Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I am conducting a communication consultation for preachers in Ohio and it’s exciting to see the improvement every couple weeks. This TED talk research shows that using humor that leads to engagement is a key to great communication. I’ve studied today’s Christian communicators and I have found this to be true. Peruse this short article for more insights.
By Bill Murphy Jr., Inc. Magazine, 5/16/19.
The playlist runs seven hours. The transcripts are a combined 70,000 words. That’s like a 200-page book.
Still, I wondered if analyzing all of the language across all 25 talks might yield some takeaways. With 679 million total views, even though they’re about different subjects, what makes these TED Talks so popular? Would anything jump out?
…Even more striking than the frequency of “laughter” is the odd fact that none of the speakers actually ever says the word. Instead, it’s inserted into the transcript every time the audiences chuckled or laughed, with parenthesis around it, like this: “(Laughter.)”
Across 25 talks, there are 380 instances of laughter, which works out .948 per minute — just shy of “a laugh a minute.” But then I realized something else.
Look, a lot of TED Talks are amusing and even interesting, but they’re not uproariously funny…
Often as not, the audience “laughter” in the combined transcript seems more like the audience communicating with the speaker..,
It’s related to “applause,” which appeared 95 times throughout the transcripts. Combine both words, and we reach an average of 1.2 verbal audience reactions per minute.
Of course, there’s also a third, very common way that speakers keep prompting audience engagement: by asking questions. So next, I counted the question marks. There were 579 total…
The power of engagement
Here’s my big takeaway, which I think has implications for anyone called on to give a speech or presentation.
Calling these super-popular TED Talks “talks,” is a bit of a misnomer. They’re more like a guided conversations, with the speakers giving the audience prompt after prompt after prompt — practically begging and cajoling them in fact — to stay engaged.
Combine my admittedly unusual metrics, and you find that there are a total of 1,061 instances across 25 talks during which the speaker either asks the audience a question or delivers a line inducing either laughter or applause. That works out to about once every 21 seconds.
No matter what they’re talking about — from Pamela Meyer’s “How to Spot a Liar,” to Amy Cuddy’s, “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are,” to Elizabeth Gilbert’s, “Your Elusive Creative Genius” — they keep doing the same thing: prompting the audience to engage, over and over and over.
Think of that the next time you sit through a not-so-great presentation, or you have to prepare and give a talk yourself. The secret isn’t just to share information, it’s to prompt engagement — and to keep doing it the whole time you’re up there.