Wash that Ted right out of your head: new post-Ted presentation

by Joe Ross

The days of the expert or reliable narrator are over. We have entered the “Disinformation Age” where fake news, conspiracy stories, and meme warfare rule.

One of the most prominent casualties, at least from a presentation perspective, is the TED-like style, top down, subject matter expert: the teacher or preacher schooling their passively sitting and listening students.

We see trust move from the command and control leadership style and morph into something vastly flatter, decentralized/distributed, and perhaps even autonomously self-organizing.

In our new “Disinformation Age,” information distribution has become democratized. Anyone with an internet access can create and upload written, audio, or visual content with a click of a button. The problem though is that not all content is equal. Anyone with a YouTube account and a smart phone can suddenly appear as a subject matter expert on just about any topic in ten minutes or less in lieu of the ten years on average of postgraduate work that real experts put in. I don’t know about you, but when I am sick, or my kids come down with something, I rely on our medical professionals who have logged the ten plus years of study combined with twenty plus years of practice, over a self-made expert with a microphone telling me that vaccines are part of a global plot to control citizens, or my 40-degree fever is just a physical manifestation of what’s in my head. I don’t want to draw a hard line here, as there may be some truth that mental stress plays a role in illness, but I believe you see my point.

We have now entered a time of post-experts and post-trusted informers. The days of the trusted TV news anchor broadcasting are long behind us; we find ourselves awash in a war of contradicting narratives vying for the support of the masses as justification of their validity.

So, are TED-style talks still the best way to communicate?

Can this be one of the root reasons why audience taste has been declining for these “experts” tell all events? It is very difficult to have exact statistics, but clearly, and especially for the younger generation, the passion for hearing the word coming down from on high is waning. Just as in education, the trend towards a different approach of knowledge sharing is on the rise; however that is not my subject as we have all been enriched and enlightened by earnest TED and TEDx speakers over the years.

However, we must ask now, what is coming after, what was learned and what needs to transform?

First, why we are growing tired of the TED-like style; what is advancing us towards the end of our decade old love affair? Let me suggest some things that I identified in concert with my colleague at Ideas on Stage, Michael Rickwood, of which we have grown weary.

There is the old saying, familiarity breeds contempt, perhaps this applies here. There are just too many TED-like events happening just about every week in every city; too much of something, no matter how good, becomes tiring. We are becoming to see the fatigue of familiarity creep in.

And why do we feel familiarity? I mean if every talk has a different topic, why should we become familiar? I’d suggest that it is not the topic’s fault; rather it is the now formulaic and repetitive manner by which speakers prepare and deliver their talks. They seem to be more focused on presenting like all the presenters they have watched before, and never really stop a moment to consider their audience and what those buying tickets might be expecting.

What do I mean by formulaic? Well, I’d suspect that if you watched a fair number of presentations, you could probably tell me! In fact, there are sadly funny talks where presenters mock the now traditional TED-like style of presenting, i.e. the surprise twists, the moment of the now predictable sudden twist in the plot, and above all the “happy ending” emotion-laden finish carefully crafted to gain applause.

And of course, there are the occasional opportunists who use these events to hijack the stage for self-promoting purposes.

This style of presenting—please see an earlier article that Michael and I posted on Pathos, Ethos, Logos—contributes to an imbalance towards pathos is our general presentation style. Now we have both business leaders and politicians playing to the emotions with often little regard for either the veracity, i.e. truth, facts of the situation; and worse, with little regard for the ethos, the ethical moral side of the case.

No wonder we are in the state we are.

We have lost the balance in the storytelling formula. As Ideas on Stage cofounder Pierre Morsa puts it, “The formula is like for Hollywood movies. It is necessary: movies that miss one ingredient of the formula are often failures. You can omit some elements, but you have to understand the impact of doing so. And ultimately, although all Hollywood movies use the same formula, some are great and some suck.”

So, what do we do?

We, at Ideas on Stage are coaching our speakers towards what we have come to call, the “Post-Ted” style of presenting.

We will explore and define this in a forthcoming article, but not to leave you hanging; as the classic TED-like style talk might use to build up suspense and keep you listening … well, maybe I am here, but that is too meta for this article.

What we are leading is the “Post-Ted” presentation approach, one that fronts an ethical and balanced presentation by employing honest communication that has these three pillars: authenticity, compassion, and empathy.

These may very well be the new triumvirate for the 21st century and quite possibly could rekindle our passion for presentation.