TED Teaches Us It's Not Only What You Say

By Nonprofit Marketing ArizonaApril 22, 2016

Just about all TED talks are informative, but why do only some of them go viral with millions of views? Vanessa Van Edwards, owner of a company called Science of the People, wanted to find out. She polled 760 volunteers, asking them to rate hundreds of hours of TED talks. 

The most surprising discovery reinforces how important non-verbal communication is. Viewers who watched a TED talk without sound rated speakers almost exactly the same on intelligence, credibility and charisma as those who watched with sound. 

Also, viewers made their decision about whether they liked a speaker very quickly. Those who watched only the first seven seconds of a talk rated speakers the same as those who watched the entire presentation. 

Other TED lessons: 

1. Smiling makes you look smarter. The longer TED speakers smiled, the higher viewers rated their perceived intelligence. Van Edwards was surprised at this because existing research has said leaders actually smile less. She thinks the TED results show that speakers who smiled from stage seem more human to people watching. 

2. The speakers who gestured most had the most views. Van Edwards says past research has shown that the more speakers gesture, the more charismatic they seem. She believes it’s because moving hands give the mind something else to do in addition to listening. 

3. Reciting a memorized script kills charisma. Van Edwards found that speakers who showed more vocal variety rated higher on credibility and charisma. Changing cadence, volume, pitch and emotionality engages the brain and keeps the audience listening. 

This adds more proof to the adage “It’s not only what you say that counts, it’s also how you say it.” In order to be successful, speakers who have important messages to convey need to express their passion both verbally and non verbally.