Podcast: How to design and deliver a short talk in the TED style with Sam Horn

Bob Klanac: What’s your topic at the summit?

Sam Horn: We’re going to be talking about how we can design and deliver a short talk.

By a short talk we mean whether it’s a TED or TEDx, SXSW, Wisdom 2.0, Inc. 500, even if you are on a panel and you only have five minutes at your professional conference, it’s how you can distill your message into something that’s so crisp and clear and compelling that you are the buzz of the conference.

Bob: Interesting. And you find that clearly there is a need for this in your view.

Sam: Not only is there a need for it, there’s two things going on here; number one, Jack Welch said, “If you don’t have a competitive edge, don’t compete.” I think if we don’t have a competitive edge, we can’t compete.

The quickest way to scale our career, and now I know many people at The Presentation Summit, actually write speeches for their boss or their CEO or their team leader or something like that.

So we are talking both about whether it’s your own career, whether it’s your own message and mission that you want to scale or whether you’re working for someone and they have an important opportunity to get up in front of a group of people and build the reputation of a company or the nonprofit you work for so it works either way.

But look at the careers of Simon Sinek and Amy Cuddy and Brené Brown and Sir Ken Robinson. Then doing a quality 18-minute talk in 18 minutes they took their message and their mission and their movement global. Now millions of people have seen their message, benefited from their message and that’s the power of doing a great talk.

In 10 minutes, 12 minutes, 18 minutes, you can secure a legacy for what you care about and have it impact many more people than you would ever reach otherwise.

Bob: This is really partly the product of our digital age, in a sense. There are so many eyeballs on pieces of content now.

Sam: It’s funny that you say that because I had an opportunity a few months ago to talk with Darren Hardy who founded and was the editor of SUCCESS magazine and I asked him if he was working on a book. I believe in books. I helped start and run Maui Writers Conference for 17 years, I’ve got a number of books out myself from major publishers.

And he looked at me and said, “Sam, I can reach more people in a week with a good blog post than I can with a book that I spend a year writing.” I believe in the power of books so I’m certainly not dissing books.

You brought up digital though and you were right that if we’re talking about scaling, what do we care about? Do we want to scale the attention for it? Do we want to scale the visibility, the impact and influence? Then doing it digitally and doing that through a short talk because the clock starts ticking the second we start talking these days.

You’ve probably seen the research from Nancy F. Koehn from Harvard that said Goldfish have longer attention span. Nine seconds goldfish, eight seconds human beings. So keeping it short is the key to getting our message out in a way that justifies and deserves the potential it has.

Bob: Very true. And in fact, in a sense you mentioned about the idea of a book and once again, I’m a fan of books, but the truth of the matter is the messages often are kind of re-created fairly quickly these days too based on the changing times, changing circumstances.

Sam: That’s right. Here, let’s be specific about one thing we’re going to talk about in this program at The Presentation Summit. And it’s not just a short talk because the theme of what you and I are focusing on is this very short attention span in a world of infobesity how can we make sure that we’re intriguing and people are actually motivated to listen to us and remember what we say and then act on it? My favorite example of this is Neil Gaiman. Do you know who Neil Gaiman is by any chance?

Bob: Yes, I do. The author, creator.

Sam: You got it. Here’s the thing though; Neil Gaiman, if you read Sci-Fi, if you read fantasy, you’re familiar with Neil Gaiman. He was a big name in a smaller pond.

However, he gave a commencement address at the Institute of Arts in Pennsylvania. Now, it’s a smaller college so there’s maybe 200 people in the audience. However, in that talk, he mentioned about how Stephen King had gotten in touch earlier in his career and he said, “This is a brilliant book. You are going to have an incredible career. Enjoy the ride.”

And then Neil Gaiman did something that we’re going to talk about. He went contrarian, counterintuitive. Instead of being predictable or saying something obvious that was a platitude, he said something that got our eyebrows up.

He said, “I promptly went out and ignored that advice for the next 17 years.” And he said, “I got angry at my publisher and I got upset with the reviews and then finally, I was successful but I was miserable.

And I looked around and I asked myself what can I control? What can I control?” And he said three words, “Make good art.” That video went viral overnight. Millions of people have seen it. That phrase “make good art” became a bestselling book for grads.

So we’re going to talk about how we can create a phrase that pays. What’s a repeatable, retweetable, rallying cry that we can put in our short talk? And once again, this is whether it’s five minutes on a panel, whether it’s a 20 minute keynote for your professional association or whether it’s on a big stage like TED or TEDx or SXSW.

Because at the end of the talk, what can people repeat word for word of what they heard? Because if they can’t repeat anything, we’re going to be out of sight, out of mind and we don’t want to be out of sight, out of mind, we want to be top of mind. So that’s just one of the things we’ll be talking about at The Presentation Summit.

Bob: It’s interesting because that seems to touch on the notion that you’ve got content, but you also could find a way to make it memorable or have them take away something, like you said, the catch phrase.

Sam: Think of Simon Sinek in Start with Why. That’s not just the name of his book, it really has become internationally effective because it’s evocative and it causes us to reflect and then to do something differently.

With the people that are at The Presentation Summit, I’m going to be asking so what is an opportunity you’ve got coming up? Maybe you only have five minutes, maybe you only have 10, 15 minutes, 20 minutes. How can we take what it is you care about, this message you have, this product you’re selling or this business that you want to get more traction, how can we wrap a talk around it?

