best practicesThe skill all powerful storytellers share — and why it’s more important now than ever

by TED Masterclass Team • September 30, 2021

To be human is to tell stories. Stories are how we make sense of the world and share our ideas, passions, and unique perspectives. This TED-Ed video shares how presentation literacy, a skill to improve public speaking, can transform storytelling into your superpower.

An impactful story stays with your audience long after you’ve told it. For thousands of years humans have shared stories that ignite a “spark” in their audience and evoke a sense of empathy, trust, and connection. Listeners pass powerful messages along, spreading interesting ideas and stories far and wide.

The importance of presentation literacy

While storytelling remains as critical as ever, the qualities of an impactful story have had to evolve to continue to captivate in our modern world. As the speed at which information and headlines are shared has accelerated, the average attention span has been reduced to just eight seconds. Eight seconds! In our current media environment it now requires more than words to captivate people. This is where presentation literacy comes into play.

Touted as “a core skill of the 21st century”, presentation literacy can be a critical skill to leverage in your career. It requires us to create a compelling story that engages the audience’s other senses too, using high-resolution pictures, videos, or music. Often, it’s a combination of all of the above in addition to words, spelled out and spoken, that make a story truly shine.

In mastering presentation literacy, a storyteller ushers in a clear vision, replete with supplementary audiovisual cues to convey a message or, perhaps, convince others of it. While honing presentation literacy is immensely rewarding, the idea of putting it to practice on the stage can be terrifying to many people.

What presentation literacy can teach you

Many powerful speakers have struggled with stage anxiety. Even some acclaimed TED speakers, as shared by TED curator Chris Anderson, aren’t exempt from this: Monica Lewinsky thought she wasn’t worthy of a spot on the TED stage; Jacqueline Novogratz resisted public speaking in her younger years; and even Elon Musk wasn’t reputed as a “public speaker.” And yet, their TED Talks have been collectively viewed over 60 million times.

These speakers were able to cast aside their insecurities to tell a story that they wanted others to hear. And as a result, they have amassed millions of views and received critical acclaim among their colleagues and many of those who’ve listened to their Talks.

Mastering public speaking and presentation literacy isn’t just limited to speaking onstage. The skill is also valuable in your everyday life. It can teach you how to communicate with others effectively, articulate your ideas clearly, and speak with confidence, whether to colleagues, new acquaintances, family, or friends.

Innovating storytelling

Technology has opened up avenues that allow us to tell our stories in myriad ways. Anderson explains, “we live in an age where you don’t have to be able to speak to thousands of people at a time to have an outsized impact. It could just be you talking intimately to a video camera, and letting the Internet do the rest.”

The hardest part is plucking up the courage to try. We’re ready when you are: To learn how to hone your presentation literacy skills and master public speaking, visit our website, TED Masterclass. Our course guides you through the storytelling process, so you can present your most pressing ideas clearly, concisely, and impactfully.

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TED Masterclass Team

We're the team behind TED's official public speaking course, TED Masterclass. We want to give you resources that will empower you to share your idea or story.

© 2021 TED Conferences, LLC. All rights reserved. Please note that the TED Talks Usage policy does not apply to this content and is not subject to our creative commons license.

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