Wednesday, August 2, 2017

TED Book (not really)

When you have  TED in your title, you'd better bring your A game, because your reader's expectations are going to be sky high. I opened Carmine Gallo's Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds with high hopes, but they were dashed rather quickly.

In retrospect, perhaps it was a warning sign that the book isn't "endorsed, sponsored, or authorized" by the wondrous TED Talks, which are indeed one of the best things about the internet. I should have paid more attention to that disclaimer, intended to avoid any possible confusion with the real thing. Lesson learned.

My quibbles with the book are few but serious. First, Gallo's criteria for the best TED talks, the ones he holds up as examples for readers to emulate, seems to be the number of views. If you agree that success equals "viewed more than 15 million times," then you'll accept that the talks selected are the best ones. But I grew tired of hearing over and over how many views this or that speaker's talk received. The concept of "best" for me is more of a subjective evaluation, not a strict numbers game. For example, I'd measure success by how many people went out and changed their lives, or at least their perspective, as a result of what they heard. That would be much harder to measure, of course. But I'd be more impressed by the resulting "best" designation.

Second, the public speaking "secrets" were solid but not all that secret. If you've done any public speaking research at all, you already know that you want to connect with a personal story, corral attention with a novel approach or subject, be conversational, use imagery, and keep it short. I guess I was expecting something more rarified, based on the promise of TED-based tips.

Last and probably most difficult, after a few chapters the organization of each chapter began to sound formulaic to me. Each chapter followed a predictable pattern: Introduce the rule with a personalized story about a TED speaker. Give details about his or her talk and how it exemplifies the rule. Add extra hints and details backed by some scientific studies. Give a few more pointers. Wrap up by repeating the rule. I'm all for organized writing -- don't get me wrong -- but this was rather too much. Organization should be effortless, not obvious.

This book would be very useful for someone just beginning to learn about public speaking or making a presentation for the first time. It's good enough for what it does. After all, it's a top 10 Wall Street Journal bestseller. I'm sure it's been read millions of times.


A few sentences earlier, [Bill] Gates was talking about how many children's lives are saved due to better medicines and vaccines. "Each one of those lives matters a lot," he said. He delivered an empathetic presentation, saying that millions of people die from malaria every year. Gates used humor and a shocking moment to drive home his main point.

One popular technology blogger wrote the headline, "GATES UNLEASHES SWARM OF MOSQUITOES ON CROWD." Well, it wasn't exactly a "swarm" of mosquitoes (the small jar contained only a few). Regardless, the presentation went viral. A Google search returns 500,000 links to the event. The original video on the site has attracted 2.5 million views, and that doesn't include the other Web sites that link to it. . . .  A memorable moment gets shared, spreading the message much farther than in its immediate audience, often around the globe.

Note: This book counts toward the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge.


  1. The lesson from this is probably to highlight the importance of a title. The title grabs. The book is bought. Profit made.

    1. Agreed! I think this is even more true when buying on-line.


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