How to be a better conversationalist according to a TED speaker coach

Struggling to get your point across? Want to ace that big presentation? Let TEDxToronto speaker coach Nick Kindler school you.

TEDxToronto head of programming and speaker coach Nickler Kindler on how to be a better conversationalist

TEDxToronto head of programming and speaker coach Nickler Kindler. Photo, John Anthony.

Public speaking ranks up there with dentist visits, clowns and the titular things from Stranger Things on the list of Unassuageable Human Fears. And yet, we can’t get enough of watching other people do it. Every month, more than 6 million viewers (in North American alone!) look to the wisdom of TED Talk speakers to help them better understand the world and its many existential quandaries.

Even if you’re not attempting to deliver a public mediation on vulnerability, power poses or grilled cheese sandwiches, chances are you still want to be a good, persuasive communicator at work or in casual discussions with friends and family. Here, Nick Kindler — TEDxToronto Head of Programming (and trained speaker coach) — relays a few tips on how to be a better conversationalist, no matter what you’re trying to say.

Find your “statement of purpose”
“This is a simplified term for a thesis — what are you there to talk about? If you’re going to step up and give a presentation, have a clear focus on what it is you want to say. At work, for example, it could be ‘This year, I really want our clients to know how much we care.’ Your purpose is like a compass that always points you due north.”

Get personal
“If you can connect with people through a narrative, that’s going to be much more compelling. It could be a historical example, or something that you have experienced to help bring your idea to life. It pulls people in.”

Related: 7 tips to help you own the room

Embrace the power of the pause
“This is the secret weapon I share in TED workshops. Pausing is so important for two reasons: One, it allows the speaker to slow down, which lets them think and reflect on what they’ve said and where they need to go. Two, it allows the listener to catch up. Finally, there’s a sense of drama to it. Many people think, ‘Oh my god, I can’t stop and pause for three seconds — I’m going to look like an idiot!’ Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Quit fidgeting
“A lot of people wander when they’re talking; it almost becomes like a drunken dance. If you plant your feet, shoulder-width apart, you can survey your audience, catch eye contact, and your voice will be clearer.”

Ban “ummm.” And “uhhh.” And “okay”
“Use language that is your own, but be wary of how much you’re umming and uhing. It distracts from your information. The speakers I work with are brilliant, and then they’ll say ‘’I’m going to show you why the human genome is shaped like this, okay?’ Yes, it is okay — you don’t need to get approval from us. That being said, if two people come to me with an idea, and one says ‘like’ and ‘um’ all the time, and another tells me a very compelling story without those words, I’m going to favour with the latter person.”

Related: Want to feel more confident? Strike this pose

Crack a joke
“I’m big believer in using humour in presentations and conversations. As soon as you have people laughing with you, they’re with you all the way along. You’ve got to know your audience and what’s appropriate, there are lots of times where you play it safe. But I do believe we play it safe, at least in the business world, more than we should. Emotion is really important — and that includes making people laugh.”

Warm up
“Your voice is a wonderful instrument. If it’s not being warmed up properly, it’s going to sound odd. So breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth. Shake out your arms and your hands. I get speakers to pretend they’re sucking on a lemon, and then that they’re on a rollercoaster, so their face gets really wide. I do it with them so they don’t feel crazy.”

Dare to look dumb
“We all have a fear of sounding or looking foolish. In a micro way, the first time you go and have a dinner with your girlfriend’s parents, or fiancés family, you don’t want to say anything stupid, you want them to like you. Use body language — gestures, your facial expressions — to show how much things mean to you. Dive in and share. That’s all part of being yourself.”

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