What We Speakers Can Learn From Benjamin Zander's TED Talk


Last Sunday I had the mind-expanding and heart-soaring opportunity to see Ben Zander speak with the Studio/E Group. It was a private affair, and thanks to my hubby who is a Studio E Alum, I got to tag along. YAY FOR ME!

Cause if you've seen Ben Zander's TED Talk, then you know seeing him live is something you do not want to miss!  (And if you haven't seen this talk, go watch it now!) This man absolutely personifies energy, passion and joy - and he makes his talk a communalexperience.

I know I tend to gush. I can't help it! I'm a feeler - and this talk brought me goosebumps, tears, laughter, connection, joy. Geez, it was two hours of masterful teaching, pure delight and several AHA moments. (See? I'm gushing.)

His goal - as a teacher, as a speaker, as a human being - is to MOVE whomever he is in contact with. And he does.

After seeing him live - and re-watching his TED talk - I wanted to cull some of the key things that I think Ben does well, and that we as speakers can do more of.  Here's what I learned from Benjamin Zander's TED Talk:

#1 - Get your butt off the stage and into the audience. 

BEFORE the talk, DURING the talk - and of course AFTER the talk.

There were 150 people in the room - and we talked three times. Not because I'm special or because I sought him out - but because that's just what he does. He connected. He lived the connection. He talked with nearly everyone there, walking around before the talk. If this isn't a regular practice for you - if you find yourself hiding up by your computer, stuck at the front - well, this is a MUST-DO. It warms the audience up and will make your éntre into your talk 10X easier.

Aside from the important practice of connecting with the audience before his talk, Ben absolutely shatters the "wall" that stands between the audience and the speaker during his talk. He jumps off the stage, touches the audience (literally - maybe more than some people are comfortable with, but I think it's awesome), walks the entire length of the audience, moves around to the back, and then back up front... He is a physical speaker. We can all aim to use our bodies more - break down that wall - and BE with our audience.

And of course, afterward, Ben took a great deal of time - and with a great deal of patience - with the 150+ people who wanted him to sign their book, or talk about the talk, or connect, or share a story... well, that is hard work - and essential.

(Watching him spend an additional hour talking with the audience and guests - it occurred to me that he really earns his money.)

#2 - Make it a 'one-cheek' performance.  (Yes, another butt reference.)

At one point during his talk, Ben talks about the importance of playing the piano with only one cheek on the piano bench. That when we are creating and we use our bodies (like he does in his talk -see #1 above), the music moves through us differently, it stretches us and comes out of us more expressively - with more passion. We open ourselves to being moved.

And the same can be said for giving a good talk. Don't plop yourself down in front of your audience on both cheeks. Let your body be the tool through which your talk moves (really - it's the only way we can move our audience).

#3 - Make your audience's eyes sparkle! (Create Joy!)

This lesson stuck with me. It's our job as speakers - or parents, or teachers, or employees, or friends - to make our "audience's" eyes sparkle. It's a high bar, but one worth aiming for.

Can you imagine if we moved through the world with the goal of making the eyes of the people we were with sparkle!?

#4  - Weartennies. (Or, get comfortable enough you can jump from the audience up to the stage.)

When I was doing theater, my favorite day of the entire process was the day we got our costumes -and specifically, my shoes. It usually included an "AHA" moment of some kind or another, as elements of my character's personality came through so much more loudly wearing the right things. Clompy shoes, ballet flats, pumps, tennies... well, they each would transform my approach, the way I walked, how I talked.

The same is true for whatever "costume" you wear as you speak. I know we often feel stuck with a certain expected attire as formal speakers. But, sheesh, that can hamper our approach. Ben wore tennies during his TED talk, and I think it's part of the reason he is such a physical and effective speaker. Think through what you wear so you can not only feel awesome - but be comfortable enough to use your body fully!

#5 - Tie your subject to something greater. Ben talks about classical music - but he also talks about how we as humans impact each other. I listened to this talk as someone who has almost no interest in classical music. I have been to the symphony once - and it was a fine experience (and I've never been back, so that tells you something). But my lack of connection to his specific passion and expertise didn't matter. This was about so much more than the transformative power of classical music; it was about the transformative power of humans. Of believing we are capable of incredible things. Of stretching our capacity.

We can all do the same with our topics - and need to! How might you translate your topic to an audience who might not otherwise care? When we can do that, our talk can be transformative.

What we can learn from Ben ZAnder's Talks-
What we can learn from Ben ZAnder's Talks-

You know, I wouldn't hold this talk up for a master class in content structure. (Although what he said and did was beautiful, thoughtful, delightful, etc., etc., etc.!) The structure itself wasn't easy to follow - which is normally something I take notice of (and not in a good way). Except that it works for him. It works for him to bounce from topic to topic - to stop seemingly mid-story to make a point - to give the impression that he just thought of this one other story that doesn't seem to connect - except that in the end, it all does. It starts as a talk about one thing, and ends about something so much more.  It was intentional - which is really the only standard to hold up to.

AND! - I am super duper DUPER excited to say that we are working on scheduling a podcast recording with Ben! HOLD ON TO YOUR HATS, PEOPLE, BEN ZANDER IS COMING TO THIS MOVED ME!

I adore him, and I know you will, too.