In today’s episode, we’re talking with Devin Marks, a.k.a. the “TED Talk Whisperer,” about what the true magic of short, concise, and action-oriented messaging has on our business as a whole.
Why has TED been so virally successful? What about its format draws people in?
And more importantly, how can we incorporate TED-style messaging into more areas of our business than on stage?
Can TED-like messaging be applied to sales? Virtual events? Hybrid events? Marketing?
These are all the questions we’re answering in today’s show and there’s no one better to help us answer those other than Devin.
Believe it or not, he coached Harvard’s Dr. Robert Waldinger on his record-shattering “Good Life” TED Talk which now has over 41M views.
So let’s dive in and learn how to incorporate TED beyond the stage.
See you there!
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Read the Transcription 🤓
Taylorr: Welcome to another episode of Technically Speaking. We’re your hosts, Taylor and Austin and in today’s episode, we’re talking with Devin Marks also known as the Ted Talk Whisperer about what the true magic of short, concise, and action oriented messaging has on our business as a whole. We’re answering some questions like why has Ted been so virally successful? And what about its format draws people in? More importantly, how can we incorporate Ted style messaging into more areas of our business than on stage? Can Ted messaging be applied to sales, virtual events, hybrid events, marketing? These are all the questions we’re answering in today’s show, and there’s no one better to help us answer those other than Devin. Believe it or not, he coached Harvard’s Dr. Robert Waldinger on his record shattering Good Life, Ted talk, which now has over 41 million views. So let’s dive in and learn how to incorporate Ted beyond the stage as always stick around until the end for some awesome resources and we’ll see you in there. All right. And we are live. Man, Devin, it is awesome to have you here today. Welcome to the show.
Devin: Thank you. It’s a joy to meet both of you and get to come to know your audience a lot better.
Austin: Yeah. Oh, for sure. Great too have you. I’m super excited about today’s conversation and I know people are interested in Ted as a concept, but what you’ve done with the whole Ted idea and turning it into this contextual framework that can be used elsewhere, I’m sure people are going to love. I got to start though, it looks like you’re drinking espresso, not actual coffee. Am I seeing that tiny little cup? Am I [cross-talk 01:50].
Devin: Yep. Yep.
Taylorr: Yeah. Very nice. [cross-talk 01:52]
Austin: I think you might be the first person that’s been on the show that brought espresso to the show rather than…
Taylorr: I love that.
Austin: Me too. It’s [cross-talk 01:59] Move.
Taylorr: I know
Devin: It’s an ammo move.
Austin: Do you have like a full barista set up with like an actual espresso maker and stuff?
Devin: Yeah, but it’s not impressive. It’s one of those $75 type jobs that are all plastic.
Austin: Yeah. Fair enough. Well we’re [cross-talk 02:21] whatever job [cross-talk 02:22].
Devin: Thant’s right.
Austin: We’re fans of coffee in any form or fashion here at Speaker Flow so respect.
Taylorr: For sure. So Devin, we have a lot done back here today, your whole Ted framework, but I just kind of want to start off with your backstory. How did you get into this whole space? Tell us about that.
Devin: Well, many people as speaker coaches have different avenues that brought them to Ted or TEDx events, mine happened to be seminary, and the 2008 implosion that threw me on my butt asking what just happened? What am I doing next? I had followed Ted though, as soon as the first videos were released on YouTube in 2006, and by 2009 TEDx events were happening. So we’re better, but seminary where ideas spread and are life changing to deconstruct why these conferences, these Ted and TEDx conferences and talks were so explosively popular and viral. And I got lucky, one of the first people I met was the former driver and advanced man for Billy Graham.
Devin: 87 year old guy named Lyman and he married Billy’s secretary and had watched that whole fun come to light and then Lyman in his own right had become a speaker and trainer and done a lot of significant things over his career. And as I shared with him Ted talks, he goes, this is really the same story all over what Billy did back then, when television was new. Was he developed a clearly focused story, wrapped and action igniting message, for that new technology and that opportunity and that context. That’s what Ted did with 18 minute talks, yes, when YouTube was new and when social media was new and that’s part of the fulcrum. Well, in school, I was forced in an academic structured way to really challenge myself and answer why these talks are so explosive and why other short talk conference talks aren’t. So I had the opportunity to compare and contrast two conferences that had countdown clocks back then, and really there were only about three or four, with the Ted model and dive into the TEDx space and then the Ted larger events and understand and deconstruct what was going on there. And there were seven ahas that became the framework I started using to train speakers.
