Follow these key methods from TED Talks to create branded content your audience will love.
They usually start with a story. A personal story. There’s often humor of the self-deprecating kind. The best of them create memorable moments that eventually connect to their big idea. That’s the secret of TED Talks and brands can learn a few lessons from the key ingredients that make these compelling videos inform, engage, and inspire their audiences.
Start with Small Moments
In 2014, Author Elizabeth Gilbert gave her second TED Talk, Success, Failure, and the Drive to Keep Creating. She opens it with a short story about being at JFK airport when two women approach and ask her if she had something to do with that book, Eat, Pray, Love.
“Yes, I did,” she tells them. One woman turns to her friend and says, “See, I told you, that’s the girl who wrote the book based on that movie.”
The audience laughs and Gilbert chuckles at her own fame. Gilbert uses this quip as a platform to describe the pressure that follows to create something bigger and better. Eventually, she makes a poignant comparison about the struggles of her early days as a writer to her struggle to write a successful follow up to her breakout “mega hit.”
Small, personal moments act as powerful door openers to your bigger ideas.
They create tangible hooks to ease your readers into bigger, abstract ideas. People can relate to a moment at the airport, the ordinariness of the scene, the women who approach Gilbert. And when Gilbert laughs at herself, she punctures the haze of her celebrity, making her more ordinary, too.
I recently discovered Guy Winch’s talk, Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid and it’s a potent example of connecting a personal story to a bigger message. Guy shares the emotional pain he experienced when he left his twin brother and moved to New York to study psychology. At one point, his loneliness causes him to distrust whether his brother will call on their birthday. Loneliness, and failure, Guy asserts “distort our perceptions and scramble our thinking.” But learning to apply emotional hygiene, as he calls it, can alleviate your distress.
Guy’s message resonates for the audience because he takes us step by step through his own emotional journey. We feel his bond with his twin and his pain when his brother is diagnosed with cancer.
First person storytelling works because we’d all love to know what each other is thinking.
Think of the most popular and enduring novels that were written in a first person point of view (One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ Nest, The Great Gatsby, Gone Girl). When this translates to non-fiction, the results are as powerful. We sit up and listen to the expert who shares her real story, who reveals his motivation, who admits defeat and explains how she rose from failure to success.
It’s tempting for B2B marketers to shun first person content as too personal, as inappropriate for their brands. Don’t fall for that. Customers relate to people. Our current culture fosters and embraces first person sharing on social media. One leader, writing in the first person, can instantly humanize a brand. Or, let your corporate marketers loose with first person stories to add personality to your site. Brands should explore ways to trickle first person authorship into all their forms of content.
In his humorous and popular TED talk, The Happy Secret to Better Work, Shawn Achor opens with a scene when he and his sister are seven and five years old and she falls from the top of the bunk bed. He tells the story play by play, adding hilarious quips along the way. “And on one side of the bunk bed, I had put out all of my G.I. Joe soldiers and weaponry. And on the other side were all my sister’s My Little Ponies ready for a cavalry charge.”
Most of us can relate to playing games with soldiers, Barbies, ponies, or other action figures when we were children. The specificity of the “G.I. Joe soldiers” and “My Little Ponies” paint a picture that draws us into Achor’s bigger message.
When it comes to “showing” versus “telling,” it’s essential to drive down to the smallest details.
Be specific. The irony is that the more specific the detail, the more people can relate to it. Details build connections. And connections engage readers.
Vulnerability Earns Trust
In her TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, Brene Brown said it best, “In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen.” Personal stories work when we reveal ourselves. And this takes guts. There’s no getting around it. The more we share of ourselves, the more our audience connects with our basic humanity. It’s the secret sauce of great content.
When I first started writing my parenting blog, Mommy Truths, I kept my readers at arms’ length, afraid to share too much of myself. Over time, I loosened up and started revealing the more challenging moments of motherhood. In one post, I described my lame attempt to cut my five-year-old daughter’s hair and the risks in trying to parent with scissors. A reader posted a comment with details of her own bad haircut memory. Vulnerability attracts compassion and reader interest.
Strong marketers have learned how to finesse the essence of vulnerability on social media channels.
Leaders can reveal themselves and their very human moments in blog posts and selective tweets. We all fail. Our willingness to describe what we learn from failure can earn an audience’s trust and loyalty. And that builds a brand’s character.