What explains the most watched TED talk ever?

1: Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk has been viewed over 71 million times making it the most viewed talk in TED’s 30-year history.

Wow.

How our educational system kills creativity is “certainly a topic of popular interest,” Carmine Gallo observes in his book The Storyteller’s Secret.  Yet, this alone does not explain its popularity.

“What does explain it?” asks Carmine.  

“If they’re laughing, they’re listening,” says Sir Ken.

In the first five minutes of his talk, Ken elicits more than 10 laughs from the audience.  “At two laughs per minute, that makes Robinson’s talk funnier than the movie Anchorman (1.6 laughs per minute) and on par with The Hangover (2.5 laughs per minute),” writes Carmine.

Humor is what molecular biologist John Medina calls an “emotionally charged event.”  Similar to joy, fear, or surprise, humor causes our brain to release dopamine into our bodies.  

2: We might think: That’s great.  But I’m not funny.

“The funny thing about humor is that you don’t need to tell a joke to get a laugh—you just have to be able to recognize a funny situation,” Carmine writes.  “Great storytellers ditch the urge to be clever and just tell people about an experience or event that elicited a smile. If something made them chuckle, there’s a good chance their audience will, too.”

Poking a bit of fun at ourselves also scores points with our audience.

When Sir Ken was asked about the popularity of his TED talk, he responded, “Mind you, my son showed me a video on YouTube recently, which is 90 seconds long. It’s of two kittens that look like they are having a conversation. And that’s been downloaded 20 million times. So I am not getting carried away. Kittens still win.”

3: The key point?

Presenters like Ken Robinson “use humor not for the laugh itself, but for what follows: to grab attention and tee-up the key story that supports their product or idea,” Carmine observes.

“The end of laughter is followed by the height of listening,” says sales coach Jeffrey Gitomer. 

After making his audience laugh, Ken tells the story of Gillian Lynne, the accomplished choreographer of Cats and Phantom of the Opera.

As a child, Gillian struggled in school.  Her teacher sent a letter to her parents, “We think Gillian has a learning disorder.”  

They recommended she see a specialist.  After meeting with Gillian, the doctor asked her mother to step outside for a moment.  “As they went out of the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk.  And when they got out, he said to her mother, ‘Just stand and watch.’  And the minute they left the room, Gillian was on her feet, moving to the music,” Ken recounts.

The doctor turned and said: “Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick; she’s a dancer.  Take her to dance school.”

The storyteller’s secret?

Deliver serious topics with a side of humor.

More tomorrow.

____________________

Reflection: Do I typically use humor or poke fun at myself when I present?   

Action: Be intentional about using a bit of humor in my next presentation.

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