creates a certain visual impact and gives you credibility. You wouldn’t look and listen to someone who was dressed in a dirty tracksuit, looking sloppy, in the same way that you would listen to the person who is well groomed and polished, would you? It is not superficial, it’s just the way we are wired, although there are some people who just automatically project a feeling of trustworthiness, and would even if they were to wear a sack. Still, be aware of the power of image, Donovan says:

The clothing you wear during your talk can affect your performance and its reception by your audience. Consequently, do not leave selecting, cleaning, or buying your outfit to the evening before or the day of your performance. Instead, assemble your outfit a few days in advance so that you can focus your attention on polishing your content and delivery.

The fourth chapter is all about getting selected for a TED talk. In this chapter, you can read about the steps of becoming a TED speaker and useful advice regarding real social networking, defining your idea, and putting yourself up as a speaker (if everything else fails). As Donovan says, speakers are most often elected through the power of credible recommendation, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get your chance. The important thing is to show that you indeed have something to say, and that you are talented and persistant enough to find a way to say it. It is important to practice in front of people, so that you can get real feedback and get more comfortable with yourself. Donovan shares some useful tips on how to prepare yourself right before delivering your speech: you should get to know the space in which you will give your speech, you should feel the pulse of the audience and practice small, but effective – confidence exercises. A final great message from Donovan consists of the following: public speaking isn’t about piling up all the available knowledge about this way of communication. It is all about practice and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Sure, you are supposed to read books on this topic, you are welcome to attend courses and seminars. But, if you don’t try it yourself, all the information you’ve memorized and processed – is useless. As Donovan says:

In the same way that watching many episodes of Iron Chef will not make you a gourmet cook, watching many great speakers will not make you a great speaker. Reading a library of books on public speaking will not make you a great speaker either.

So, if you have a great idea worth spreading, start small. Start sharing your idea in an honest and passionate way. Talk to your friends, join debates, speak up for yourself. These are just some of the good ways to practice this skill, it will help you in compiling thoughts and constructing them into meaningful sentences. Words are powerful, so if you have something to say – work on this skill. Dialogue is an eternal art and it can bring out the best in you. If you are a shy person, but feel like you have great ideas, work on beating those irational fears of failure. Donovan’s book is a good starting point for that venture.

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