Austin & Taylorr: Wow.
Devin: Moved to Boston for my wife’s career, I have my kid strapped on my chest, I’m a stay at home dad wondering what’s next. I just figured out this Ted stuff, but that’s not a career. Got in a conversation with an event organizer at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, up a above of Boston and lo and behold, he had 24 luminaries from around the world that were going to unpack what it means to bring your faith to work and your work to faith. So this faith at work conference, he wanted to be Ted style. And I was like, I know a little bit about Ted and he goes, I know nothing. I just ordered the book, how to give a Ted talk. I’m going to read it next week and summarize it for my speakers. And I said, no, don’t do that.
And so we linked arms produced the event together and he unleashed me on his speakers. And by the end of that adventure, I had 24 glowing endorsements and a true test of the process. But a theological educators conference is not a TEDx event so I then took the same framework to a TEDx event locally in Boston and worked closely with five speakers, but had a hand in 35 talks in that season, the results were staggering. Explosive. And one of those five speakers became the single most intensely viewed talk in the history of Ted in its day. Which you say it was like 40… did you say it was 41million… Dr. Robert Waldinger talk about the Good Life: Health and Happiness In the Lives of Men and Family. He’s now just past 41 million.
Taylorr & Austin: Wow.
Devin: Now, you know Brené Brown’s got, Sir Ken Robinson’s at the 80.
Taylorr: Sure. Yeah.
Devin: The thing that’s interesting there though is they’ve been accumulating since 2006.
Devin: Dr. Waldinger’s been at it for five years now, six years, I guess, but I always tell him, don’t, don’t get too full of yourself because you know, the talk that eclipsed him last year was one about procrastination. Harvard longitudinal studies can’t compete with procrastination.
Austin: Yeah. Wow. Well obviously there’s something too, what you uncovered because it works. That’s our favourite litmus test, does the concept translate into results? And clearly it does in this scenario. And I know we’ve kind of got this seven principle framework that I’d like to uncover a bit more about, but you said something to us actually before recording and then you mentioned it again a couple of minutes ago, and this idea of focused content wrapped in story and with an action at the end, you said it far more eloquently. Can you help us understand what that means? And also maybe help us bridge the gap to how that connects to this seven part for framework?
Devin: Absolutely. And let’s just continue the story. Business is growing, the kid’s not on my chest anymore, she’s in school, I’ve got more time to work with clients. We’re like year three or so four, five, and the referrals are just constant, never had to do online marketing, they’ve been bloodied in that space in the last couple years because of the pandemic shifting the way we prospect and find business leads, but referral, referral, referral, and refinement, refinement, refinement, and those seven principles became the core of the curriculum. Well, at some point I was pressed into training pastors in the Ted style and a pastor cannot rehearse for three months, one sermon, they’ve got 52 sermons a year, most of them. And yet what of those seven principles still translate in the preach like Ted context?
The three that we landed on that are just core and essential are, is your message a keynote, a sales pitch, an investor’s pitch or a Ted talk or a Ted style. Is it clearly focused in the Ted style? Is it story wrapped in the Ted style? And is it action igniting now? What do I mean by in the Ted style? We all know how to focus our messages and toss a story in there and raise an audience to its feet, with a call to action. Well, we don’t all, but we see it inartfully done regularly. So let’s step back and ask, okay, here are couple factors that are Ted specific ways that you can focus your message. One big idea. Some people call it the silver bullet, some people call it any number of other titles, but it’s essentially one polished, refined, concentrated, repeatable, shareable, even rhyme friendly concept.
But one clear idea. The client I spoke to Dr. Robert Waldinger’s big idea, that’s now been viewed some 40 plus million times, he’s looking at what makes the good life in a life of a man in a family based on longitudinal day in research. Well, the good life is built with good relationships. There’s the big idea. What’s another principle that clearly focuses a message. Three points. It’s called the rule of three. We don’t remember 5, 7, 11 things. We remember three or fewer. So if the good life is built with good relationships, let’s undergird that big idea with three pillars and no more. Don’t cram in all the other expertise and knowledge that you, as the speaker want to share with your audience or whoever you’re pitching to, it’s just going clutter up. One crystallizing idea, three key points. Does that help?
