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A few years ago, I had the opportunity to be a part of the TEDxDU planning team and got hooked on TED Talks. As Depeche Mode once sang, “I just can’t get enough.”

But not all TED Talks are the same. Some posts have hundreds of viewers and others, millions. Is the content in some talks more compelling and pertinent to a wider audience? Maybe views are linked to speaker name recognition? Maybe it is the attractiveness of a speaker or his/her authoritative/expertise that attracts views/listeners? Ian Griffin breaks it down in an article in Professionally Speaking, via research by Science of People, as to why some talks are more popular than others.

The tips below are applicable to communication professionals, whether speaking to a large audience, holding a staff meeting, or conducting a media training session. Here are the “best of” TED habits we can all learn from according to Ian:

  1. It’s not what you say but how you say it.

Many subject matter experts won’t like hearing this, but success is more closely linked to what you do onstage than what you say. The report states:

Studies have found that 60 to 93 percent of our communication is nonverbal. Over and over again we find that how we say something is more important than what we say. The question then becomes, how do we say something well?

  1. The more hand gestures you make, the more successful your talk.

Gestures are a nonverbal way to show and build trust. Studies have found that when we see a person’s hands, we have an easier time trusting him. This makes me wonder whether Italian speakers are inherently more trustworthy than, say, Irish step dancers.

  1. Vocal variety increases charisma.

Every speaker who completes his Competent Toastmaster certification learns the importance of vocal variety.

The more vocal variety a TED speaker used, the more views his video had. Speakers who told stories, ad-libbed and even yelled at the audience captivated listeners’ attention. Speakers who obviously memorized their lines and read from scripts lacked memorability.

  1. Smiling makes you look smarter.

Contrary to the belief that you shouldn’t smile in a business setting or when discussing a serious topic, the researchers found that the longer a TED speaker smiled, the higher his perceived intelligence ratings were. Audiences perceived speakers who smiled often as smarter than those who smiled less.

  1. First impressions count.

The researchers found that audience members form opinions about a talk in the first seven seconds. Those seven seconds happen before the speaker even opens his/her mouth.

While a talk’s opening lines are important, a speaker must think about how he takes the stage, acknowledges the audience and delivers his first line. Stumbling onto the stage and mumbling “Thanks for inviting me to speak” won’t cut it.

The research measured favorability (as shown by the number of video views) on a number of other criteria. None were as important as the five listed above, but some are interesting:

  • People in casual clothing rated lower than people in business or business casual attire.
  • Women who wore business clothing got higher ratings compared to men in business clothing.
  • Speakers who wore dark colors got higher ratings than those wearing light colors.

Now I don’t feel so bad about talking with my hands and smiling too much, which I have always chalked up to being nervous. Want more? Check out the study.

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