Akash Karia Explains: How to Give a TED Talk

Akash Karia is a communications coach who has trained over 80,000 people worldwide, from bankers in Hong Kong to senior executives in Switzerland to government members in Dubai.

He has twice been ranked the #1 Most Popular Business & Money author on Amazon and his books have been translated into Italian, Korean and Japanese. His books can be found on Amazon here: http://viewauthor.at/Akash


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Alzay Calhoun: Hey everybody, it's Alzay Calhoun with Coveted Consultant. And today I'm here with Akash Karia. And today, I wanted to interview Akash specifically because he's written a number of books that talk about how to be a TED speaker, or how to tell a story from a TED point of view. It's hard to find a business leader that does not appreciate the TED brand, and it's hard to find a business leader who doesn't want to be a TED speaker at some point in their career. So he's got some expertise in this space, and I want to leverage his knowledge in the topic today to see if we can't learn something from him.

So first, let me welcome him. Akash, how are you doing today, sir?

Akash Karia: I'm doing excellent, thank you so much for having me!

Alzay Calhoun: Yes sir. Wonderful to have you. Let's start at the beginning so people can kind of learn something about you. If someone's not familiar with you, where would you tell them to go to get a sense of who you are and what you do?

Akash Karia: Excellent. My name is Akash, and I'm a professional speaker and author. And specifically, what I do is I help brands communicate their message through storytelling. I am a storytelling consultant for governments and for Fortune 500 companies. If anyone hasn't come across my work, the best place to start would be with my website, where I have a ton of free material, at akashkaria.com. That is akashkaria.com. When you go there, you can enter your email address and get about three hundred dollars' worth of free material. You can also go to amazon.com, type in 'Akash Karia,' and you'll see some of my best selling books, sold for about two to three dollars, so it's the price of a cup of coffee. But some of the best books on public speaking and storytelling, from what readers tell me.

Alzay Calhoun: So tell me about some of the big ideas that connect your work, some of the common themes that are present in the work you do.

Akash Karia: Right. The one thing that I have focused on in my life is learning how to communicate more effectively, and getting other people to come over to your way of thinking.

I'll tell you a bit of my background, which is, I was a very, very shy individual when I was in high school. I was the kid who would sit at the back of the class and not say a single word because I lacked the self-confidence to do so. And I always went through looking at all these people who were incredibly charismatic - you know the kind of people who were just born with charisma? Well, I hated them, too, because I wasn't one of them. One of the things that I started doing was, I started to model what they were doing, to look at specifically, how were they walking? How were they talking? How were they speaking? What were they saying? How did they hold themselves? And I would go ahead and then replicate that within myself so that I could become more confident, more charismatic, I could develop a greater social circle.

Now, that was when I ventured into public speaking, because public speaking is the best, most effective way of reaching out to a large number of people and, using your personality, using your methods to influence them. And I started studying the art of public speaking, which naturally led me to storytelling, because the best way to be a great public speaker is to be an amazing storyteller. And then that has expanded into storytelling for brands. How can brands and companies use storytelling to get their message across to consumers and to build brand loyalty?

So the common themes that connect my work are, in one word, communication, but more specifically, public speaking and storytelling.

Alzay Calhoun: So for a business leader who is trying to craft a story, and has no idea where to start, because they've been trained that storytelling doesn't belong in business, where should they even begin to think about creating a story of their own?

Akash Karia: When I talk to business leaders, one of the things is, number one, they don't know how to create a story, and number two, they don't know where to find a story. Is that something that you encounter in your work? That number one, they don't know how to create a story, and number two, they don't know what story to use? Is that something that you come across?

Alzay Calhoun: Yeah, very much so. Very much so.

