Analysis of a Speech by Shukla Bose

Shukla Bose is the founder and head of the Parikrma Humanity Foundation, an extraordinary nonprofit that runs schools for poor children in urban India. Parikrma is transforming education so that these children can have equal access to the best opportunities. Parikrma manages the entire education cycle from kindergarten to college for each child.

In this talk at TED India, Bose speaks humbly but passionately about the important work that Pakrikma is doing. Please take the time to listen to her presentation. Below is my analysis of what we can learn from it from the public speaking perspective.

So, what can we learn from Shukla Bose’s TED talk? Here are some thoughts:

  • She is not afraid to expose herself on the human level to her audience. Note her opening: “I am standing before you in all humility … I’m not a trained academic … not a veteran social worker.” Another example: “It was very difficult not to get scared, not to get daunted.” (2:40)
  • She uses descriptive language to paint a picture for the audience. One example: “bright faces, twinkling eyes.” (1:30)
  • She speaks at a pace that is easy to follow. She enunciates her words and uses pauses effectively to emphasize a point or to signal a transition in the speech.
  • She uses statistics in a very clever way. At 1:40, she states: “The numbers hit us.” She then rattles off several figures in quick succession to give us a sense of the magnitude of the problem of trying to educate children in India. And she succeeds. But – and this is an important “but” – she does not expect us to remember the specific figures; she only wants us to understand the enormity of the problem. At 2:30, she says that the numbers quickly became “overwhelming” and “mind-boggling”. So what did she and her colleagues do? They swept them aside. They said, “We’re not in the number game. We’re going to focus on helping one child at a time.” Too often, presenters bombard their audiences with too many statistics. Be like Bose; don’t get caught up in the number game. If you use statistics, make sure that they reinforce your message the way they do in Bose’s talk. If you must show lots of numbers, highlight the ones that are important.
  • Bose knows how to make an emotional connection with her audience. In a previous post about the importance of emotion in a presentation, I quoted Mother Theresa: “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” And this is exactly what Bose did by introducing us to a few of the children whom she has helped. Hearing these kids talk with such excitement about their educational experiences is moving and uplifting and made me want to know more about the organization.
  • The video clips that she shows are well chosen. For example, when talking about the fact that the schools teach in Engish, Bose has to overcome the doubts of those who wonder whether poor children from India can cope with the curriculum. Rather than address the issue herself, Bose shows a couple of short video clips in which two children themselves provide eloquent testimony to the fact that they are able to cope with the rigours of the language (5:00). I also liked the video clips of the parents talking about the importance of sending their children to school (7:20).
  • Bose tells several short but effective stories.
  • She ends with the same humility with which she began: “When I started Parikrma, I began with a great deal of arrogance of transforming the world but today I have been transformed …” (15:30). I also love that she ends with a promise that one of her young students will speak at a TED conference in the future.

How could Bose have made her talk even better? Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Bose has a vibrant, expressive personality. You can see it in her face. And you can see it in her gestures – when she is able to make them. Unfortunately, she was hindered in this regard because of the notes and the remote that she held the entire time. This is a shame. All the more so because, if I am not mistaken, she did not make the first slide change until approximately 5:00 and did not consult her notes until 7:00. A simple, elegant solution would have been for TED to provide her with a small lectern on which she could have placed the notes and the remote for those times that she needed them.
  • She could have used the stage more. She remained in place the entire time. Purposeful movement helps to maintain audience interest and also allows the speaker to interact more closely with all of the people in the room.
  • I liked the one slide that had text: “Educating our poor – More than just a number game”. I like the use of the word “our” instead of “the”. I also like the highlighting of the word “number”. I would have made the font bigger. The auditorium was large and my sense is that the words might have been hard to read for those at the back. Pause the video at 3:50 and you can see that there is plenty of white space that can be used to make the text larger while still keeping it to two lines.
  • The sound quality on some of the videos could have been better.

I believe that by making these few simple adjustments, Bose could take what is already a terrific presentation and make it even more so.

If you would like to help support the incredible work that Bose and Parikrma are doing, you can do so here.

The reason Parikrma exists.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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