Five Speaking Lessons from TEDx Place des Nations

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Earlier this year, I had the privilege of speaking at TEDx Lausanne. It was a wonderful experience. Two days ago, I had the privilege of attending TEDx Place des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. It was held in the impressive Assembly Hall of the United Nations Palais des Nations.

Speaking at a TEDx event is a thrill, but it is also draining. It was nice, this time around, to be able to relax as a member of the audience and enjoy the talks. And what talks!

From making books accessible for the blind to fighting ebola to education in Uganda to open source hardware to rethinking our cities to tales of heroism in Chechnya, Afghanistan and other places afflicted with conflict, TEDx Place des Nations was inspiring.

Because I had arrived early, I had a great seat (third row centre with a desk) and was able to note down several observations for each speaker. It was interesting to review my notes and see the parallels between the different talks. Here are five things I appreciated.

Passion

Every speaker spoke passionately about his or her topic. Whether it was big data or women’s rights in Afghanistan, it was clear that the speakers believed deeply in what they were saying. In some cases, the passion was loud, in some cases it was quiet. In all cases, it was powerful. When you speak with passion, in whatever form, you have a greater chance of engaging with the audience.

Pauses

Many of the speakers used the power of the pause to enhance their talks. Those pauses came at key moments in the talks and they allowed the audience to absorb and reflect on the words that had just been spoken.

Slides

Most of the speakers used slides to support their talks. A few of those slides were, in my opinion, cluttered with too much information. Fortunately, such slides were in the minority. Most slides had only a few key words or no words at all. There were great visuals, simple graphs and charts, and fascinating animations (e.g., tiny beams of light representing people moving about Geneva, based on data from their smart phones). When you keep your slides clean, they support your talk and don’t distract.

Humour

Most of the talks, even the most serious, contained elements of humour. For example, Vincent Cochetel, Director at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, spoke movingly about his colleagues who were killed in the line of duty while working in conflict situations. He also spoke about his own harrowing experience as a hostage for 317 days in Chechnya.

At one point, he showed a picture of himself the day of his release. He had gone almost an entire year without shaving. He looked at the picture a moment and said, “That beard would be trendy today.” It gave the audience permission to laugh and helped ease the tension. Humour can be a powerful tool. If you discover appropriate and genuine opportunities to use humour in a talk—as opposed to trying to force it—consider doing so.

Stories

Every speaker told at least one story. Some stories were long; some stories were short. There were personal stories and stories were about third parties. All stories added meaning and were memorable. The lesson? Tell stories.

All in all, an enjoyable, informative and inspiring event. And kudos to the organisers. Everything ran very smoothly.

Photo courtesy of TEDx Place des Nations

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3 Replies to “Five Speaking Lessons from TEDx Place des Nations”

  1. Exactly – a brilliant analysis of Tedx John ! Thank you and have a very Merry Christmas and Happy 2015 with many stories lining your way! – Judi 🙂 🙂 🙂

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

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TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

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CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

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Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

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Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

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World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

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HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

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