Tag Archives: storytelling

TEDx Talks, Deconstructed for Nonprofits

As mentioned in my last blog post, nonprofits could learn a few things from the way TED and TEDx approach presenting to live audiences. I asked Carlos Montoya, who led speaker development for the 2013 Sacramento event, to describe how TEDx manages to produce such moving presentations, and to provide tips for nonprofits.

1.  As nonprofits consider who tells their story, have you found that there are certain characteristics of people who can make good speakers? Are good speakers made or born?

TEDx talks have a format that is different from what most speakers are used to. Those speakers who are the most successful often share a willingness to learn, explore, and engage in the TEDx format. With regards to whether a speaker is made or born, I have to say it could be either. There are some speakers who are natural on stage and others who are not but are so passionate about their idea that with a little practice they can deliver just as well.

2.  What’s the first step when you begin working with a speaker? They have an idea, you know what format works best for TedX. Then what?

The first step usually starts a little earlier and consists of an initiation email that includes a lot of information such as TED guidelines and process timeline. In this email we request that the speaker send us a one page treatment or outline of their idea. With treatment in hand, an initial conversation is scheduled.

The initial conversation varies and depends on how detailed the treatment is at this point in the process. However, here are three things that I generally try and accomplish during that conversation:

·         Ask the speaker to run through their idea and what they have so far.

·         Listen to every word and try to get a sense of the speaker’s natural delivery style and the structure of their key points from the perspective of an audience.

·         Ask a few questions and provide some speaker specific feedback.

3.  What’s the rest of the process look like, between that initial meeting and standing up in front of TedX?

Many more conversations like the one described above working toward refining the key message and pairing that message with other elements such slides, props, video, or performance. Two weeks prior to the event we request the near final presentation and schedule 2 or 3 rehearsals with the entire TEDx speaker team to provide additional feedback. The day before the event we hold an in-person dress rehearsal at the venue.

4.  (If one comes to mind) What’s the most powerful talk you’ve ever heard given by a nonprofit at TedX? What made it so compelling?

This is an interesting question. A specific talk from a nonprofit doesn’t come to mind immediately. But there is a reason for that, a TEDx talk according to the guidelines should not have a commercial agenda.

“Speakers should not promote their own products, books, or businesses or those of a company which employs them. The only exception is where they have specifically been invited to give a powerful product demo, or to describe the ideas in their book, and here the focus should still be on the technology and/or the ideas.” – TED.com

That said, Ron Finley, Salman Khan, Bill Gates, and Mark Roth have each delivered great TED talks, Melinda Gates delivered a TEDx talk that shares some key lessons for nonprofits. At last year’s TEDx Sacramento, Chris Ategeka delivered a talk that ended in a standing ovation. In my opinion, the power comes not just from the idea but from the story behind the idea that resonates with our own experiences.

5. You’ve probably heard some pitches or presentations by nonprofits. What do you think nonprofits do wrong, or could do better?

The few pitches or presentations by nonprofits that I have heard usually do a great job at presenting information. However, in today’s world, with the abundance of information available at our fingertips, information has become somewhat disposable so we have to look at new ways at extracting meaning from information and make it accessible. I think this is one of the strengths of TEDx talks because the story is as important as the idea. The story is what connects us to the idea and drives the audience to action.

6.  You appear to have some guidelines, like using slides, but emphasizing a limited number and using images intensively rather than words. Throwing in a few humorous lines, etc. What are the guidelines you’ve found work best to grab and inspire an audience.

There are speaker guidelines developed by TED that are sent to each speaker that discusses the format and what has worked best at TED. Here locally, we have found that shorter talks work better. We often work with speakers to cut each talk down to 10 minutes, to focus both the speaker and the talk.  Another guideline is to have the delivery be more conversational rather than a presentation. We also recommend that if using slides that the slide present only one piece of information and not detract the audience from the speaker. Beyond these guidelines, I often borrow from various storytelling devices that I think could enhance the speaker’s ability to share their idea.

7.  So what do you want to do before you die (per the blackboard in the park)?

For me at this point, the list is still too long but one thing would be to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and reach the summit on a clear day.

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What do nonprofits have in common with vampires?


Attendees saw "A Day in the Life" of North Sacramento photos


We could all take a page from our kids:  there’s nothing quite like a good story.

