Talk Like Ted: 1Q16 PM Book Club Review

Talk Like Ted

Title: Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds
Author: Carmine Gallo
Year: 2015 Book Club Review: 1Q16
PM Evolution Amazon Store Ordering Link: Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds

If Project managers are anything, they are communicators. Translating technical issues into business impacts and status updates into what it means for your weekend are just a couple examples. Often, this communication is via email or conference call, but PMs also regularly present in person. These in-person presentations may be for a broad set of audiences and cover a variety of messages. For example consider how differently the messages and audiences may be for kick-offs, lessons learned, steering committee updates and end user training.

Talk Like Ted addresses 9 principles for effective presentations and public speaking and cleverly uses the most popular TED presentations to demonstrate each. The 9 principles are broken down into three areas:

  • Emotional
  • Novel
  • Memorable

Per our norm, we’ll take a look at each of the main concepts from a PM perspective.

Project managers often are often analytical. They like facts. They like plans. They like checking things off lists. As such, many project managers have to actively work on their “soft skills” and the touchy-feely aspects that are crucial for project managers to fulfill their potential. Presentations have a similar dynamic. A factual presentation may be informative, but fail to connect with the audience and thus not drive any action. Presentations which can combine facts with emotional connections are much more likely to drive the audience to action.

Talk Like Ted identifies three principles as emotional:

  • Unleash The Master Within: Passion comes from within. It can be challenging for a PM to be passionate about every kick-off presentation and every steering committee update. However, finding an aspect of each message that can tie in with your passion can significantly increase the effectiveness of each presentation. Passion, enthusiasm and inspiration are contagious. If nothing else, consider whether the inspiring aspects of the project vision can be related to your presentation and begin with WHY rather than WHAT.
    TED video:
    What to watch for: Watch for Aimee Mullins’ passion and how it strengthens her message.
  • Master The Art Of Storytelling: A personal story isn’t necessary or appropriate for every project presentation. When a personal story isn’t right, consider whether a story about someone else such as the project team or stakeholder is appropriate. Science is learning more about why stories are such powerful communication tools and recent research indicates that stories have an amazing effect to “sync” brain activity of the audience with the presenter.
    TED video:
    What to watch for: Watch for how Seth Godin uses stories about others and brands, rather than personal stories, to share his ideas.
  • Have A Conversation: We’ve all experienced the magic when a presenter feels like they are talking directly to us, almost as if it were a one on one conversation. While this form of delivery takes years of practice to master, a couple of aspects PMs can focus on are preparation and gestures…and they go hand in hand! Preparation is about not only knowing what you want to say, but how you want to say it. The how involves both verbal and non-verbal aspects such as gestures, punching key words and rate of speech. Each can help your audience feel like you are having a natural conversation with them rather than “presenting” and it is the natural feel that aids the connection.
    TED video:
    What to watch for: Watch for Amy Cuddy’s body language life hack.

Similarly to how emotion engages the audience, as does the novel. Talk Like Ted gives us three principles around novel:

  • Teach Me Something New: In most cases, a project manager is presenting when there is some new information to share. It could be a new project to deliver which is strategic to the organization or critical project issue to resolve or a new application which will change the way you do your job starting next week. Focus your presentation on the new rather than the routine. For example, if you give regular status update presentations, focus on what is new or unexpected rather than what is unchanged or expected.
    TED video:
    What to watch for: Watch for Hans Rosling’s use of novel ways to present data.
  • Deliver Jaw-Dropping Moments: Consider what your key messages are for the audience and be creative in thinking about how to convey those. Props and light shows may be out for most PM presentations, but consider how you can help your audience really take notice of your key message. For example, when it comes to project issues, it may be as simple as clearly communicating the business impact if the issue isn’t resolved. Keep in mind that while the project team may be well aware of how impactful an issue may be, a steering committee who isn’t involved in the day to day may need that impact clearly spelled out.
    TED video:
    What to watch for: Watch for Bill Gates’ use of a prop to emphasize a point.
  • Lighten Up: Project managers are often in the position of delivering “bad” news about project issues, budget challenges, etc. Humor not only makes you more likeable, but can help lighten difficult situations and build the feeling of being “in it together.” For those of us who are deficient at joke telling, there is good news! Jokes are actually not the best ways to weave humor into your presentation. Narratives, anecdotes, quotes, videos and photos are more effective means of lightening the room.
    TED video:
    What to watch for: Watch for Sir Ken Robinson’s use of humor to communicate his message.

Every PM has been there. We leave a great meeting with high expectations that everyone will deliver on their action items only to find that next week, everyone seems to have forgotten their assignments. Apparently, the meeting wasn’t memorable enough to be retained beyond the weekend. Talk Like Ted gives us three principles for a memorable presentation:

  • Stick To The 18-minute Rule: TED talks are 18 minutes and it turns out to be a pretty good rule of thumb for delivering content. One reason for this is that being forced to condense content into a short amount of time challenges us to creatively find ways to communicate more efficiently. If you have 15 minutes for a status update, challenge yourself to deliver the crucial messages in 5 minutes rather than just filling up 15 minutes.
    TED video:
    What to watch for: Watch how David Christian condenses the history of the universe into 18 minutes, what he normally covers in a course of 48 half-hour lectures.
  • Paint A Mental Picture With Multi-sensory Experiences: Multi-sensory doesn’t have to be a combination of visuals and audio. It can be multiple people. It can be smells or textures, if that relates to your project. An easy way for PMs to go multi-sensory is to have members of your project team speak.
    TED video:
    What to watch for: Watch how multiple voices gives a multi-sensory dynamic to the presentation for someone who doesn’t speak a word.
  • Stay In Your Lane: People can spot a phony. If you aren’t the expert, don’t pretend to be. Summarize the concept and either let the expert speak or inform the audience that the expert is available for detailed questions.
    TED video:
    What to watch for: Watch how Sheryl Sandberg uses her real life stories to communicate her message.

Discussion Questions:

  • Do you have a presentation tip that other PMs could use?
  • How do these public speaking principles change for web conferences, webinars and other “virtual” presentations?
  • What is your favorite “humor” slide that can be used in a professional slide deck?
  • Which TED video inspires you the most?

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