This lesson is by far the most important. Humbly testing your topic is one of the most powerful ways to ensure you have an inspiring topic.
This lesson will also take you far longer than the rest if you do it correctly. Don’t expect to get all of this done in a weekend, or even a week. The better you apply this lesson, the more persuasive your TED Talk pitch will be.
The goal of this lesson is to learn how to reliably fascinate people while only saying a sentence or two about your topic 🙂
A caution for experienced speakers
Many experienced speakers, authors, and coaches misunderstand the intent of this module and don’t get as much out of it as they could. If you’re tempted to skip this module, please don’t (even if you already have a topic you’re used to pitching). The intent here is not to get feedback on your entire talk, but rather, to learn about your audience’s first impressions when you share only a little about it.
First, a story.
My sister’s wedding was this past summer. A few days before the wedding, my parents were working on a speech they were going to give. They wanted some feedback, so I listened to them deliver the talk. It had some jokes, some marital advice, and some nice stories about how they’ve enjoyed spending time with my sister and her fiancé as a couple. When they were finished, I asked simply, “what do you want Erin [my sister] and Trent [her husband] to think/feel when you give this talk? What would you have liked to hear from your parents at your wedding?”. Unanimously, they both agreed that the most important thing was that they feel supported and that my brother-in-law felt welcomed into the family.
What’s interesting is that they didn’t list “marital advice” anywhere. They originally *wanted* to go in one direction (and probably felt like they should), but they were thinking about what they wanted to say, and not necessarily what my sister and brother in law would want to hear. This is a classic mistake. A talk is developed, and little consideration is given to the audience.
Introducing: The Audience-Centric Philosophy
It’s important that you start with a foundation of a topic you’re knowledgeable about, and a method of delivery that’s authentic. We’ve already got that from the past 2 lessons. But that’s often where speakers stop. They forget that the audience doesn’t care about you. They care about them.
They don’t care about solutions you have. They care about their problems.
They don’t care about your story. They want a lesson they can apply to their lives.
They don’t care if you have an important lesson to share. They have important problems to solve.
They don’t have the vocabulary you use to describe your topic, they have their own understanding of the world.
In this lesson, you’ll try to read the minds of our audience and find the most fascinating parts of your message — a way to describe it that’ll make audiences drool. You’ll also make sure your audience understands your topic in the same way you do (to avoid the curse of knowledge).
The Feedback Iceberg: Finding Fascination and Avoiding Bias
When an online audience is watching your talk, they first make a decision to start watching based on the title. At any time they can decide to stop watching.
In the same way, when TEDx event organizers choose speakers, they don’t listen to your entire talk first before making a judgment call. They’ll often make a short list based on only a few hundred words. Maybe less.
It’s the same with anything else we make decisions on – when you decide whether to watch a movie, you judge it based on the title, synopsis, and trailer – if the movie is amazing but the trailer sucks, nobody will ever see it.
Think about your talk like an iceberg. People often judge it based on just the tip – what they experience first.
This module is NOT about delivering your entire talk and getting feedback from those that hear it. There are several issues with asking for feedback on the whole “iceberg”. They all come down to cognitive biases – due to the way our minds work, you’ll get misleading feedback:
- People are likely to remember the most positive things about your talk (positivity bias), so any feedback will be skewed positively
- It’s unlikely the audience will tell you the entire direction of the talk is off. They’ll assume the only thing that’s open for feedback is a few tweaks here and there. (eg: when was the last time someone sent you a blog post for feedback and your answer was “honestly, this shouldn’t have been written” or “delete the entire last half of this article”, even if both of these are true?).
- They’ve already made a decision to invest time (and money, if they’re a client), and to stay consistent with their decision they’ll likely rate your talk favorably so as to avoid admitting to themselves that their investment has been a waste (confirmation bias)
- People tend to want to maintain a social order, so we avoid insulting each other if we’re interacting with others that we have to maintain a relationship with (Courtesy Bias, or the Shy Tory Factor)
In this lesson, we’ll test your ideas with real people and see what they respond to most passionately, but do so before you write your talk.
The purpose of this exercise is to mine for 4 factors (confusion, competition, disagreement, and fascination) and get new ideas for ways you can formulate the rest of the structure of your talk. We do this with simple tests that are designed to get your audience’s take on your ideas and have them tell you how you should pitch it to fascinate them most.
- For a fully-researched topic, we need to get 4 reactions from various people in your Audience and Decision Maker Personas – Confusion, Fascination, Competition, and Disagreement
- When the audience or TEDx decision makers are evaluating your topic, they’ll look at it like an iceberg – they don’t see the whole thing and provide feedback (in the same way your existing audience does, or your friends do if you ask for feedback on your whole talk), instead, they’ll get a sense of whether they’re interested based on just a few simple pieces of information.
- Download and read the worksheet on the 4 feedback factors (you can print it and take it with you as a resource for when you’re testing)
- As you test with your Audience Persona and your Decision Maker Persona, record the different types of insights you get in the 4 categories (I like to create 4 separate Google docs, one for each category of insight)
- Take note of the people that you’ve tested with – you can get their feedback later in the course (or even send them your TED Talk once it’s online. They’re likely to be keen to share it since they helped you create it)
- Share your insights about your testing in the Students Community. What did you learn while testing your idea? What were your biggest surprises?
- You’ve talked in person, to at least 10 people about your idea (try to use different people than who you’ve already spoken to)
- You’ve gathered 3 reasons people disagree, 3 points of confusion and 3 reasons people are fascinated
- You’ve gathered 10 related articles/resources (and have clarified how your topic is different or used the insights to get research ideas)