Taylorr: Wow, That’s super clear. And what I love about that, it resonates with me because I think at one point, I think we were talking to our coach or one of our coaches, but always got to have a coach, you know. And he was like the job of a coach is to almost like be a filter in a way, an expert, your job is to be a filter for people.
Devin: That’s very good.
Taylorr: And I love that you kind of broke that down. You don’t need to share all of the things you know about it, the things you want to share about it. What are the three key pillars you need to know that can kind of act like a filter so your audience can get the most value from that thing. They don’t need to be experts at it by the time they’re done, but they need to be able to take some action and do it simply, so how do you act as that filter?
Devin: And it sounds like common sense, right? We want to be clear [cross-talk 11:44].
Taylorr: I mean, it does way harder than it is but [inaudible 11:45]…
Devin: Right. But it’s frankly, uncommonly applied. We’ll talk about story next, and we all have a concept as to what a story is. We were raised watching movies and Disney and all the rest of it, Star Wars but it isn’t all that easy. And it’s especially not So in the very concentrated Ted context where you don’t have time for 12 steps of the hero’s journey, for example, or seven or so 17, or I’ve seen a version of 27 steps. You need three. What do we mean story wrapped? Well, it’s not inserting an opening story in a closing story and it kind of fits no, we want the story to wrap around that big idea, wrap around those three key points and move them forward. So there’s a special shape of story that I call the challenge shape, but it’s essentially, man’s walking along whistling falls in a hole, gets out of a hole, walks along, but he’s looking down now. Man, set up, problem, resolution. A challenge, shape story.
We resonate with that deeply, it’s a potently part of our cultural DNA and it’s the fastest way to bond an idea and wrap it in story so that it can be walked out of that auditorium or walked into your next conversation. The story wrapped principle also needs to incorporate six other things but one is relatable detail. I want that story to be something I can see myself in and a context that resonates with my experience or my hopes, but too few speakers, presenters, manage to do that. And then, the very basic idea’s here, an opening, a middle and a close. Too many people missed that. But the setup with relatable detail, a problem, and a resolution, ah, we’re celebrating with you. The story that Dr. Waldinger told was not of JFK, he followed… he’s the forth director of this study, it’s run 80 years now.
So it started with Kennedy’s freshman class at Harvard, and they compared those young men privileged backgrounds with a bunch of Boston toughies from South Boston with no privilege and no benefits and very tough circumstance. And then they followed their lives forward. Well, because of medical privacy and, and whatnot he couldn’t tell the story of some of those really big names that are part of that study. Instead, he told the story of the study. But the story of the study, there’s a setup, there’s a problem, how you live a full and productive life with relationships that are healthy and a mind that’s long living and active and physical fitness, what is the secret? It’s investing in really good relationships with those closest to us. But he also said, connections are really good for us, the quality of your close relationships matters and good relationships protect our brain. Those were the three undergirding principles. And that story of the research moved forward with a challenge shape. Makes sense?
Austin: Oh man. Yeah, I love that. Well, something, we talked about this a little bit in previous episodes as well, but like storytelling is very primitive, that’s our history as human beings. And earlier you said, humans do connect well with a story and following that simple path, for one, a really good framework, but certainly speaks to that, that integral part of human psychology that comes from storytelling. But I also think that storytelling is awesome if you’re trying to convey a message, because I think people by nature, especially in today’s world where we have so much information in our fingertips, we can know a little bit about a subject and then suddenly kind of feel like an expert. But really what makes an expert is experience and living through it and seeing the application of concepts out in the real world. And storytelling sort of paints a picture around the subject, which the context of allows somebody to see the practical side of whatever it is that’s being done.
This might not be the world’s greatest example, but I played a lot of it games growing up. Okay, a fair amount of video games, more than some less than others. But in some types of video games, you’ll run into a level where it’s pitch black and it’s just your character and you have to wander around through the map or whatever to explore the different areas and over time the map becomes known to you, but it’s only through wandering around and exploring. I feel like storytelling is kind of like that in video games where it’s the light that helps you expose the full picture of whatever concept we may know a little bit about, but don’t have enough context to be able to actually do something useful with. So I don’t if that example resonates with you or not, but do you feel like that that’s kind of part of what makes storytelling useful in this scenario?
Devin: I think you’re totally on it and some of the most sophisticated storytellers in industry today are designing next generation video games, I’m sure.
