Chris Anderson (TED Curator) on Effective Communication

Chris Anderson is the curator of the TED Conference, which I have referred to numerous times, and which is the source of the astoundingly popular TED Talks available online for free. In an interview with Charlie Rose, he discusses a bit of the history behind TED as well as the 18-minute format and other things. About half way through the interview, Charlie Rose asks a very poignant question: "What have you learned about the ability to communicate?" Chris's response contains a number of important points for everyone who needs to communicate important information, especially teachers.

Tell Dramatic Stories

The TED Talks format resembles the ancient practice of telling stories around a campfire. For ages before modern civilization, families and tribes would gather around a campfire and share stories that would connect on a deep level with each other. These stories, he says, "send fireworks exploding in the brains of everyone in the audience."

Ancient civilizations told dramatic stories around the campfire

Ancient Storytelling – Photo Credit: Flickr User ihave3kids

How different from the gazed looks often found on the faces of high school and college students! Could telling stories be an answer to improving the attention of students in the classroom? In his book, Brain Rules, John Medina explains that stories elicit emotions which have a large impact on retention. What is so impressive about TED, is that these 18 minute talks are viewed hundreds of thousands of times a day by people all over the world. Now that is a captive audience! Stories can be used in the classroom to grab attention, illustrate a point, or encourage reflective thinking.

Be Transparent

Chris says that those who want to puff themselves up tend to "switch off the audience." But people who allow themselves to feel vulnerable, who are honest and transparent about who they are, look audience members in the eye, and share their passion are able to connect with their audience. This level of connection, he suggests, actually involves neurons firing in the audience member which mirror the neurons in the speaker.

Teachers expend enormous amounts of effort trying to help their students give a damn and see things from their point of view. Unfortunately, this often manifests itself in the form of hour long lectures about a topic that students struggle to relate to. Relinquishing the desire to appear intelligent and academic allows you to become accessible to those you are trying to teach.


"A lot of people are brilliant but get lost in jargon." Empathy is a necessary characteristic for a presenter to have if he or she wants to connect to and communicate with an audience. Most effective presenters have developed the skill of simplifying their material so that it is clear enough for everyone to understand it without dumbing it down too much. Similarly, teachers must have the presence of mind to know when they are using vocabulary that is above the comprehension level of those they are teaching, and the ability to rephrase the information using words appropriate to the experience and knowledge of their students.

You can view the entire interview here: