Public Speaking: Subtle Ideas Can Be Just as Impactful

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "TED Talks" by Chris Anderson. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you have a speech coming up, but are not sure what it’s going to be about? How do you come up with a groundbreaking idea that gets people talking?

When it comes to public speaking, how you deliver your idea is often more important than the idea itself. You don’t have to break any ground with your speech—subtle ideas can be just as impactful.

Here’s why you shouldn’t give up on an idea just because it’s not groundbreaking or revolutionary in some way.

The Idea

Often, people believe their public speaking idea must be “big” to be worthy of a speech, and this simply isn’t true. Some ideas are big—for example, an invention that will save lives, or a civil rights issue that will affect future generations. But other ideas are subtle, like an observation about human behavior or a juxtaposition of landscapes. 

For example, remember a time when your thinking was shifted, or you were delighted and entertained. Often, subtle ideas spark these life-changing moments. Both big and subtle ideas have the potential to influence or move an audience.

How to Make a Subtle Idea Impactful

In one of the most popular TED Talks of all time, “Looks Aren’t Everything,” model Cameron Russell shares her photos and personal experiences to present an old notion in a novel way. The point that looks aren’t important isn’t a new or big one—but Russell illustrates it effectively. She shows the audience side-by-side photos of when she was a young teen, juxtaposing shots from her modeling jobs with candid shots of her with family and friends.  

In one professional photo, she was scantily clad with the body, pose, and facial expression of a grown woman. Next to it was a photo of her with her grandmother, in which she looks like a typical middle schooler. She explained that these photos were taken a week apart, at an age when she was yet to even have her period. She detailed the team of people that worked on her look and manipulated the modeling photo to make her look older, sexier, and more glamorous than she really was. 

Russell’s subtle way of tweaking the assumption that models naturally look perfect demystified that perfection and added depth to the common idea that “looks aren’t everything.”

Public Speaking: Subtle Ideas Can Be Just as Impactful

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Chris Anderson's "TED Talks" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full TED Talks summary :

  • A nuts-and-bolts guide to public speaking that takes you from the initial idea to your final bow
  • TED curator Chris Anderson's public speaking advice on everything from scripting to wardrobe
  • A comparison of Anderson's advice to that of other public speaking experts

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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