I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the interaction of presentation, speech, and ideas. From books such as “Talk like TED,” released this year, all the way back to Plato’s “Gorgias,” the power of the spoken word has captivated us.
One of the major criticisms of TED argues that this repackaging often goes a bit too far and ventures into the realm of gimmick and novelty without substance. In other words, these critics resent the fact that speakers seem to prioritize entertainment value over truth. They capitalize on the idea that novelty alone captures our attention and that should be vigilant about being duped by a well-presented idea.
However, I think it’s too easy, especially for smart people, like Georgetown students, to take refuge in this sort of criticism. Of course, most of us will never have the opportunity to present a TED talk, (unless you’re as talented and awesome as my friend, and fellow Baker Scholar, Heather Artininan), but the opposition between presentation and substance appears all around us.
Think about networking for jobs, for instance. We often think to ourselves, “Why should I have to put so much effort into networking or presenting a polished, artificial version of myself, just to play this ‘game’?”
The outcomes can often seem unfair; those who receive the most desirable post-graduation opportunities are not necessarily the smartest or most qualified; rather, they present themselves well and perform in high-pressure situations.
The root of this mindset resides in a key difference between a college classroom and the professional world: No one is compelled to listen to your ideas.
In college, professors have to read all the way through our papers to give a grade. But in the professional world, our coworkers and our bosses must have a compelling reason to pay attention to us for more than a few seconds.
I’m not supporting a compromise of truth just for the sake of novelty. But we should be conscious of the extra work required in taking an idea from being true and important to interesting and compelling.
Take for example Bryan Stevenson, who probably isn’t the most skillful or smartest lawyer working for social justice in the criminal system, but he has had arguably the greatest impact of any single person in this field because of the way he presents his ideas. After giving his TED talk, he received the longest standing ovation in TED history and over $1m in donations for his Equal Justice Initiative. He capitalized on the opportunity to present his ideas and achieved an impact that no amount of further research or analysis can match.
Most Georgetown students will go on to work in fields where they will produce ideas rather than physical objects. Carmine Gallo opens Talk like TED by stating that “ideas are the currency of the twenty-first century,” so to succeed at the highest levels in the world into which we will all graduate, we must understand how to present and frame ideas so that they’re both interesting and impactful. One without the other will not suffice.