Taylorr: That’s right.
Devin: It’s very much a Pixar kind of thing, but yeah, it’s part of our cultural DNA to respond to and share story. Now, what I train folks think about is what is the story that I’m sharing from stage or at the front of the board table that’s going to be digested and then shared again? What is that next generation version of the story? Because no one is going to tell it as thoroughly and is expansively as I will. They’re going cliff notes it down to a little sound bite. I want to anticipate what that is. And I even want to go further, I was working with the CEO of a startup recently, Hydro the Peloton of rowing I mentioned earlier, and he was pitching going into his series B funding, which is when the big money happens, they pulled in 200 million to date.
Devin: He was wrestling with hydro story. Too much was happening too many details, too many charts too many… But the essence and core was what we started working on as it related to those second and third generation stories. Because that cocktail hour, you know crab king conversation outside in San Francisco, that’s what started the story sharing and the pitch happened there, but then that individual VC took that to someone else. And that just was not part of you don’t get a second chance to tell the story, it’s now being told by somebody else. So let’s think how it’s going to be told and how we can simplify it so much that it’s repeatable and not diluted.
Taylorr: Wow. I feel like you’ve systemized how to tell a proper story. Especially because this generational idea really has me kind of reeling because it applies to so many different contexts. If your true message for your main keynote, the thing you’re so deeply passionate about changing the world, what matters yes. Is how you deliver your talk, but how other people are going tell other people about that talk so it can spread change and that applies to your audience, but also applies to sales conversations, right?
Devin: Very much so.
Taylorr: You pitch an influencer of a decision, now they have to go and tell your story to somebody else. How are they going to tell that story to somebody else and sell you when you’re not there to sell yourself, for example.
Devin: Very much so Taylorr. And…
Taylorr: Yeah, wow.
Devin: I won’t take credit for all of this and all of that.
Taylorr: No, you’re a filter. Yeah.
Devin: I owe some really bright folks for some of these insights and one of those is Tim Pollard. He wrote The Compelling Communicator and he specializes really in sales story. And that multiple generation thing, I think probably the roots of it for me are with him.
Devin: And yet it works outside of a sales context and outside of a Ted talk context. The clearly focused story wrapped in action, igniting serenity, if you will the core of how the Ted messaging method translates outside of a Ted context, we’re not posing a call to action at the end of our talk that’s saying now we’re going save the whales and the ozone layer. Too big, too much. Instead, let’s walk up to the water’s edge, figuratively holding hands with my daughter and up a piece of trash and then invite her to pick up a piece of trash. And then I’ll pick up another piece and somebody else will see us picking up trash and that will be a clean beach. Now, yes, we want to clean the beach of all the plastic but we need doable, what I call winnable wins and replicable wins as our call to action. As our action igniting piece of a clearly focused story wrapped action igniting message. So it’s too much to say, remove all the plastic from the ocean, but baby steps that are repeatable, that are habit forming that are shareable, those are wins.
Devin: So Dr. Waldinger, let’s bring that example home. He didn’t say, go to marriage counselling or get remarried to change and enrich, and enliven your marriage. He said, no date night, take long walks together, call that someone you haven’t spoken to in years, because those fissures in relationship are wounding to our heart and our longevity. Those are three things I could do tomorrow. And that’s what Billy Graham understood. When he called someone to the alter, that was a life changing experience but baby steps were involved in that. And so, in the homiletical, that’s the preaching term, Greek probably, in the homiletical tradition, a pastor calls this the application of the message. How are we going apply it? Not next week, not next month, but Monday. At home, at work, in our relationship, with our kids in our school, very practical next steps. And that was one of those ahas that I’m very thankful to have gleaned from the preaching tradition, I suppose, and Lyman Coleman and Billy Graham’s experience.
Austin: Yeah. I like this too, because practical advice that gets people wins has never been more important in a world where there’s so much noise. We had a guest on recently, I forget who said it so if you’re listening to this, I apologize for not having this top of mind.
Taylorr: But hunt them down.
Austin: But yeah, ultimately what the point I’m trying to make here is, there’s just so much out there that if you can give somebody something that actually makes an impact, it’ll differentiate you and you’ll actually be able to see the change that is had. Nobody’s going take the 60 minute thing and condense that down into a useful tip. But maybe that’s one of things that made Ted so special was because it forced us to become so focused, to your earlier point, you’re able to translate that into something that was maybe not the entire picture, but was enough that somebody could actually do something with it. And then like anything, that can cascade into a more sophisticated view on things but the context there, the win makes it’s so much easier to want to build in that direction.
