Even, if you’ve never heard of TED talks, they’ve changed the way you think about public speaking. (Hint: It has to do with saying hello and thank you.)
I’ll get to how this happened in just a minute. But first…
Who the H*** Is TED, anyway??
TED isn’t a person. It’s an organization (the letters stand for technology, entertainment, design) that, for more than 30 years, has been presenting conferences where people go to hear, in the words of TED’s tagline, “Ideas Worth Spreading.”
The actual mothership (TED) events are high-level, expensive affairs ($6000, last time I checked).
But fortunately for the rest of us, TED has spun off a global network of independently-organized TEDx events, where less wealthy people can hear less A-list, but still fascinating, speakers on a wide, wide range of topics.
And like I said, even if you’ve never heard any of the thousands of talks archived at TED.com, or the vast number of TEDx presentations that are kicking around the globe, the existence of this body of speeches has changed how people think about public speaking.
The TED Approach to Hello and Thank You is Now the Gold Standard
Because so many people have watched and enjoyed TED presentations, the unwritten rules for how they should be delivered often get generalized to non-TED events, like business conferences.
Those unwritten rules dictate how a TED talk should be performed — hence the wonky label “performance practice” (I’m reverting to my jazz singing days here) — and they include the following attitudes toward saying hello and thank you:
1. Don’t greet your audience when you come onstage. In fact, don’t do any warm-up, or “housekeeping” when you get onstage. Just jump with both feet into your content, preferably with a provocative or startling fact or story.
2. Don’t say “thank you” at the end of your speech. Just do a dramatic wrap-up, smile modestly, and walk away.
While Rule #2 is less consistently followed than Rule #1 (you will almost never hear a TED speaker greet the audience before he or she starts talking), both of them have become “ideals” that people try to follow without knowing why.
(I’ve had clients ask me if I’m sure it’s OK to say hello at the start of a speech, as if the public speaking police are going to jump out and drag them away.)
In fact, these practices arose to support the original TED goal of having people speak in an unscripted, unrehearsed way about their topics of interest or expertise.
Not saying hello and thank you was meant to underscore the “spontaneous” nature of these talks.
And while true spontaneity hit the dustbin early in TED’s history, the practices that were meant to signify spontaneity are still with us.
Why It Often Makes Sense to Say “Hello” to Your Audience
There’s nothing wrong with beginning or ending your speech the TED way.
If you’re speaking at a TED event, if the content you’re going to be discussing is particularly dramatic, or if you like to be seen as spontaneous (whether or not you really are!), the TED way makes perfect sense.
But if you’re a Sales Leader talking to your team… or an HR Director presenting new compliance rules… or a vendor pitching to your new best client… a lot can be lost when you leave out “hello” — and a lot can be gained when you say it!
- In a room where people’s attention is not being drawn to the stage by music, lighting, or a “voice of God” (out of the sky) announcement, “Hi, everyone” is a great way to let your audience know that you’re ready to begin. Remember that a dramatic opening line will only work if everyone is already listening for it (as they are at a TED event).
- If you’re shy or need time to get used to hearing the sound of your own voice through a microphone, don’t spend those seconds making an important point that should wait until you’re at your best. Instead, greet the audience, note their friendly reaction, pause, take a sip of water. Take your time and get ready before you jump in.
- Sometimes the greeting itself carries a crucial message. For instance,
Thanks, Everyone. You can’t imagine how proud I am to be here. I’ve been with this company for thirteen years, and my dream that whole time has been to lead this team. So I’m totally psyched to talk to you about our sales goals for the year — and I hope to get you equally excited about what we can achieve together.
Jumping into the “content” of your speech without introducing yourself and connecting with the audience can be a highly effective thing to do.
It’s just not always the best thing to do!
You Can’t Go Wrong By Saying “Thank You” to Your Audience
Similarly, ending your speech with a provocative or memorable point can be thrilling, in the right setting. (Again, that often means a setting in which the lights and music come up as you walk offstage, and someone immediately announces whatever will come next.)
But for real life in the trenches, I’m a big fan of being thanked by the speaker. And what you lose in drama may be gained in relationship-building when you sincerely tell your audience that,
- They’ve been wonderful listeners (only say this if it’s true!),
- It’s been a pleasure to speak with them on [your important topic], and
- If any of them have questions or comments, or would like to speak with you in more detail, you’ll be around for the next half hour or so, and would also welcome hearing from them by email.
It’s not sharp or sexy, but it works for many speakers (including me).
So if this approach works for you, don’t pass on it just because that’s not how they do it at TED!
Deciding Whether to Say Hello and Thank You? Remember the Quote from Jerry Maguire!
The movie Jerry Maguire ends with a great love scene when brash sports agent Jerry tries to win back the heart of the woman he’s finally realized he can’t live without.
Maguire (played by Tom Cruise) talks and talks and talks, and at the end it, his girlfriend (played by Renee Zellweger) delivers a line that’s become a classic:
You had me at hello.
That pretty much sums up what you stand to gain when introducing yourself to an audience.
So unless you have a powerful reason not to use these time-honored phrases, say hello and thank you with warmth, confidence, authority, and a spirit of truly wanting to connect.
You’ll have your audience at hello!