Presentation literacy is a superpower and can be learned.

One of the most inspiring sections in TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speakingis where Chris Anderson expands upon the power of the spoken word over the written word:

Done right, a talk can electrify a room and transform an audience’s worldview. Done right, a talk is more powerful than anything in written form. Writing gives us the words. Speaking brings with it a whole new toolbox. When we peer into a speaker’s eyes; listen to the tone of her voice; sense her vulnerability, her intelligence, her passion, we are tapping into unconscious skills that have been fine-tuned over hundreds of thousands of years. Skills that can galvanize, empower, inspire.

Like me, you’re probably saying, “Yes, that’s true for a few speakers who have exceptional gifts, but that will never be me.” But Chris Anderson insists that public speaking skills are teachable, “that there’s a new superpower that anyone, young or old, can benefit from. It’s called presentation literacy.”

Novel name, but not a novel idea, as the teaching of rhetoric was one of the basics of first century education, leading Anderson to advocate for a “Fourth R” to supplement reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic in our schools. And the curriculum would be this book’s analysis of thousands of TED talks that have succeeded in achieving 1.5 billion annual views. Anderson argues:

Presentation literacy isn’t an optional extra for the few. It’s a core skill for the twenty-first century. It’s the most impactful way to share who you are and what you care about. If you can learn to do it, your self-confidence will flourish, and you may be amazed at the beneficial impact it can have on your success in life, however you might choose to define that.

Anderson tells his own story of how he went from being a terrified geeky bag of nerves about public speaking to getting a standing ovation from Jeff Bezos and other dignitaries. He encourages us:

No matter how little confidence you might have today in your ability to speak in public, there are things you can do to turn that around. Facility with public speaking is not a gift granted at birth to a lucky few. It’s a broad-ranging set of skills. There are hundreds of ways to give a talk, and everyone can find an approach that’s right for them and learn the skills necessary to do it well.

Presentation literacy is a superpower and can be learned.

More articles in the Preaching Lessons from TED Talks series.