I recently joined a TED x ISTE Masterclass, and today it launched via a really nice looking app.
Heading into the app and clicking around, I was instantly reminded of other experiences I’ve had with self directed, online-style courses. As a student of similar courses, I usually fizzle out.
Before starting this class, which I’m committed to, I tried to think about why I so rarely finish the online classes that I start. I love to write; I read a lot; I interview people when I want to dive deeply into a topic about which they seem to know a lot. So I’m not adverse to “lifelong learning.”
But “online” learning experiences haven’t worked for me, I’m now realizing, because I don’t do a good job of externalizing my learning as I move through them. I don’t “show my work” well. So, for the TED Masterclass, I’m going to aim to be a better student in that one, very specific area to see if it helps. Here goes:
The course begins with three prompts. I’m going to type them out, along with my answers . . .
What’s the best example of public speaking you’ve ever seen?
I’ve seen a lot of amazing speeches in my life. I’m lucky. Just today, I saw Kevin Breel speak, and he was fantastic. As was Rachel Simmons. And then there was a speech that my father gave at his brother’s funeral that has really stuck with me over time.
What is it about those memorable talks that have persisted in your mind for days, months or even years?
Breel was funny and honest and told great stories. As he told them, he seemed to connect with them emotionally even though I’m sure he has told them many, many times. In other words, he seemed to tell them because they still have resonance for him instead of telling them because they’re part of a routine. Simmons was honest and willing to share aspects of her process. I still haven’t forgotten that she said she became a better speaker by saying her speeches out loud in the car. And, finally, my father’s speech was probably the best one I ever saw. He was certainly not the most polished speaker I have ever seen. And he didn’t have much experience. But when he spoke at his brother’s funeral, he said the names of all the children in the family. He didn’t have notes. This was an assignment that he set up for himself in honor of his brother’s spontaneity. His brother was spontaneous, so he himself tried to be that way. Also, saying the names of the children out loud, as part of the spontaneity, served a greater purpose and message, i.e., whenever we gather as a family, we should always be sure to love the children as much as possible. I loved this last part, this purpose, because it really is the most important thing, and so it became the centerpiece of his speech. Finally, his speech was an authentic performance. I wasn’t sure that he was going to be able to remember all of the names. He had no notecard. So there was a bit of drama, and we were right there with him, hoping he would succeed, feeling the speech, flaws and all.
Consider examples of public speaking that you found ineffective. Why did they fall flat?
Based on my answer above, I’m sure this answer will be pretty predictable. I don’t love speeches that seem overly polished, canned, or that work to hide the person underneath. I’ve seen dozens of these, and I can’t really remember a single one. They blur together, and that says it all. I prefer a speech that feels a bit like an adventure rather than a preordained conclusion.