Akash Karia: All right, so let's tackle number one, where to get the story. Now, when we talk about stories, the best way to find stories is within your personal life. Every experience that you've had is ingredients for a great story that you can use. As a leader, you can talk about everything from how you started working at the organization, the challenges that you faced, the difficulties that you had and how you overcame those. For a company that would be how the company started, what challenges and difficulties it faced, and how it overcame them. You can also have stories from customers' perspectives. So stories are found from all the experiences that the company and the leader have had. So we have stories in our daily lives, and it's just a matter of looking at, what experiences do I have that I can then transform into a story?

Now that leads to the second question. How do I create a story? What exactly is a story? So, I'm going to turn this around to you for a second and ask you what is your definition of a story?

Alzay Calhoun: A story, in my definition, a story is something that you use to engage an audience to take an action.

Akash Karia: Perfect. Now, it's something that you use to take an action. I would put that specifically as a story is something is an element that has five different pillars. Now, those five pillars are what make the story. Now, these are the five pillars of story telling.

Number one: Every story must have a character. So think of - Have you watched "Titanic"?

Alzay Calhoun: Yeah.

Akash Karia: All right. Who are the characters in "Titanic"?

Alzay Calhoun: Uh, I can't remember their names, but it's a couple. It's a young lady and it's a young man.

Akash Karia: Exactly. We have Jack, and we have Rose. It's a couple - so we have characters. And the next part of storytelling is the characters have to overcome some kind of a conflict, or some kind of difficulty. Now, the conflict is the most important part of the story, and that's what you need to be looking for within your story.

Now, the reason the conflict is important is because, if you don't have a conflict in the story, then what happens? There's no curiosity. Imagine, if in "Titanic," Jack and Rose met, and then they lived happily ever after. Would that be a story that many people would go watch?

Alzay Calhoun: No, it's not interesting.

Akash Karia: No. It's the conflict that keeps you hooked. In business stories as well, stories about struggle, stories about overcoming difficulties, those are what create inspiring tales for people to share. So you want to have a story that has some kind of conflict, some kind of difficulty, some kind of struggle. And I would say that the majority of your story should be focused on building up the conflict, building up that tension, building up that suspense, so that people want to know what happens next.

Now, the third party of the story is this. You've got a character who goes through some conflict. Next, they encounter something that is called the spark. The spark. What is the spark? The spark is very simple. The spark is the wisdom, the idea, or the product that finally allows the character to overcome the conflict that they were facing. Now, over here, I'll go and I'll give you a different example. Have you heard of the Jared Fogle Subway story?

Alzay Calhoun: No, that's new to me.

Akash Karia: All right. Now, before I share this with you, the only reason that I'm sharing this is because there's statistics behind the power of storytelling with this particular brand, with this particular story.

Jared Fogle, back then, was this overweight student at Indiana University, and he'd been struggling to lose weight. So we have the character, who is Jared Fogle, we have the conflict, where he's overweight and trying to lose weight. He goes on various different diets but keeps failing. Next, he encounters the spark, the wisdom, the idea, or the product that allows him to overcome the difficulty that he was facing. In this case, the spark turned out to be Subway sandwiches. Subway, at that point in time, had this campaign called "Seven Under Six," which basically was, we have seven sandwiches with under six grams of fat. Pretty good advert, right?

Alzay Calhoun: Right.

Akash Karia: But what they found was, when Jared Fogle came into the picture, and he went on the Subway diet, he took all these sandwiches and he'd eat these Subway sandwiches, he ended up losing weight. Now what Subway did, was they took that story, and instead of the "Seven Under Six" campaign, they put his face and his story as the national campaign. So the national campaign became the Jared Fogle story. Guy, overweight, discovers Subway sandwiches, loses weight. And do you know what happened to Subway sales? Could you guess?

Alzay Calhoun: They went up.

Akash Karia: By how much? Approximately, percentage-wise.

Alzay Calhoun: Let's say fifty percent.

Akash Karia: How much?

Alzay Calhoun: Fifty percent. Five zero.

