The Secrets to a Top 5 TED Talk

“The combination of an accident and an experiment.” That’s how Brené Brown describes her TED Talk “The Power of Vulnerability.” She explained on a recent episode of The Tim Ferriss Show that the night before her talk she told her husband, “I think I’m going to actually be really vulnerable while I’m talking about vulnerability.” He told her that was a terrible idea.

After finishing the talk, she agreed, vowing, “I will never do that again.”

It was not a terrible idea, the experiment was a success, and if accident is the right term, it was a happy accident. Her talk is the fourth most viewed TED Talk of all time, coming in at over 21 million views.

Tim and Brené’s 80-minute conversation is wide-ranging and interesting, and I encourage you to check out the full episode. Below are takeaways from Brené’s reflections on the presentation.

She felt comfortable with the environment.
This was not the TED main stage, but an independently organized TEDx event at the university where she taught. She didn’t realize it was being recorded. From her perspective, this talk was for the 500 people in attendance–many of whom were people who knew of her and her work.

Takeaway: The more comfortable you are, the more natural you will come across. Even if it is a high pressure environment, what steps you can take to lower stress?

But she wasn’t too comfortable.
Brené told Tim, “If I’m not a little bit nauseous when I’m done, I probably did not show up like I should have shown up.”

Takeaway: If there is no feeling at all, that’s a bad signLearn to differentiate between irrational fears and the feeling of attempting something significant. Eliminate the first and use the second to focus and fuel you.

She demonstrated passion for and familiarity with her content.
Over her couple decades of research, writing, and teaching, Brené had no doubt spoken about vulnerability many times. Yet, she didn’t just pull out the talk she knew would be passable. She experimented! And this wasn’t a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experiment–this was an intentional choice driven by curiosity and undergirded by a foundation of knowledge.

Takeaway: Familiarity without passion is boring and lifeless. Passion without familiarity is shallow and disorganized. When you join the two, however, you have the potential for something amazing.

She focused less on what and how she was going to say something and more on why.
When asked how she prepared, Brené said, “So, when I rehearse in the traditional way… I get so prefrontal cortex. I get so wrapped up in ‘Oh, wasn’t I supposed to pause here? Wasn’t I supposed to do this there?’ that I am not connecting. And so for me it is: use images as the arc, understand what every image means to me and what I want to wrap around that image, and then require that the house lights are on so I can see people’s faces.”

Takeaway: Building on the last point, familiarity doesn’t necessarily mean memorization. If you are having to consciously reach into your mind to remember how exactly to say something, you lose presence and engagement in that moment.

Her goal was to make a connection with the people in the room.
It bears repeating because it is so remarkable for a video viewed over 21 million times–she did not realize it was being filmed! In fact, she says that she rarely allows her presentations to be taped. For her, it is all about the moment and connection with the audience.

Takeaway: Ideas, videos, images, posts, etc., that go viral often do so because they capture genuine moments. If you are giving a presentation to a group of people and they can tell that they aren’t your primary focus, the potential for a genuine moment goes down significantly.

She sought to be vulnerable.
She defines vulnerability in this way: “Uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Vulnerability is about the willingness to show up and be seen when you have zero control over the outcome.”

Takeaway: Genuine engagement, the exchange of ideas, and the building of relationships occur when we let down a bit of our guard. We become infinitely more relatable when we can say to our audience/congregation, “Me too.”

But she avoided being creepy.
There is, however, an important difference between vulnerability and oversharing. She tells Tim, “Vulnerability minus boundaries is not vulnerability. It can be desperation, it can be oversharing, it can be manipulation, it can be a lot of different things, but it’s not vulnerability.” She notes that it is not that there are things we cannot ever share, but rather we must do so in the appropriate contexts.

Takeaway: The quickest way to go from relatable to uncomfortable is to forget the boundaries of your context. For preachers especially, it is also the quickest way to make it about you (which is not the goal). As Nadia Bolz-Weber has said, “I always try to preach from my scars and not my wounds.”

Check out Brené’s new book Rising Strong.

Header image by Flickr user Steve Jurvetson. Used under Creative Commons License. Edited/Cropped from Original.

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