Ever wondered why some TED talk recordings on YouTube gather a respectable few hundred thousand views while other go viral and attract many millions? Is there a difference in content, facts and figures or information shared that is more compelling and pertinent to a wider audience? Does one speaker have more name recognition than another? Or perhaps look more attractive, sleeker, sexier, and authoritative?
Now, thanks to research conducted by the good folks at Science of People we have strong evidence why some talks are more popular than others.
After an extensive review of TED talks they found that there are five key patterns that speakers delivering popular talks exhibit. These findings are a great set of suggestions for any speaker who would like to be well-received by an audience:
1. It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It
Many subject matter experts won’t like to hear this, but it’s more about what you do onstage than what you say. The report states:
We rate someone’s charisma, credibility and intelligence based on nonverbal signals. This is surprising–we want people to focus on our words, but this experiment is no different from previous research. Studies have found that 60 to 93% 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? Read on to find out which nonverbal signals were most important.
The proof of this? People liked the speakers just as much with sound as on mute!
2. The More Hand Gestures, the More Successful the Talk
There was a direct correlation between the number of views on a TED talk and the number of hand gestures. Our hands are a nonverbal way to show and build trust. Studies have found that when we see someone’s hands, we have an easier time trusting them. This begs the question whether speakers with an Italian heritage are inherently more trustworthy than, say, Irish step dancers.
3. Vocal Variety Increases Charisma
Every Toastmaster who completes their CTM certification learns the importance of vocal variety. The more vocal variety of a TED speaker, the more views their video had. Speakers who told stories, ad libbed and even yelled at the audience captivated the audience’s imagination and attention. Those who obviously memorized their lines and read from scripts lacked memorability. Currently, there seems to be one Republican presidential candidate who is trumping the rest in terms of ad libs, yelling and overall vocal variety.
4. Smiling Makes You Look Smarter
Contrary to the belief that smiling in a business setting signifies low status behavior, and serious topics require you deliver the speech with a grimace, the researchers found that the longer a TED speaker smiled, the higher their perceived intelligence ratings were. Those who smiled were rated as higher in intelligence than those who smiled less.
5. First Impressions Count
And when they say ‘first impressions’ they mean first!
The researchers found that the audience had already made a decision about the entire talk in the first seven (7) seconds. Typically this happens before any words are exchanged. While the opening lines of a talk are important, a speaker must think about how they take the stage, how they acknowledge the audience and how they deliver their first line. Stumbling onto the stage and mumbling thanks for inviting you 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 are interesting:
- People in casual clothing typically rated lower than people in business or business casual.
- Women who wore business clothing got higher ratings compared to men in business clothing.
- Speakers in darker colors got higher ratings than those in lighter colors.
This is a fascinating and important study, check it out!