Here’s what nationally recognized public interest communications expert Andy Goodman bluntly told the audience of approximately 300 nonprofit staff members at the Nonprofit Resource Center Annual Conference today:  We have great stories but we suck the life out of our stories.  We are story-telling vampires.

Having gotten the attention of the audience, Goodman went on to dissect nonprofits’ program and mission statements.  It wasn’t pretty.  Burdened by jargon or mind-numbing numbers, they were dead on arrival.

If you’re not telling stories — consciously, deliberately — then you’ve got to start.  And if you are telling stories, you need to do more, he told the group.

What makes a good story?  They follow a classic pattern.  Act one:  We are introduced to the protagonist and learn something about their world.  Something happens to throw the protagonist’s world out of balance and a story is in motion.  Act two:  The hero encounters an obstacle, something that makes you wonder, “What happens next?”  And act three:  The protagonist overcomes the barriers and the tension is resolved.

Where most nonprofits go wrong is in telling formulaic stories that skip the most important part, the barriers.  We haven’t started to root for the protagonist before we are told how the nonprofit fixed everything.  When we tell stories, too often they are bloodless.  The detail of the barriers — first one, then another — is what rivets our attention.

An organization is best understood as the sum of its stories of the things it has done, and will do, Goodman told the group.  Therefore, organizations should identify its core stories and makes sure everyone — staff, volunteers and board — know them by heart.

Goodman said organizations should have a solid repertoire of six kinds of stories:

  • The “nature of our challenge” story.  Example:  A literacy organization could have a story about how parents couldn’t help their children with their homework.
  • Creation stories.  Example:  Everyone at Sacramento Loaves and Fishes knows the story of how Chris and Dan Delaney founded the organization out of the back of their car when they started delivering sack lunches to homeless people camped near Highway 160.
  • Success stories.  Example:  Women’s Empowerment provided Regina with training and job-seeking assistance to get back on her feet after becoming homeless during the period she cared for her terminally-ill mother.
  • Performance stories.  Example:  Rather than just talking about its evidence-based practices and strength-based approach, River Oak Center for Children explains how it achieves clinical results by sharing stories like this one about Darren.
  • “Striving to improve” stories.  You won’t usually find these on websites, but these are the stories of mistakes and problems, and how organizations recovered from them, learned and got better at what they do.
  • Stories of the future.  This one isn’t in story form yet, but it could be.  Imagine the Sacramento Tree Foundation talking about how life in Sacramento would look for a child born 10 years from today as she walks to her first day of elementary school on a hot fall day under a shaded canopy of trees.  Today they say they’re leading to plant 5 million trees by 2025.

Learn more about Andy Goodman or check out his online training workshops at The Goodman Center.  Also be aware that they’ve established a scholarship program for nonprofits.

Thanks, Nonprofit Resource Center for a worthwhile day (and great value)!

(And for the many curious friends and readers who have asked, all is well with me but I have been sucked into working to defeat Measure D, the incorporation proposal, for Arden Arcade here in Sacramento.  If you want to know more about that, ask to receive the e-newsletter:  staysacramento@gmail.com.)

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Let’s start at the very beginning: message (and story)

I’ve had exposure to so many wonderful and worthy non-profits here in Sacramento, but so many of them can’t seem to get their story straight.  Their website says they one thing about what they do (often a verbose mission statement), while their flyer at an event says something else.  Sometimes something that leaves you wondering, “Say what?”

It’s impossible to drive more successful performance – and fulfillment of mission – unless you have a clear and compelling message about what you do and why it matters.

I’m a big fan of the Nonprofit Technology Education Network and I just got around to noticing they have a three-part webinar STARTING TOMORROW that’s probably worth the $150 if you’re a non-member (half that for members).  If you get one or two more donors because you tell your story better after participating in their webinar, the small investment will have paid for itself.

This 3-part webinar series will discuss the importance and impact of online storytelling for organizations, as well as give specific details on how to identify, capture and write a story. Participants will learn about the use of stories across a variety of applications, including websites and social media.

Series Sessions Include (all sessions held at 11:00 AM Pacific / 2:00 PM Eastern for 90 Minutes):

Follow this link to register – pronto!

The Webinar is CFRE (Certifed Fund Raising Executive) Certified.

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