Bobby Umar is a motivational speaker, entrepreneur, brand marketer, and founder of Raeallan, a training and speaking company. Bobby has a few TEDx talks of his own under his belt (see TEDxUWO and TEDxUTSC), along with 20 years of experience coaching public speakers. We caught up with him to discuss the secrets of powerful public speaking.
Q. What are the three key ingredients to a successful TED talk?
A. Get personal: share personal history, let people know who you are and where you come from. Use imagery: having imagery can be a powerful motivator and connector. The visual aspect for me is personally important. Tell a story: It’s got to be about the story because within that, you have action, conflict, resolution, and some sort of moral. It’s a beginning to end journey that people will take with you.
Q. You said recently that ‘compassion is the ultimate investment in someone’s story’. How do you coach your speakers to invoke compassion among their audience?
A. I coach them to be real about who they are and what they believe. Every single person has a story, many want to share that story and most people just want to be heard. To relate to an audience, speakers must be real. I coach my speakers to consider the dark side of their story too – the fear, the doubt – and to really get to the root of the story, because that’s what makes it interesting. The more real people are, the more compassionate people will be to their point of view.
Q. What does it mean to ‘seduce’ an audience?
A. It means to get them to follow you, to trust you. I try to make my speakers very accessible. Like a guy in a café beside you that you can tell anything. For me, I want my audience to feel like they can come talk to me afterwards. Be accessible, use language they understand, meet them where they are.
Q. TED curator Chris Anderson said about a TED talk that you can’t write a book in 18 minutes but you can talk deeply about a couple of parts of one. How do you decide what to “unpack” about a speaker’s story?
A. I ask my speakers to think about three main things: What were you thinking? What were you feeling? And why should I care? It is the fine art of storytelling, you want to dig down into the details and connect how the smaller pieces move a larger story or idea forward.
Q. How do you know when to use, or not to use, visuals in a TED talk?
A. I’m personally a big fan of using visuals. They are an effective way to add structure to an idea, but I find that if you’re able to share your story in a focused way without getting side tracked then you don’t need visuals. If you’re talking about climbing Mount Everest, you should have a visual, but if you’re talking about being in prison, or international corruption, for example, you don’t need a visual because powerful language and descriptions will be enough.
Q. As a coach, do you ever worry about over-coaching? Where do you draw the line between encouraging a speaker to be coached and remain genuine?
A. The big thing is language. If I give my speakers words that they would never say, that’s when they lose authenticity. I ask them, ‘how would you say it?’ Understand their language and how they want to speak about something. I want them to be comfortable but still pushing themselves. I call it the growth zone, which is the place between comfort and panic, and where a speech becomes most impactful for an audience.
Q. Do these TED lessons apply in a corporate boardroom?
A. They apply greatly to the business world. The number one thing people invest in is people, and people are composed of stories and ideas. If you can use storytelling to connect with and resonate with people, you will have a positive effect. TEDx talks are about teaching an idea or concept and then persuading an audience to share it. The best way to use persuasion to connect ideas is to tell a story.
I used to work for cheese, Kraft Canada, and I would have to make a story out of cheese every month when I gave my monthly reports!
Bobby Umar has a degree in Engineering from McGill, an MBA from McMaster, and is an actor with a certificate from Second City’s renowned Advanced Conservatory Program. He is a regular keynote speaker on leadership and development and owns Raeallan, a coaching and group facilitation company. Bobby lives with his wife and two children in southern Ontario.