Devin: Yeah. And there’s more to, you know, prepping and delivering and rehearsing, whatever, a Ted talk but again, those three principles are central to the most successful talks. You can see that pattern play out. And then, most powerfully and potently, those three principles work in any other communications context. We have a three minute interview on a radio show, you tell me, I shouldn’t be clearly focused story wrapped in action igniting in the Ted style there. You tell me in an elevator pitch, you don’t want to be focused storied in action ignite. So expanded out to what used to be normal, a 40 minute keynote with 10 minutes of Q and A. Well, Ted concentrated that and found that we really responded to that in 2006, when 20 minute or 18 minute talks started releasing. Now they’re shorter, shorter, shorter.
Taylorr & Austin: Yeah.
Devin: You see three minute, seven minute 10 minute, 12 minute talks very commonly now, yet they still need, well, I repeat myself.
Taylorr: Yeah. Those three things. Well, you know, what’s interesting, one thing that one concept that’s been coming up more and more recently in our shows, I think maybe it I’m just noticing it. Maybe it’s something I need to hear, but it’s this concept of crawl walk, run. What I loved about your action oriented steps and what I think you defined as practical for me is there are things you can do right now that are simple. I think Jeff Civillico actually mentioned this in a show we just just recorded, but it’s like giving people the first rung of the ladder. Things can feel daunting to overcome if you break it get too hard out of reach. And I think some people will say like, well, my tips are practical and then they lay out their tips, but they’re so hard to reach for people, the relatability is gone. What I heard in that story that you told is like the action oriented things are things that people can do right now that are relatable. It’s the simple things that can just get somebody started and that’s where it starts. It’s not out the, the grandiose idealistic, utopian idea of outcome that we’re hoping for, but it’s how do we get people started on the path of the change that we want to see? Am I capturing that right?
Devin: Very perceptive Taylor. Yeah. Crawl, walk, run. I wrote it down. That jives
Austin: I’m curious, there’s a lot of people that are interested in this framework so I’m going have you distil down something really actionable here. What’s one thing that somebody can do immediately to be able to start employing some of these strategies into their everyday interactions with people, whether it’s a formal presentation or a sales pitch or somebody that you’re just talking to in the elevator that you’re trying to get a point across to?
Devin: Well, I’m visual so this might help some of your listeners. That big idea is the dome of the message temple. Okay, so Athenian Greek architecture, the three key points are the pillars that support. Individually, each of those key points support the big idea, but collectively they move it forward. And then coming into the temple and out of the temple are two doorways, story doorways we could say. And those steps out of the temple six or fewer are the actionable next steps. So I start filling in, all right what’s the big idea? 1, 2, 3. Story doorway one, story doorway two, steps out. And I do it with post-it notes, spatial, different size post-it notes. There’s a resource I have happy to share with your listeners that unpacks [cross-talk 27:04].
Taylorr: Yeah, I was just going to ask.
Devin: More. If they go to connecttocompelnow.com, there’s a resource there that unpacks these three principles, has some examples from the Ted stage, I think it’s got a worksheet in there that gives you visual on what we just talked about, and I’d be happy to dial with anybody that knocked me an email.
Devin: It’s one of those fun things to hear from somebody. Yeah. I tried that last night in my classroom presentation. It was great.
Taylorr: Why you do what you do.
Taylorr: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on today, being in such a valuable resource, we’ll make sure those links are in the show notes so definitely go check those out. And hey, if you like this episode, don’t forget to rate it, like it, subscribe to it and if you want more awesome resources like this, go to speakerflow.com/resources. Thank you so much for chiming in, I just wanted to take a second to thank our sponsor Auxbus. Auxbus is the all in one suite of tools you need to run your podcast and it it’s actually what we run here at Speaker Flow for Technically Speaking. It makes planning, podcasts simple, it makes recording podcasts simple, it even makes publishing podcasts to the masses simple and quite honestly, Technically Speaking, wouldn’t be up as soon as it is without Auxbus. Thank you so much Auxbus. And if you are interested in checking Auxbus out, whether you’re starting a podcast or you have one currently get our special offer auxbus.com/speaker flow, or click the link below in our show notes.