When I learned that Game of Thrones actress Maisie Williams (Arya Stark of Winterfell) had read one of my books to prepare for her first TEDx Talk, I was intrigued to see what she had to say and how she'd say it.
About a minute in, I heard my name: "Upon finding out the news that I would be giving a TEDx Talk, I did what I think most people do and watched about 50 TED talks back-to-back and read Talk like TED by Carmine Gallo for some inspiration," Williams said.
Since Arya Stark is one of the most blood-thirsty characters on television, I'm glad I'm on her good side.
Now that HBO's Games of Thrones is entering its eighth and final season, Williams is turning her attention to entrepreneurship (she recently co-founded a mobile social network for artists and creatives called Daisie). Early in her speech, the 22-year-old admitted to an insecurity many entrepreneurs share: She felt like "a totally inadequate" public speaker.
"What could I possibly say that would have any impact?" she asked.
As it turns out, Williams has a lot to say and she says it with impact:
Her TEDx talk offers a valuable communication lesson for any entrepreneur who has an idea to share.
Start a Presentation with a Story
As an actress, Williams has developed a keen sense of good storytelling. A great speech or presentation is like a great movie: The first scene should draw you into the narrative.
In this case, Williams is setting up a discussion of her startup. If she starts by talking about her product, she'll lose the audience almost instantly. People don't care about a product as much as they care about the story behind the product. Maisie begins with a story.
I'm the youngest of four siblings. My parents divorced when I was four months old. I really was the icing on the cake of a terrible marriage.
When Williams says she grew up in a three-bedroom council house (a form of public housing in Britain) outside of Bristol, the audience is drawn into her story. It's easy to forget she's a famous actress as she expresses an emotion that many people have had at one time or another: the feeling that we're destined for something greater than the confines of our environment.
I went to a very ordinary school. I got very ordinary grades. I wasn't quite good enough to get a gold star, and I also wasn't quite bad enough to be kept after school. Everything about me was pretty damn ordinary, except for how I felt on the inside. I had big dreams.
Like any good story, hers has peaks and valleys--moments of joy mixed with unexpected roadblocks to overcome. Williams wanted to become a professional dancer. At the age of 10, she was accepted into a performance arts school away from home. The bad news: Her family couldn't afford it.
The next year, she got in again--and this time, she qualified for some government assistance. The bad news: It still wasn't enough.
The next act takes an unexpected twist. She enters a talent competition, fully expecting to dance her way to stardom. During an improv acting class to prepare for the talent show, Williams impresses the instructor.
You can guess what happens next. She lands the part of Arya Stark in what would become the most Emmy-nominated show in television history.
Stories Explain the Why
A good entrepreneurship story has a purpose. It explains the why behind a product or idea. Often, products that are born of necessity, hardship or struggle make for good stories.
The key is to link your story to the reason the product exists. Roughly 30 percent of Williams's talk is actually about her startup, Daisie--and here's how Williams connects it to her story.
"The series of events that had got me to that point were based mainly on luck and timing and were unable to be recreated," Williams explained. The entertainment industry is built on gatekeepers who hold all the power, she said. Enter Daisie, a social network for artists to collaborate with each other and to "give the power back to the creator."
Although Williams hasn't set foot in a classroom in years, she's made it her mission to continue learning. Sharpening her skill as a public-speaker is part of that journey.
Ideas that catch on are wrapped in story. We all have the capacity to move people, to inspire them and to capture their imagination. The secret is to find your authentic connection to the topic and shape it into a story that moves people to action.