There's no question about it: TED Talks have raised the bar sky-high for what's considered a memorable and compelling  business presentation.

That being said, there are a handful of TED Talks speakers so talented that they almost make the rest seem dull and uninspired.

What makes them so special and popular? It's not just their subject matter, although that obviously plays a role.

Here's the secret: what the truly great TED speakers do differently from the rest can be found in the first few minutes of their presentation.

And that makes sense if you think about it. It's during the opening remarks that the audience sits up and pays attention... or reaches for their iPhones.

With that in mind, here are five of the most popular TED Talks speakers (as measured by page views), with the techniques they use to enthrall their audiences.

To see the techniques in action you need only watch the first two minutes of the TED Talks embedded below. (Although they're definitely worth watching in their entirety!) 

1. Sir Ken Robinson

 

TIP No. 1. Use self-deprecating humor to lower barriers.

Unlike many other TED Talks speakers, Robinson doesn't have a dynamic physical presence. Furthermore, because he's an academic, he must overcome the perception that he's likely to deliver a boring lecture.

He therefore opens by poking a little fun at himself and at educators in general. By puncturing his own balloon, he makes everyone feel more comfortable and more likely to listen to what he has to say.

TIP No. 2. Tie your experience to the shared experience.

In the midst of his humor, Robinson relates his personal experience at the conference to that of the attendees. This further humanizes him and brings him into the community of the audience.

Robinson establishes such a strong rapport with the audience that he doesn't need visuals or graphics to make his points.  This is a testament to how well he manages to capture and then hold the audience's attention.

2. Amy Cuddy

 

TIP No. 3. Get the audience to take an immediate action.

The point of all public speaking is to convince the audience to make a decision, which means convincing them to move (conceptually) from wherever they are now to wherever you'd like them to be.

Cuddy starts by getting the audience to move physically, thereby creating the momentum for the conceptual move she intends them to make. This is a more creative take on the "show of hands" opening that less-talented speakers use.

TIP No. 4. Create a sense of suspense.

In her first few sentences, Cuddy also promises the audience they'll be learning something important later in the presentation. This causes the audience to pay attention lest they miss the promised nugget of wisdom.

Note how cleverly Cuddy intermingles Tips 4 and 5! The suspenseful promise lends additional meaning to the movement, while the movement helps "lock in" the importance of the promise.

3. Tony Robbins

 

TIP No. 5. Express passion for your subject matter.

It's ironic that this TED Talk should be Robbins's most-watched YouTube clip because he looks exhausted and like he slept in his clothes. Normally, Robbins tends to be meticulously polished, even when dressed casually.

However, the passion Robbins feels for his material shines through his rumpled appearance. He's energetic and focused, obviously committed to providing as much value as possible in such a short amount of time.

TIP No. 6. Set appropriate expectations.

More subtly, though, Robbins spends much of the first two minutes deconstructing the preconceptions the audience might have about him, while simultaneously focusing their attention on what they can potentially learn from him.

Unlike Robinson, who gently creates rapport to lower the barriers between himself and the audience, Robbins simply blasts through the barriers to get to his point. Either technique works; use the one that best fits your personality.

 4. Brene Brown

 

TIP No. 7. Begin with a relevant anecdote.

As Brown mentions in her opening, she's a storyteller, and thus she begins (and continues throughout) by telling stories. Stories have power because human beings are genetically programmed to arrange thoughts into narratives.

What's important here, though, is that her opening anecdote is immediately relevant to introducing both herself and her message. This is the exact opposite of the old (bad) advice that you should start your presentation with a joke.

TIP No. 8. Use body language to signal a segue.

At about 1:30, Brown segues neatly from her introductory anecdote into the main content of her Talk. Note how she changes her expression and stance to communicate to the audience that "now it's time to get a bit more serious."

These visual cues help the audience make sense of the material, much like punctuation in a sentence. Without them, even a speaker with great ideas can come off like a droner or a motor-mouth.

5. Dan Gilbert

 

Tip No. 9: Start with a startling fact or statistic.

Gilbert introduces his TED Talk with an unexpected fact that's immediately relevant to his overall message, and uses contrast (20 minutes versus two million years) to frame that fact, thereby making it seem more vital.

Startling facts grab the attention of both sides of the brain. The neurons in your left brain signal "Yay, here's a fact to remember!" while the neurons in your right brain signal "wow, that's really weird!" 

TIP No. 10. Use visually arresting graphics.

Gilbert immediately reinforces the startling fact with a graphic of two skulls that reinforces and strengthens both the informational content (for the left brain) and the emotional content (for the right brain). 

By simultaneously hitting both sides of the brain, Gilbert completely captures the imagination and interest of the audience, even though he's only 30 seconds into the presentation. 

TIP No. 11. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

This is true of all great TED Talks speakers but particularly true of Gilbert, who is a master at reducing complex ideas into easily understood chunks of content.

Indeed, if you watch any great TED Talk, you'll notice at once that speakers neither "drill down" into details nor take the proverbial "50,000-foot view." Instead, they simplify without ever becoming simplistic.

Published on: Jul 26, 2016