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Should We Preach Like a TED Talk?

Strive to be memorable, but let God and his Word change lives.

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TED talks have become quite a phenomenon. There are now thousands of short talks by world experts available on the TED website, and because so many of them are captivating and memorable, people are asking "How can I speak as persuasively as a TED speaker?" More specifically for preachers, we sometimes hear or ask: How can I preach like a TED speaker? Because if you see the tagline for TED talks—"Ideas worth spreading"—as a preacher you might think, We have the best idea worth spreading that there is! And you're right. Then we think of the attractiveness and audience pulling power of a TED speaker, and we begin to dream.

But for preachers, there will always be a prior question: "Should I even try to speak as persuasively as a TED speaker?" Because at the back of our minds is, or should be, Paul's devastating critique of rhetoric in 2 Corinthians, which although it is arguably the most rhetorically sophisticated of his letters, is stinging in its attack on people who want to be "impressive." And TED speakers aim to be impressive.

As preachers, we can and must trust the Lord to do the real behind-the-scenes work of our talk. The pressure is not on me to "deliver jaw-dropping moments." The gospel does that.

Carmine Gallo has written a book titled Talk like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds (Macmillan, 2014), in which he aims to lay bare the communication lessons of these astonishing lectures in Technology, Education, and Design (the TED elements). He did the same work a few years ago on Steve Jobs' presentation style. He distills the lessons, and illustrates from the best of the TED talks (although he misses my personal favorite, "Leading Like the Great Conductors" by Itay Talgam). Gallo backs the rationale for the nine findings by way of scientific research on the chemistry of the brain.

Here is Gallo's list of the top nine lessons that speakers can learn from TED talks:

  1. Unleash the master within. Engage the subject you're speaking about with passion because passion is contagious.
  2. Master the art of storytelling. Stories stimulate the brain and make it more likely that hearers will identify with your point of view.
  3. Have a conversation. Practice relentlessly until you can deliver effortlessly. If there's a disconnect between content and presentation, people will not engage.
  4. Teach me something new. Reveal something new, packaged differently, or offer a new way to an old problem.
  5. Deliver jaw-dropping moments. Offer a shocking, impressive, or surprising moment that is so moving and memorable it grabs attention and is imprinted on the memory.
  6. Lighten up. Use humor, which lowers defenses and makes you seem more likeable.
  7. Stick to the 18 minute rule. This rule will help you avoid the cognitive backlog of too much information. (If you're speaking 20 minutes or longer, use 10 minute chunks.)
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Chris Green:

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August 12, 2014  9:57am

I'm not convinced that the goal of TED Talk speakers is to be impressive! I think they want to be effective, which is what I hope to be when I preach. Good article, good points. I would say I already do half, at least. (Not sure anyone would say I even unleash something "jaw dropping," although to me the gospel always is!) Thanks!

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Wayne McDonald

August 07, 2014  5:19pm

Excellent commentary, highlighting the good of TED talks/methodologies while warning of the easily-abused dangers. Very helpful! Thanks, Chris!

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August 04, 2014  7:46pm

Brother Chris, thanks for your balanced and well-thought out evaluation of the "TALK LIKE TED" article. I do agree with your approach. However, I might add that prayer is an essential part of the preacher's preparation for the Holy Spirit to do His divine and transforming work in the hearts of our listeners. That's one of the most important areas we preachers need to be very diligent and fervent, as was the case in the days of Charles Spurgeon. I am sure you know and practice. You can check my ministry website at Thank you and God bless you and keep up the good work.

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