Who doesn’t love a good Ted Talk? We learn all sorts of fun stuff right from our couch. As a Communications Coach, I love watching Ted Talks to see what speakers do well and what they could have done better. So, let’s look at “Why I’m a Weekday Vegetarian” by Graham Hill. Graham demonstrates, above all, how to engage an audience.
I think maybe I was hungry when I chose to review this Ted Talk. Well, I probably chose it because I LOVE bacon and I love the earth, too. Graham expertly engages with his audience as he offers a third menu option to those stuck between the vegetarian or carnivore dichotomy – being a weekday vegetarian.
Strength: Use of Questions
About 19 seconds into the talk, Graham asks, “Why am I not a vegetarian?”
Beginning a talk with a question is VERY engaging. Instead of saying, “I’m not a vegetarian.” Graham asks a question. When he does this, his speaking has instant contrast: his tone changes, his facial expression is questioning, and he pauses slightly after he asks it (he could have paused a couple seconds longer to add even more suspense). Introducing information with a question is a wonderful tool to add contrast and help your audience retain your content. Graham’s use of questions engages the audience.
At the 1:40 mark, Graham talks about cutting into a “Big ole steak,” and as he does this, he uses his hands to demonstrate cutting into that steak with his fork and knife.
This is a wonderful example of what we call an image gesture. He could have simply said the words, but by showing us with his hands, we get so much more information. We connect with the concept and we instantly visualize the last time we had a juicy steak in front of us. Image gestures work when we can picture something in our minds eye and let our hands illustrate the concept. His gestures engage the audience.
Opportunities: Key Message
Graham, like many speakers, does a big reveal of his key message at the end of his talk. He says, “If all of us ate half as much meat, it would be like half of us were vegetarians.”
Many speakers have the tendency to want to surprise their audience with a reveal at the end. However, it would be more impactful if he had started with the key message, built the suspense, and then finished once again with his key message. As an audience we want our speaker to tell us our destination, take us on the journey, and then we all arrive at the destination together without any surprise endings. Putting the key message at the beginning of the talk helps to engage the audience.
Opportunities: Package Information
After Graham asks that initial question in the beginning, “Knowing what I know now, why I am I not a vegetarian?” He talks about his green upbringing. He says, “I care about this stuff.” However, he then goes into talking about how burgers impact life span without a clear connection to his original question. From there he abruptly says, “Cruelty” and goes on to talk about factory farming. By not connecting his content to his original question in a clear way, his delivery becomes confusing for the audience.
Graham could have led us here by asking, “What are the reasons to go Vegetarian?” Then he could have told us about all the reasons: the health risks, cruelty to animals, environmental impact, and water use. Had he used this question first, we would have made the connection between the burger and why he knows he should go vegetarian; connecting these ideas maintains engagement with the audience.
In general, Graham does a wonderful job of engaging with his audience to provoke thought around food choices. However, even a very engaging speaker can build skills to make sure their message sticks in the minds of their audience longer than a few minutes. We at Executive Speaking are committed to helping even the best get better. If you would like to translate these insights into action, we invite you to explore Leadership Speaking Bootcamp.