Friday, April 11, 2014

talk like ted

If you are not aware of TED, you may well be living on another planet. 'People around the globe have viewed TED presentations more than one billion times online...' (246). [NB: TED is an acronym for Technology, Education, Design].

My visa tells me that I am a communications consultant and so I thought I better engage with Carmine Gallo's unauthorised Talk Like TED. In his final paragraph, the author claims that 'the TED style is infusing our culture' (246). Off he goes and studies 500 presentations and emerges with the '9 public speaking secrets of the world's top minds'.

As I read and engage I find three things happening inside me.

I am assisted
As a communicator, I'd be a fool not to open myself up to these 'Public Speaking Secrets'. They come to us in three categories: (a) Emotional ('they touch my heart'): Unleash the Master Within, Master the Art of Storytelling, Have a Conversation; (b) Novel ('they teach me something new'): Teach Me Something New, Deliver Jaw-Dropping Moments, Lighten Up; and (c) Memorable ('they present content in ways I'll never forget'): Stick to the 18-Minute Rule, Paint a Mental Picture with Multisensory Experiences, Stay in Your Lane.

All sorts of gems surface as he travels along. Image is not everything. Powerpoint does not provide the redemption of contemporary communication - not even close. The role of passion (26-40), stories (69-73), authenticity (238-246, the 'stay in your own lane' idea - it is a goodie), delivery (81-107), simplicity and creativity all feature. He makes a strong case for the appropriateness of 18 minutes. I enjoyed the continuities with my doctoral work on the parables, with the regular appearance of words like 'unexpected' and 'intriguing'. I was working on a 13 minute presentation as I was reading the book - and it helped.

Gallo is big on the 'big idea' and the need to express a talk in 'a twitter-friendly headline of 140 characters, or less'. For him, having three points is consistent with the proven 'rule-of-three'. Goodness me - at one stage he demonstrates how even a Steve Jobs' presentation has a proposition and three points and this is a key to his effectiveness (197-200). I'll dine out on that observation for a wee while yet,,,

I am annoyed
The unrelenting barrage of stories about successful TED talks attracts its own brand of boredom. The overheated and breathless tone becomes wearisome. There is a limit to how many times my interest will be piqued by trumpeting the millions of views on-line a TED talk received - and the length of the standing ovation. For me there are other things which will always trump this 'success'...

An effort is made to buttress conclusions with the authority provided by scientific study - 'the artful element of persuasion is backed by credible science' (240). But some of the analysis is shoddy. Particularly annoying was his misuse of one of my favourites - Aristotle's 'logos-ethos-pathos' (47-49). Aristotle's point is that there is more to persuasion than the words (logos) you use. There is the issue of how you deliver those words (pathos) and the small matter of the character of the one doing the delivering (ethos). But rather than looking for ethos in the lives of these presenters (now, wouldn't that be interesting!?), he seems to focus on the mention of ethos in the talks by these presenters. Completely misses the point - and it is an important one.

It didn't help my state of mind to discover that the only preacher he mentions warmly is Joel Osteen. And my mood did not improve when I saw a sentence about the TED speaker who shared his experience 'in Zambia teaching the local natives how to grow tomatoes' (94). What?!

I am anxious
I can see preachers rushing to this stuff. They already are. 'If we follow this approach it will revive our sermons in the 21st century'. Really?! Intimidated into acquiescence - again!? Is this to be the new intoxication? Has Ted brought redemption, a kind of author and finisher of our communication? Ahh - relevance running amok as we turn every sermon into a TED-like 18 minutes...

Many will think so. But I think not. This book provides a few details to include in the picture which is preaching - oh, yes it does. But there is also a lot of other detail to include and also a biblical-theological frame that encloses and highlights the most important colour and detail in that picture. Science is Gallo's frame - but mine is theology, ultimately. As Stottie used to say. 'the secret is found not so much in mastering certain techniques, but in being mastered by certain convictions'.

When I put the book down, my first thought was to go back to Word and Spirit and reassert my convictions. They had taken a hammering. The author starts by saying the book is for the one who wants 'to speak with more confidence and authority' (2). I don't think I'll be coming here to discover those qualities. The author finishes by saying that 'You have the ability to educate and electrify, inform and inspire, but only if you believe in your ability to do so (247, emphasis his). Nah - again, I don't think so. As a Christian communicator what I believe about my own ability is close to irrelevant.

