Dan Pink – not bad at all.

Here’s a TED talk by Dan Pink. I’ve seen him speak on this subject when I was relaxed and not in critique mode, so I was interested to examine it here. I was delighted to see from the very start that he would shoot it from the hip, and even more pleased that he was so good that I could use my nit-picking tweezers.

Watching this footage for the first time, I felt myself tensing up when he opened with that mock-serious routine. I felt that the ‘mock’ was too transparent; he was over-cooking it; and therefore it was all too obviously a set-up for a gag. If you’ve done a course with me or read my book you will understand that I feared that the gag, this early, would bomb. I was right and wrong: right that a gag was coming, wrong that it would bomb. I’m not too proud to hold my hands up. I never argue with the market, and the market bought it – he got his laugh. I reckon he’s worked this routine often enough to have refined the timing, and I don’t argue with work either. The routine, by the way, hadn’t finished with the initial laugh and its final punch line was tasty.

TED talks, posted on line, are usually topped and tailed. Any introductions and preambling pleasantries, and endings that do not involve important questions, are trimmed off. This is no exception so we can’t tell if it is actually a bald opening, but we can tell how good it would have been if so.

Another thing TED talks do is bring visuals to the fore. Rather than our seeing them as the audience saw them – on a screen behind him – the visuals briefly take over our screen. This is good production for everyone in the world except me. I want to see how he hung on to his audience’s focus when this interloper was presented behind him. I can’t do that, but I can comment on the visuals themselves. In general they are very good, sparing in their quantity and (usually) their content. He also gets humour onto them.

Note the abundance of proper nouns. When he describes scientists’ experiments he always names the scientist and faculty. It’s courteous – yes, of course – but it is also good speaking practice. Note also, when speaking of two groups of people, his gestures put them (in our imagination) on different parts of the stage. This lends a graphic quality which is very strong. He does a great deal of geographic and mime gesturing, and does it well.

His vocal tone colouring is excellent. He varies volume and pitch dramatically, but not so arbitrarily as to be noticeable except to a sad analytical git like me. This guy is very good; and my nit-picking tweezers are threatened with redundancy. Then at 15:19 they are given purpose when a slide appears with eleven words on it. That is on the high side for almost any slide; but the killer point that emerges, as these words are repeated often, is that this is his speech’s Face.

Naturally I am delighted that he has given his speech a Face – it is a detail almost always overlooked by even very skilled speakers – but these eleven words don’t really work as a Face. They are not nearly light, tight and bright enough. It’s a reasonably smart sentence, but woefully forgettable. I watched this speech two or three times, then had to break off to go to a meeting. Driving back afterwards I could not bring to mind the words. You might like to try it yourself. I have visions of my past trainees playing with that sentence to see how much it could be improved.

So I finally found something that I could wag my finger at! But the amusing thing while I was writing this is that out of the corner of my eye I could see a list of ‘related articles’. WordPress supplies a specially designed page for writing new posts.  While you are writing their sophisticated software monitors your words, seeks out other comments on the same topic, and dangles examples that might interested you. I had a quick look and they are all on the subject matter of his talk, rather than how he conducted it. So if you’ll excuse me, I shall now go and have a read…

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