Simon Sinek’s TED Talk | Start with Why

After having studied more than 200 TED talks, I have found that there are five proven ways you can open your speech or presentation. 

1. Open your presentation with a series of questions

Starting with a question creates a knowledge gap: a gap between what the listeners know and what they don’t know. This gap creates curiosity because people are hard-wired with a desire to fill knowledge gaps. 

In his TED talk, Simon Sinek began his speech with a series of powerful questions:

“How do you explain when things don’t go as we assume? Or better, how do you explain when others are able to achieve things that seem to defy all of the assumptions? 

For example: Why is Apple so innovative? Year after year, after year, after year, they’re more innovative than all their competition. And yet, they’re just a computer company. They’re just like everyone else. They have the same access to the same talent, the same agencies, the same consultants, the same media. 

Then why is it that they seem to have something different? Why is it that Martin Luther King led the Civil Rights Movement? He wasn’t the only man who suffered a pre-civil rights America. And he certainly wasn’t the only great orator of the day. Why him? 

And why is it that the Wright brothers were able to figure out control-powered, manned flight when there were certainly other teams who were better qualified, better funded, and they achieve powered man flight, and the Wright brothers beat them to it. There’s something else at play here.”

One important thing to note about asking questions is you must make sure that you pause after your question so that the audience has enough time to reflect on your question. If you don’t pause after your questions, you’ll be trampling over their thoughts and they won’t pay attention to what you’re saying.

In your next presentation, open with a question that the audience can relate to or with a question that creates a knowledge gap and creates curiosity in your listeners. Once you do this, your listeners will be hooked onto your every word!

2. Open your presentation with a story

In her popular TED talk on the power of introverts, Susan Cain hooked her audience into her speech by immediately diving into a personal story: 

“When I was nine years old I went off to summer camp for the first time. And my mother packed me a suitcase full of books, which to me seemed like a perfectly natural thing to do. Because in my family, reading was the primary group activity. And this might sound antisocial to you, but for us it was really just a different way of being social. You have the animal warmth of your family sitting right next to you, but you are also free to go roaming around the adventure-land inside your own mind. And I had this idea that camp was going to be just like this, but better…” 

See, you’re curious to find out more about her camping experience, aren’t you?

Want to learn how to tell better stories?

Then check out:

1. The power of storytelling – why stories work so well. 

2. The 5-Step Structure for Great Storytelling

3. Share a Quotable Quote

Would you like to add credibility to your speech? Would you build the credibility of your message by borrowing credibility from a third-party source?

Consider opening with a quote. A short quote that illustrates your main point will create support for your speech. For example, if you are giving a speech about the need to keep things simple, then you could borrow Einstein’s credibility by starting like this: Einstein said, “Imagination is more important … than knowledge!” However, here are two tips to keep in mind when choosing your quotes:

• Shorter is sweeter: The shorter your quote (less than 30 seconds), the greater the impact. A long quote will end up boring your audience. 

• Make sure it’s relevant: Make sure the quote is relevant to your main point, and relevant for the atmosphere. A playful quotation from Homer Simpson may not be appropriate during a tear-filled funeral.

4. Start your presentation with an interesting statement or statistic

For example, look at how celebrity chef Jamie Oliver used a startling statistic to grab audience attention in his 2010 TED talk:

“Sadly, in the next eighteen minutes when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead from the food that they eat”

Wow, what a powerful and shocking statistic! One of the things that make this statistic very powerful is that Jamie puts the statistic into the audience’s context. 

Instead of saying, “One hundred and seventeen thousand Americans die every year because of the food that they eat,” Jamie makes the numbers easier to digest. 

A year is a very long time, so Jamie boils the statistic down to the same amount of time as the TED talk. Highlighting the number of deaths that take place during the TED talk makes the situation seem more urgent. It makes the audience members aware of the deaths taking place right now as they sit in the room.

Second, it’s hard to digest 117,000 deaths … at a certain point, if a statistic is too large, the sheer size of the figure causes audience members to become indifferent to the situation instead of causing empathy. However, four deaths is a smaller number to digest and imagine, so it causes audience members to become hopeful that it is a manageable situation.

5. Call back to an earlier part of your presentation

A call-back is when you refer back to something that happened before or during the event. For example, in his TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson  called back to the presentations that had taken place before his:

“There have been three themes, haven’t there, running through the conference, which are relevant to what I want to talk about. One is the extraordinary evidence of human creativity in all of the presentations that we’ve had and in all of the people here. Just the variety of it and the range of it. The second is that it’s put us in a place where we have no idea what’s going to happen, in terms of the future…”

Later in the speech, he called back to an event that had taken place the night before:

“And the third part of this is that we’ve all agreed, nonetheless, on the really extraordinary capacities that children have — their capacities for innovation. I mean, Sirena last night was a marvel, wasn’t she? Just seeing what she could do. And she’s exceptional, but I think she’s not, so to speak, exceptional in the whole of childhood. What you have there is a person of extraordinary dedication who found a talent. And my contention is, all kids have tremendous talents.”

Calling back to earlier presentations gives Ken Robinson’s speech a personalized feel. 

It lets the audience members know that the speech is customized for them, as opposed to being an off-the-shelf speech. In your speeches and presentations, you can call back to previous speakers or to events that took place before you spoke.

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