Five Body Language Lessons From Successful TED Talks

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 18, 2015 – 12:02 AM

What makes a TED Talk go viral? The TED Blog recently asked that question and used a research-based study to answer it. According to TED:

“Over the last year, a human behavior consultancy called Science of People set out to answer this question. To do so, says founder Vanessa Van Edwards, they polled 760 volunteers, asking them to rate hundreds of hours of TED Talks, looking for specific nonverbal and body language patterns.”

Temple Grandin delivering a well-reviewed TED Talk

Temple Grandin delivering a well-reviewed TED Talk

 

Van Edwards’ research found five specific patterns:

1. “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Van Edwards found that people rated speakers comparably on charisma, credibility and intelligence whether they watched talks with sound — or on mute.

2. “Jazz hands rock.” Van Edwards noted a correlation between the number of hand gestures a speaker makes in a talk and the number of views the talk receives.

3. “Scripts kill your charisma.” Van Edwards found that speakers who offered more vocal variety showed better ratings on charisma and credibility. What’s especially interesting: people rated speakers who clearly ad libbed in their talks higher than those who stayed on script.

4. “Smiling makes you look smarter.” Van Edwards found that the longer a TED speaker smiled, the higher their perceived intelligence ratings.

5. “You have seven seconds.” Van Edwards found that first impressions matter a lot, and that people had largely formed their opinion about a speaker based on the first several seconds.

The TED Blog features a fascinating interview with Van Edwards, and I encourage you to visit their site to read the whole thing.

TED Talks

One of the most interesting parts of the interview is that Van Edwards’ research confirms some of the existing research on ‘thin slices.’ Regarding the speed with which people form first impressions, she says:

“We took the same videos, we [edited them down to] the first seven seconds, and had people watch. We gave these viewers the exact same questions as people who had watched the entire talk. And we found that the ratings overall — who people liked overall and who they didn’t like — matched, whether they’d watched the first seven seconds or the full talk.”

For inspiration, here are two of the TED Talks Van Edwards singled out as viewer favorites.

Temple Grandin

 

Jamie Oliver

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Comment (1)

  1. By Ken Molay:

    Very interesting research, Brad. Thanks for highlighting it! I compared and contrasted these tips as applied to working on a webinar or webcast. Almost all carry straight across, with one exception for webcam presenters.

    http://wsuccess.typepad.com/webinarblog/2015/05/can-you-adapt-ted-talk-lessons-to-webinars.html

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