Last week’s TEDxBrighton was my first TED event in the flesh. As an aficionado of the form, a passionate advocate of more impactful communication, and a corporate and brand storyteller, I had high hopes of a Halloween well spent. I was not disappointed.
I learned a lot last Friday. About new ways of thinking and working that challenge the status quo. About making and the maker movement. And about how to present in the most compelling way possible. While it’s true that some of the “how-to”s on better storytelling came from observing what not to do, that doesn’t make the lessons any less valuable.
Here are 12 things I learned about the new world order, and another 12 I learned about how to tell stories in public. I trust you find them interesting helpful.
Twelve things I learned about the new world order
- Minecraft can be a force for good, empowering and enabling Generation Next to become genuinely interested and engaged in local community planning issues. Check out blockbuilders.co.uk
- There is an alternative to Big Retail, one that serves customers, suppliers and communities, and @hisBe has grown from a blog to a sustainable, affordable, values-led supermarket.
- The cost of the all-female Indian project to send a satellite to Mars was less than the budget of the movie Gravity.
- The more difficult the task, the smaller the optimal group size. Between 3-6 can be ideal, though smaller groups are more vulnerable to bias and lack diversity.
- If x is the ideal number of guitars and y the number of guitars you own, x = y +1.
- The self-actualisation of the making community is admirable, but makers and maker-advocates need to realise that not all thinker-workers are trapped in pursuits they loathe, nor are those pursuits without intrinsic value.
- Beachy Head is the second most popular suicide spot in the world. Many of the bodies recovered there have chalk under their nails, jumpers having changed their minds halfway down.
- Puerto Ricans take recordings of the Common Coqui frog with them when they go on holiday to help them go to sleep at night.
- There is a Platonic form of the perfect knife, the perfect spoon; forms that can be transcendent for the makers. Plus knives made by hand, with love and care, can cost more than a week’s wages.
- Truffle hunting turns the hunter into the hunted.
- Having musical interludes at a talk-heavy event enables listeners’ brains to reset between sessions. @HarryKeyworth rocked, and @DeannaRodger and @DeanAtta’s performance poetry accessed different bits of our brains.
- We may not, actually, have reached Peak Beard in the TED community. We have very definitely NOT reached Peak Brown Brogue.
Twelve things I learned about storytelling
- Age and experience are not in any way causally related to the ability to tell a good story. @DeannaRodger and @MLeckie14 proved this beyond doubt.
- Personal anecdotes can make the driest topic utterly compelling. Hearing @PeterJamesUK tell stories of the hidden side of police work on police men and women’s lives made it clear why he’s sold 50 million books.
- Failure to prepare for a talk is a sin. Reading from scrappy notes, printed cards or an iPhone does not count as preparation. Being able to read well is not the same as being able to talk well. Performing long, prose poems from an iPad Mini is the exception to this rule.
- Having a theme for a group of disparate talks is not necessary. Creating and curating storytelling flow is about more than crowbarring those individuals a committee admires into a narrative straitjacket.
- More than 18-20 minutes, and the audience’s mind really does start to wander. The cognitive load is just too great.
- A trap door should open under the feet of any talker who disrespects those coming after them by talking for more than 18 minutes.
- Stick to your topic and be narrow. I’d read Carmine Gallo’s Talk Like TED in the week leading up to TEDxBrighton, and his prescription – of a single topic, three proof points beneath that, and three reasons-to-believe underpinning each proof point – was shattered time and again.
- TED created the ten, TED commandments for a reason. Getting on for half those talking at Brighton last week had not familiarised themselves with these commandments.
- Being wacky is a means of attracting attention and irritation in equal measure, however well meaning you might be.
- There’s a fine line between interest and immersion in a subject, and obsession. Obsession and staunch advocacy for something can make you sound and behave like a conspiracy theorist.
- eecummings’ addiction to lower case only is distracting and irritating. Particularly to proper nouns, who’ve worked hard to acquire their capital letters.
- Showing a film of something you’ve just described does not add value.
Sam Knowles is a master data storyteller and the Founder & MD of the consultancy Insight Agents. His purpose is to help organisations make smarter use of data, talk Human, and sound like people. An established and sought-after trainer, keynote speaker, and podcaster, he is the founder and host of Data Malarkey podcast and chair of I-COM’s Data Storytelling Council. He’s a Fellow of the Market Reserach Society, the RSA, and the Professional Speaking Association.
Sam is the author of the ‘Using Data Better’ trilogy of books, all published by Routledge. These include the 2018 best-seller Narrative by Numbers, 2020’s critically-acclaimed sequel, How To Be Insightful , and 2022’s eagerly-anticipated Asking Smarter Questions. In 2023, Insight Agents launched Using Data Smarter, a comprehensive, online training course based on all three books.
Find out more about Sam’s approach to data storytelling in this 15-minute video.