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The single most important thing if you’re giving a short speech

The act of one human speaking to a group has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. Chris Anderson, owner of TED and TED Talks, gives his Brief but Spectacular take on the power of ideas and how we communicate meaning to other people.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Next, another installment of our weekly series Brief But Spectacular.

    Tonight, Chris Anderson, the owner of TED and TED Talks, the nonprofit media organization which posts talks online for free.

  • Chris Anderson:

     The process of one human speaking to others is — has deeply biological roots.

    We have evolved these techniques over hundreds of thousands of years, perhaps gathered around campfires, of looking at someone, seeing every microexpression, hearing the tone of their voice, and being able to judge, is this person genuine, or are they bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED) me?

    The single most important thing to do if you have to give an important talk in a limited period of time is get rid of 90 percent of what you think you want to talk about. Pick the one thing that is most important to you, and make it the through-line of your talk.

    Some people memorize their talk, every word. And there’s a trap in doing that, because if you sound like you’re reciting, that takes away the authenticity, actually.

    The difference between an actor acting and an actor really owning the character, you really have to know a talk so well that it’s in you, and you can focus in on why it matters and what it means, the meaning that you want to communicate to that person, and to that person, and to that person.

    A lifetime of work, condensed over a few hundred hours of prep into 12, 13, 14, 18 minutes, a key question to ask before you give a talk is, why are you doing this?

    Many speakers come thinking, this is my opportunity. I have got this agenda I want to promote these people. The audience sees through that in a moment.

    Think that you’re bringing a gift, and focus the whole talk on that. Every story you tell is in service of that idea, of that gift.

    The first time I went to TED, 1998, I had no idea what I was coming into. Why am I listening to an architect, followed by a software guy? Made no sense to me at all.

    But, by day three, dots started to connect. You can actually learn from someone outside your field. You can learn context. In your mind, five things come together, and can explode in a way that actually wouldn’t happen in anyone else’s mind, because this is how ideas are born.

    There is a moment where you have to emerge from your trench, come up above 10,000 feet, look at the amazing pattern that is out there of how things connect. Context matters. You can’t really understand something deeply without knowing how it connects to something else, which means that persuading experts in a field to share their knowledge accessibly with the rest of us, that’s a huge gift to all of us.

    My name is Chris Anderson, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on the power of ideas.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you can watch additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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