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Review: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson

tedThis review first ran in the July 18th edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking

By Chris Anderson



I turned in a performance the other week that should make me a first-ballot inductee into the public speakers’ hall of shame.

I inflicted death by PowerPoint three times on the same audience in a single day.

Sure, my slides looked good. No bullet points, unreadable charts or clip art. Just one exhaustively curated full-screen image with a single line of text per slide.

But the slides piled up and buried the audience. The presentations were less a journey of discovery and more a test of extreme endurance.

I had one job at the front of the room and I blew it.

“Beautiful slides and a charismatic stage presence are all very well, but if there’s no real takeaway, all the speaker has done – at best – is entertain,” says Chris Anderson, head of TED and author of the Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. TED is a non-profit devoted to spreading great ideas through conferences, videos, books, programs and prizes.

 “Your number one mission as a speaker is to take something that matters deeply to you and to rebuild it inside the minds of your listeners,” says Anderson. “If you can conjure up a compelling idea in people’s minds, you have done something wondrous. You have given them a gift of incalculable value.”|

To get inside your listeners’ heads, your presentation must have a throughline. It’s the connecting theme that ties together your talk from start to finish.  “Think of the throughline as a strong cord or rope, onto which you will attach all the elements that are part of the idea you’re building,” says Anderson.

The best throughlines can be encapsulated in 15 words or less. Those 15 words should speak to your passion, spark curiosity and persuade others to hear what you have to say. “It’s not enough to think of your goal as ‘I want to inspire the audience’ or ‘I want to win support for my work’. It has to be more focused than that. What is the precise idea you want to build inside your listeners? What is their takeaway?”

Here are the throughlines for some of the most watched TED Talks:

  • More choice actually makes us less happy.
  • Vulnerability is something to be treasured, not hidden from.
  • Education’s potential is transformed if you focus on the amazing (and hilarious) creativity of kids.
  • With body language, you can fake it till you become it.
  • Let’s bring on a quiet revolution – a world redesigned for introverts.
  • Online videos can humanize the classroom and revolutionize education.

Once you’ve figured out your throughline, you’re ready to build your talk through connection, narration, explanation, persuasion and revelation.  Anderson devotes a chapter to each talk-building tool.

He also makes a convincing case for learning how to stand and deliver at work and in the community. “Presentation literacy isn’t an optional extra for the few. It’s a core skill for the 21st century. It’s the most impactful way to share who you are and what you care about.

“We are physically connected to each other like never before. Which means that our ability to share our best ideas with each other matters more than it ever has. The single greatest lesson I have learned from listening to TED Talks is this: the future is not yet written. We are all, collectively in the process of writing it. There’s an open page – and an empty stage – waiting for your contribution.”

I’ve collected an entire shelf worth of books on how to build presentations, write speeches and give talks. Anderson’s book is among the most practical and insightful. If you have a great idea worth sharing and you want to stay out of the public speakers’ hall of shame, get a copy of the Official TED Guide to Public Speaking.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College and lives in Hamilton.


Review: Jim Koch’s Quench Your Own Thirst: Business Lessons Learned Over a Beer or Two

Quench-Your-Own-ThirstThis review first ran in the July 4 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Quench Your Own Thirst: Business Lessons Learned Over a Beer or Two

By Jim Koch

Flatiron Books


If you want to make a small fortune brewing beer, start with a large fortune.

That’s the advice Jim Koch got from a fellow brewer. Yet Koch bucked the trend with his Boston Beer Company.

With a second mortgage, loans from friends and relatives and a century-old family recipe, Koch launched his company in 1984.

“We started at invisible, grew to infinitesimal, got to miniscule, and moved to tiny,” says Koch in his book Quench Your Own Thirst. “In 2015, we can proudly say we finally made it to small.”

Boston Beer’s revenues hit nearly $1 billion last year, with more than 1,000 people on the payroll. Boston Beer is now the second largest craft brewer in the United States.

While his publicly traded company is now an industry leader, Koch continues to follow the same simple business idea that was at the core of his business 32 years ago. “Make great beer. Give it to people fresh. Find customers.”

The search for customers started with a list of 100 bars in Boston. Koch and his first hire – a 20-something administrative assistant from his former consulting firm – went from bar to bar selling cases of Sam Adams.  Koch spent his days on sales calls and hosted “Meet the Brewer” nights in bars.

“We would add and subtract bars and restaurants from the list. A couple of places ended up going out of business before we could call on them. But eventually, we wound up getting Samuel Adams into every single surviving bar on that original list. Every single one.

“Did we have to do this? Why did it matter that we get to every one of them? Why not 90 per cent or 95 per cent? Why 100 per cent? There was something about making a commitment and following it through to the very end. I knew it would just feel right when we got there even if we had plenty of good, logical reasons to stop before we had Samuel Adams in all 100 establishments.”

Koch tells entrepreneurs to invest their time and money in sales rather than marketing when starting out. It took a decade before Boston Beer Company hired its first marketing person. “Marketing doesn’t sell products. Selling coupled with the delivery of real value sells products. You shouldn’t worry so much about the image or hype that exists around a product or service. You should focus on the product, and on selling it.”

A student at the Harvard Business School once made that mistake of telling Koch that sales is a low function task and that marketing is more important.

“The difference between marketing and sales is the difference between masturbation and sex,” Koch told the student. “One you can do all by yourself in a dark room and fool yourself into thinking you’re accomplishing something. The other requires real human skills and all the fury and muck and mire of real human-to-human contact.”

Koch also refused to “play company”.  He didn’t spend money on anything that didn’t help him make and sell beer.  “Many enterprises, both start-ups and established firms, distract themselves with all the trappings of being in business – like offices, support systems and other clutter.  If something didn’t help me do what was best for the beer, it wasn’t a priority. End of story.”

Koch covers the successes, setbacks and sacrifices made in building the Boston Beer Company.  He says being an entrepreneur has brought freedom, personal growth, connectedness with others and the opportunity to do something that matters.

“Done right, business is a noble pursuit well worth our energy and passion. In business, you have to create value for other people before you can capture any value for yourself. You quickly learn that the more others share in your success, the more success you’ll have.  I’ve had the chance to give the world something simple that matters to me: a better glass of beer.”

So if you’re looking to be your own boss and start your own company, pick up Koch’s book, pour yourself a glass of Sam Adams and get a master class in how to quench your own thirst.

Jay Robb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.