Akash Karia: Fifty. Well, that was a bit too much. It went up by twenty percent. Twenty percent! The moment they put the Jared Fogle story into the picture, and substituted the statistical "Seven Under Six" campaign with this story about Jared Fogle, sales went up by twenty percent. When Jared Fogle was removed from the national campaign, sales went down. When they put him back into the picture, sales went up.

Now, what is the spark? We said a story has five different elements. Number one is a character, where you have Jared Fogle. Number two is a conflict, where he's trying to lose weight but failing. Number three is the spark. This is the idea or the product that you as an organization or you as a leader are pitching. That is what allows the character to overcome that conflict. And in this case, the spark was Subway sandwiches.

The fourth element of the story is what we call resolution. The resolution is the change in the character. What was the change that took place as a result of the character using the spark or the idea or the product that you pitched to him or her? In this case, the change or the resolution in Jared Fogle was that he lost weight.

Final element of the story is the take away message. The takeaway message is, what is it, in one line, that you want your audience members to think, feel, or do differently? I will run you through the "Titanic" story with the five pillars that we've covered: characters, conflict, spark, resolution, take away message.

So, "Titanic." Number one, characters: Jack and Rose. Number two, conflict. What's the conflict in "Titanic"?

Alzay Calhoun: The sinking ship.

Akash Karia: Yup. There's a sinking ship, are they going to live, are they going to die, that's what creates the suspect.

Number three is the spark. What is it that finally allows at least one of them to overcome that conflict?

Alzay Calhoun: Oh, I can't remember. It's the lifeboat? Is that right?

Akash Karia: Yes, they have a lifeboat, or a life raft, or a piece of wood that they discover that allows one of them to live.

Next, the resolution, the change in the character. So the change in the character was, this time around, Jack dies, and Rose lives.

Take away message, the thing that the film was trying to portray. Love lasts forever.

Now, let's go to the Jared Fogle story. Number one, characters. We have Jared Fogle. Number two, conflict. Trying to lose weight, but failing. Trying to lose weight, but failing, that's a big struggle. Number three, spark, this is what you're- this is the idea or wisdom that allows the character to overcome the conflict. What was the spark in this case? Subway sandwiches. Four, change in character. The change in character this time around was Jared Fogle ends up losing weight. Fifth, take away message. In this case the take away message was very implicit, which is, Subway sandwiches are so healthy, they will allow you to lose weight.

As a business leader or an organization, what you want to do is look for stories that follow this particular pattern, this five pillars. Once you build your story around these five pillars, with the conflict being the thing that holds it together, that creates the tension, you're going to create an irresistible story that customers will love and that people will buy into. Does that make sense?

Alzay Calhoun: It does make sense. It does make sense. As you clearly explained in that framework, and thank you for that, we've got these five pillars. If I'm a business leader and I aspire to be a TED speaker someday, is the framing of the story the same way, or is there anything different about these thought leadership-building TED talks?



Akash Karia: What goes into a TED talk is very many different things. Number one, you need a message that you are incredibly passionate. A TED talk is you sharing your life's message, some of the most profound insights that you've discovered, within eighteen minutes. The question that you should be asking is, what is that one insight or that one piece of wisdom that I've discovered that would add value to my audience? That's the question you need to ask. What is that message that I want to share?

Once you have that message, you need to build a presentation around it. And the presentation for TED is generally eighteen minutes. I have a framework for building presentations. I call it the ABCC framework, which is very simply.

The A stands for Attention-grabbing opening. Every presentation needs not just an opening, it needs an attention-grabbing opening. There's two great ways of opening a TED talk, or any presentation for that matter. Number one is opening with a question. A question is a great way to create a knowledge gap. Knowledge gap, have you heard of what that is?

Alzay Calhoun: Yes.

Akash Karia: All right. A knowledge gap is basically a gap between what the audience knows and what they don't know. Any time you ask a question, you create this knowledge gap. That knowledge gap then creates curiosity, through which you can then feed in information. So opening with a question is an amazing way of opening a TED talk.

