An Excellent TED Talk Deconstructed

For a change of pace let’s tease apart a very well executed TED Salon presentation. This one caught my eye because the topic is something I’ve been struggling with.

I’m working on learning Spanish. It’s been slow and challenging. I have lots of excuses but I’ve whacked back my inner critic more times than I have fingers and toes to count and keep chipping away at improving beyond the basic hola and ¿como estas?

Let’s jump into the video. It’s called ‘The Secrets of Learning a New Language‘ and the presenter is Lydia Machova who describes herself as a polyglot that learns a new language every few years.

Many of you have shared with me your anxiety about how you will be perceived by your audience. You’re afraid you’ll make a mistake or not deliver like an “A” presenter. But, did you notice how I said I was attracted to watch this video because it spoke to me – it is something I’m interested in getting better at and have found challenging?

The same will play out for your audience. They are attending your event because the topic is of interest to them (unless they have been forced to attend) and they are expecting you to be a human being, not a perfect being.

Just as Lydia was not perfect.

Notice though how she enticed you to continue listening to her in the first seconds and minutes of her talk. Her ability to acquire a new language every few years is remarkable, no? As someone who is Spanish challenged I wanted to hear more and learn her secret.

The premise of Lydia’s talk is argued nicely. She does it in a number of ways.

1) She shares how she wasn’t quite sure how she was able to acquire languages so easily herself so she set out to conduct research amongst fellow polyglots. This made me want to hear more because it gave me hope that she might have an answer for me.

2) She identifies a number of methods that others use to quickly learn new languages and then shares the common denominator – enjoying the process of learning. (I can do that!)

Learn to create a speech using methods you enjoy
3) Lydia then goes on to prove why this works through her own experience of learning by reading one of her favourite books in Spanish, which is Harry Potter.

4) As I suspected learning a new language is not all fun and games. Lydia confirms the reality of learning. Acquiring a new language requires embedding the language into your long-term memory and being committed to a consistent process. And even more important, it requires patience (my challenge because I set my expectations too high).

5) At this point in Lydia’s presentation, you’re likely thinking that’s how people who are super talented at languages learn and why they are so successful -that it is not going to work for you (or me). This is the crux of her presentation and at this point, if you have been drifting off she drives up the story arc and engages you again.

6) I so enjoyed how she wrapped up her presentation. She encouraged her audience to do some sleuthing and find a way that is enjoyable for them to practice. I love her example for introverts to use self-talk at first instead of jumping into practicing with a native speaker. I plan to use it before excruciatingly bending someone’s ear.

Lydia’s short ten-minute presentation was filled with takeaways. There were many practical, tangible examples of how to learn a language quickly. For me, this is the way a presentation should be crafted. Meaty, not full of fluff.

Before you take the stage, if you would like feedback to improve your next presentation, here’s more information on how we could work together, especially if you’re in a time crunch or, you can connect directly with me here.


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Janice Tomich is the founder of Calculated Presentations, a company dedicated to bringing out speaker’s stories to influence change. Janice coaches professionals, entrepreneurs, TED and TEDx speakers. She is a champion for equal representation by a diverse pool of presenters for all speaking events. Follow Janice on Twitter @janicetomich, on Facebook, on LinkedIn and subscribe for newsletter updates.

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