We’re not talking about selling because on most of these talks if we start selling, people tune out. They want to be engaged and they want to be intrigued and they want something introduced that gets their eyebrows up, that’s really originally and meaningful and that gives them ways to have a better life. That’s one of the things. Can I give you a quick example of that?

Bob: Sure, you can.

Sam: One of my clients is Dr. Joan Fallon. As the CEO and founder of Curemark, they are actually developing a treatment for autism. It is getting such promising results and its clinical trials are being fast-tracked by the FDA.

This is a huge breakthrough. She had an opportunity to do a TEDx talk and one of the things we’ll be talking about at The Presentation Summit is we want to be strategic. This is a golden opportunity and there’s lots that we can talk about.

So we want to make sure that what we talk about is consistent with our brand and our positioning and what we want to have happen over the next couple of years.

Here’s where it gets intriguing; because as brilliant as Dr. Joan Fallon is, she doesn’t want to just be known as “the autism lady”. If she just spoke on the back story and what they’re doing about autism, good for her and that would be a really valuable TED Talk.

But see, five years from now, she’s also working on Parkinson’s, she’s also doing something else and so we thought what is the river that runs through her life? What is the theme of her career? What is the consistent topic that runs through her business? And it’s disruption. She really agrees with Jeff Bezos who said, “The only danger is not to evolve.”

And she looks at problems, whether it’s Parkinson’s, whether it’s autism, whether it’s disability because she worked with the Yankees on their new stadium to have access for people with disabilities.

So any time she sees a problem, she thinks somebody should do something about this. I’m as much as somebody as anybody, I’m going to do something about it. And then of course, the goal of her TEDx Talk is not just to tell her story, well good for you, Joan. No, it’s to make her story our story so that everyone watching it is thinking, “Hmm, where is there a problem in my life? Where is there something not working in my business?

Where is something happening in our industry that’s just wrong or outdated or ineffective that somebody should do something about? Well, how about, I’m as much as somebody as anybody and then how can you become a disruptor and an innovator as well?”

Bob: That’s amazing. That’s a very good example of what you were just saying. One more things, Sam, before I let you go. I’m intrigued by your name as the Intrigue Expert. Why have you become known as that? What does that mean?

Sam: I’m so glad you brought that up because I really believe in back story. Brené Brown’s Stories Are Just Data with Soul.

So I think we start with where. So where I got this was the very first year at the Maui Writers Conference. We gave people from around the world an unprecedented opportunity to jump the chain of command.

You could pitch your screenplay to Ron Howard. You could talk about your novel with the head of Doubleday. Nowhere were you going to get that kind of opportunity and guess what, people didn’t know how to get across the value of their project in ten minutes. They were talking themselves out of a deal and their dreams were going down the drain.

So I asked Bob Loomis, who was senior VP at Random House, I said, “Bob, what’s going on?” And he said, “Sam, we’ve seen thousands of proposals, we make up our mind in the first 60 minutes whether something is commercially viable and if we’re interested.”

The next day, I stood in the back and I watched those pitches, those ten minute meetings and I could predict who was getting interest in their project without hearing a word being said guess how.

Bob: Body language?

Sam: By watching body language in particular, the decision maker’s eyebrows. Because if their eyebrows were crunched up, it meant they were confused. They didn’t get it. And if the decision makers didn’t get it, we’re not going to get it because confused people don’t say yes. If their eyebrows weren’t moving at all, it meant they were unmoved or they had Botox.

If their eyebrows were up, it meant they were intrigued. It’s like they’re curious, they want to know more and I thought that’s the key. It’s like we’re no longer in an information age, we’re in an intrigue age.

It’s not just what we know, it’s can we communicate it in a way that actually intrigues people so they want to listen to it or so they understand its value or so they remember and act on it?

So that’s why my business is called The Intrigue Agency and I have written books Pop and Got Your Attention and lots of CEO read manifestos and so forth about how in a world of infobesity we can replace it with intrigue so people are motivated to pay attention.

Bob: Sam, that’s fascinating. It reminds me of in Hollywood in the 80s when it was known as the elevator pitch. I guess that term is gone forever, but in other words, you’ve got to catch them early and quick and you’ve got to make them lean in.

Sam: That’s it. See, and you are talking about body language and with people having so much competing for their attention, being so busy, being so distracted, as you just said and whether it’s a short talk or whether it’s a panel or whether we’re walking into a meeting with our boss, and if people are thinking, “Sam, I’m really not going to be giving a short talk or my manager or my colleagues aren’t going to be giving the short talk so are these ideas relevant for me?” Absolutely.

Anywhere you want to get people’s attention, they’re going to be busy or distracted or skeptical or they’ve already made up their mind. How can you take responsibility for making what you want to get across so intriguing that even if they weren’t planning on listening, they can’t help themselves?

Bob: Sam, I do know where I will be going at The Presentation Summit. I can’t wait to hear you speak there. Sam Horn, thank you so much for taking part in The Presentation Summit podcast. We really appreciate it.

Sam: You’re welcome. I had an opportunity to be there before and in case people haven’t attended — people who have attended know what a community Rick and his team build.

If you haven’t been there, you may go to a lot of conferences, you’re not going to have as much fun as you do at this one. You’re going to learn a lot, a lot of actionable ideas that you can really put into practice immediately.

And even more importantly than that, you will find the generosity of spirit. The connections you make, it is really a conference with heart. So I’m looking forward to coming back.

Bob: Terrific. Rick Altman will be happy to hear that too. Thank you again Sam, for your time.

Sam: You’re welcome.