Relentless stories of success do nothing for me, simply because success is not the criteria by which I am ultimately measured as a preacher. I want to be effective, but that doesn't control me. Preachers embrace certain approaches not primarily because they work, but because they are right  - and under God's hand and in God's time, God will find a way to honour that approach.

PS: a personal note
The 'curator' who oversees the global development of the TED phenomenon is Chris Anderson. He is from a British BMMF/Interserve medical missionary family with whom we grew up in Asia. His parents were some of my parents' closest friends. Chris was in my brother John's class. An older sister was a close friend of my sister Diane (... as a very little boy I used to think she was the most beautiful person in all the world!) and a younger sister was in my class.

I like this photo. It captures how I remember Chris. I am writing this in Los Angeles - and Chris lives in Long Beach... Maybe another time :)

nice chatting


a tasty guinness

Many years ago I tasted a guinness. In my work situation I found myself articulating a minority perspective and it was causing tension within and conflict without. I happened to have the briefest of conversations with Os Guinness while in the US and he had the simplest of advice. I have passed it onto numerous people. "Ask questions - don't make exclamations". In the heat of verbal battle, lower the voice, slow the pulse, cool the spirit - and ask probing questions that have people expose the heart of the issue. Leave exclamation marks to others and watch them put their foot in it...

I've enjoyed his books over the years - but not for awhile, as he is more a self-described 'social critic' within the American context. Dining with the Devil, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, The Call, Time for Truth, Prophetic Untimeliness - but also his two classics, The Dust of Death and The Gravedigger File.

I am at a Vision Weekend here in Phoenix, organised by the Langham Partnership (USA) people. I've tasted a guinness again. Os has been the evening speaker (and, by the way, he IS a direct descendent in the famous Irish brewery family). He has been speaking about the role of church in society and how influence happens. A few resonant chords were struck...

Explore the secret of the transforming power of the Gospel
It is about living the 'world-denying, world-affirming' tension about which CS Lewis wrote. 'Being against the world for the world'. This being 'in the world - but not of the world' - is a lot harder to be and to do than this little phrase rolling off the tongue might suggest. We need to be engaged always, discerning always - but also committed to the 'courageous refusal'. Sometimes we don't go with the flow. Sometimes we say 'no - no further, thank you'. This 'refusal' keeps the tension alive in our cultural presence and this is the secret of the church's transforming power. The power can only come when we are fully immersed at the very same time that we live 'at a distance'. To me, it sounds a lot like Jesus' teaching on salt and light.

More briefly:
Count on the unique dynamics in the spread of the kingdom
'The Spirit leads'. Look at the book of Acts, with the story of Philip (ch 8) being the obvious example. Make space for God to take the initiative. Follow his call. Watch for the 'grand reversals' by which he loves to work - starting with 'the first shall be last' and many, many more.

Clarify the paradoxes of Christian engagement with culture
The 'greatest danger is success' with the Christendom experience, in which political and religious power converged causing unending damage to the witness of the church, being the enduring example. Watch for the 'darkness before the dawn' with revival, where things are characteristically bleak before the Spirit moves mightily, being the shining example. 'Go forward best, by going back first' with power of knowing history and leaning on history, as the plans are laid for the future, being the guideline.

Guinness also quoted a source (not explicitly Christian at all) on 'How ideas shape culture':
(i) through leaders, rather than followers.
Christian witness has a 'residual populism which condemns it to being ineffectual'.
(ii) through the center, not the periphery.
The draining influence of Christianity in the USA is linked to the way it has fled from New York, Washington DC and Los Angeles in order to inhabit (and succeed) in Colorado Springs, Wheaton and Orlando.
(iii) through networks, not institutions.

All good stuff that I didn't want to lose - so I posted a blog!  I suspect his newest book, The Global Public Square, works with some of these ideas if you wanted to take this a little bit further. If Guinness is a new author to you, begin with the very new (this one here) and the very old - like The Dust of Death and The Gravedigger File. That might be the best way "in".

In the NZ setting I have discerned a general unwillingness to engage with Guinness, partly because we have a lot invested in approaches to mission that call the church constantly - and exclusively, oftentimes - to adapt to the surrounding culture in order to survive. In hoping that this might be the secret of our success, it more often continues to sow the seeds of failure. That is the glaring blindspot we face.

nice chatting