We watch TED talks for a variety of reasons: to learn something; to feel inspired; to get motivated; to stay informed; to be astounded; to laugh.
Above all, we want to be enriched. We want to be a better person for having watched.
But putting together a presentation that does that--helps someone become a better person--is easier said than done. Most of us would agree that on balance, most talks aren't good. The ones that are truly great stand out.
According to public speaking expert Neil Gordon, this is because most of us tend to stuff our talks full of information. You're taught to use acronyms, have steps and processes, fill your latest marketing deck with complicated charts ... and so you do.
Gordon says this is a mistake. "Most people think the reason why the most-viewed TED talks have been seen so many millions of times is because they're the most jaw-dropping, fascinating, ingenious, inspiring, or funniest talks," Gordon offers. "But it's not actually any of those things."
So what is it? What is the secret sauce?
"What they have," he says, "is a fully distilled idea that pervades the entire talk."
In other words, they have one big idea. Not several ideas. Not a list of seven ways to get more [blank] to do [blank].
No, they have one single, central, unifying theme. Gordon calls it a "silver bullet."
Here are a few silver bullets you might recognize from TED talks:
- "Your body language shapes who you are." (Amy Cuddy)
- "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." (Simon Sinek)
- "When we work from a place that says, 'I'm enough' ... we're kinder to ourselves." (Brené Brown)
"What we're talking about here is a single concept that can be scaled to the lives of every audience member who hears it," says Gordon.
In other words, the true power of a silver bullet isn't about clever words--it's about its effect on an audience member.
Consider those silver bullets again, and notice their effect on you:
- "Your body language shapes who you are." Doesn't this make you think about how it could help you in your life? It prompts thoughts like, "Hey, I could do those poses before I meet with my boss to ask for a raise! I bet that'd help me feel more confident. I could even do them before seeing my in-laws."
- "People don't buy what you do, they buy what you do it." You hear this and start to seriously reflect on the real "why" of your business--and on how you can incorporate that into your website, investor-facing deck, or elevator pitch.
- "When we work from a place that says, 'I'm enough' ... we're kinder to ourselves." This one allows you to let yourself off the hook a little bit. You start to think, "Yeah, I am enough. Perhaps I can relax about [that thing I was just stressing about]."
A full 92 percent of the most-viewed TED talks on Earth have a silver bullet. It's not because it's a catchy, easy-to-remember phrase.
It's because it leaves audience members feeling empowered.
Interestingly, knowing your silver bullet also leaves you feeling empowered--and I know from experience.
As an entrepreneur, my business is coaching men on how to succeed in sex, dating, and relationships. Most of my clients are 20- or 30-somethings who've never really had success with women, or men who are recently divorced and getting back into the dating scene, wanting to do it right this time.
Either way, I work with men from all kinds of backgrounds--but before finding my silver bullet, I never had a single way of describing the essence of the work.
Once I did find it, I felt more confident in giving talks, which had me show up in a more powerful way. It made people want to buy my products more often. One guy even said he got shivers when he heard it in a podcast I did.
So what is it?
"When men lead, women melt."
That's it. The problem with how other men attempt to have women melt is that they focus on the trappings of masculinity (car, clothes, money in bank account). But to have women melt, the only thing you really need to do, as a man, is lead. So that's what I teach my clients.
Whatever line of work you're in, you need a silver bullet. It empowers your audience, yes, but it also empowers you. Since finding mine, I feel more clear on my value to my clients, which has boosted my confidence (and grown my bank account).
I even have a friend who has a silver bullet for his therapy. It's:
"The real beauty in my life will come from learning how to tolerate the mess of the people I love the most."
And Gordon has his own for the work he does with speakers, authors, and others (in helping them come up with their own silver bullets):
"Your audience is empowered not by that which they know to be true, but by that which they believe is possible."
It's not about the information. Your talk (or book, or deck) isn't there to give people great information; they can get that on Google. Its purpose, instead, is to help people with transformation.
In the process, you might just be transformed yourself.