Second way of opening a presentation is with a story. If you watch some TED talks, you will see that storytelling is a great way to begin a presentation. One of their speakers can start with something like, "It was March 1989, and I was out camping with my parents, when suddenly..." That very opening will hook people in, because people are hard wired to listen to stories. We pay attention to stories. We love stories. We can resist statistics, we can resist sales pitches, but no one can resist a well-told story.

You have the ABCCs. A, Attention-grabbing opening. B, that's the Body of your presentation. In the body of your presentation, you want to have some stories that back up the message that you're giving, some statistics, you want maybe some analogies, but you want to have the main insight from your message within that body. What I say is, every time you make a point, you want to back it up with something called an anchor. An anchor is simply a device that you use to tie the points to the listener's memory so that the point does not fade away. One example of an anchor is a story. Another one is an analogy. A third one is an anecdote. A fourth one is a case study, an example, a research study, a statistic. Every time you make a point, you want to make sure that there's something backing that point up, so that the point is tied to the listener's memory.

Next, ABCC. The next C is the Conclusion. This is where you indicate that you're wrapping up. The best way to indicate that you're wrapping up is to use something called a flag. A flag is very simple. A flag is simply a word or a phrase that you use that signals to your audience that you're coming to the end of your presentation. Do you know that when people say, "In conclusion," the audience starts paying a lot more attention?

Alzay Calhoun: Right.

Akash Karia: In conclusion is one of those flags. To wrap it up. To summarize. Overall. All of these are flags that signal that you're coming to the end of your presentation.

Final C. ABCC. This is the Call to action. This is the thing that most people forget in their TED talks. The call to action is: What is it that you want your audience members to think, feel, or do differently as a result of your presentation? Make that very clear. The last thing that you say is this call to action, it is letting them know what is it that they should think, feel, or do differently?

Within this ABCC framework, you want to sprinkle in lots of stories, lots of examples, that would make sure that you keep your audience engaged and entertained throughout the presentation.

Alzay Calhoun: Akash, that's excellent. Truly. Much appreciated.

Akash Karia: Thank you.

Alzay Calhoun: That's a very clear framework! I don't have anything else to add to that. Understood, so let me just move on. As a business, with these frameworks that you have, what do you have coming up next? What are the big projects that you and your business are working on?

Akash Karia: Right now, what I'm doing is, I'm on a consulting world tour. I'm traveling around the world working with organizations and Fortune 500 companies, to help them use these frameworks to create better stories for internal presentations, for public speaking, as well as for external marketing. Right now I'm talking to you from Texas! I am originally from Tanzania, in East Africa. I've traveled to Texas for a consulting assignment. Next I'm heading to Hong Kong to work with some organizations there, to help them build better stories and make sure that their executives are better storytellers and communicators.

The good project that I'm working on right now is writing my next book, which is on emotional mastery. Basically, how do you master your emotions in such a way that you're able to control not just how you feel, but also control how the other person feels, whether it's in a social situation or it's in a public situation.

Alzay Calhoun: Excellent, excellent. If someone is interested in working with you and being part of your world tour, how should they reach out to you? What's the best way to contact you?

Akash Karia: The best way to reach out to be would be via email, akash@akashkaria.com, or the other email that you can access me on is akash.speaker@gmail.com. You can also get in touch via my website, akashkaria.com, and you can check out some of my books. Check out the sort of stuff that I write, learn more about my frameworks and the tools and techniques that I use to teach clients, on Amazon. Amazon.com, Akash Karia, that should get you all of my books.

Alzay Calhoun: Wonderful, wonderful. Akash, thank you so much for your time today. You've done an excellent job giving structure to both concepts today, both from a general storytelling framework and then also from a TED talk framework. Thank you, it's much appreciated.

Akash Karia: Thank you, thank you very much. Appreciate that.

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