This article will explain how a 10 minute TED talk pulled the wool over the eyes of 30 million people, is still doing it, and has been getting away with it for more than six years.
This article is a part of a lesson series on customer behavior, branding, perceived value, business philosophy and more. If you’re interested in reading more like this, you can join my Patreon.
Although at first glance the observations made here appear to be casual, the philosophy/approach employed here has much deeper meaning and importance in business context, which would be discussed towards the end.
Now, there is something important I want to ask you to do. Instead of the original speaker, I want you to imagine you gave this talk at TED/ in your class… and that I’m reviewing what you said. Every time I refer to the speaker, I want you to imagine I’m talking about you. I will tell you why at the end of this lesson.
The talk is titled “How to Speak so People Will Listen”, and it’s by a speaker called Julian Treasure. It is 10 minutes long and has 30 million views at the time of writing this. This makes it one of the most viewed TED talks on YouTube. For comparison, Elon Musk’s talk has only 18 million views.
I will post the video at the bottom for reference.
I had a revelation a few months ago that changed my whole perception of reality. It was like waking up from a dream. It opened my eyes to so many things that I had been blind to before. Now I’m trying to teach them to others (not out of altruism, but because I want to get rich, and this is the most valuable thing I have to offer that I am passionate about). I have published this as a teaser article/ trailer. My hope is that this would be enough proof of the value of the whole series and it would be enough proof to convince you to purchase it.
I am pretty sure the first time I watched this video was a couple of years ago. I probably thought about the contents of this speech as some kind of secret wisdom… observations that had not been made until this confident, intelligent and well-dressed speaker had made them. I probably pictured him among the wise men who had it all figured out… who have reached the pinnacle of their careers… their wisdom not to be shaken by anyone else. I was only to try my best to understand them, as opposed to questioning them.
When I stumbled upon this video for the second time after my revelations, it blew my mind completely. It was like watching how a magic trick is being performed. I realized that almost every single thing the speaker, Julian Treasure said in this video were outright lies. Yet I had been totally blind to them before. It was quite an eye opening and fascinating experience to finally see them.
Now, before we begin, I want to make it clear that my intention is not to paint Julian Treasure or TED in a bad light. I am not trying to expose anyone. I genuinely believe Treasure did not aim to trick his audience anymore than he tricked himself into believing the contents of his speech. What I aim to do is take you through the exact mental journey/thought process that I had when I watched this video recently.
The video starts with Julian Treasure; sharply dressed, well built, good posture, his bald head shining under the lights. His voice is deep but not too much, smooth, confident, and British. It lacks hesitation — commands authority.
Then we see the audience; not too huge a couple of hundred people, mostly middle-aged intellectuals, sitting in dim light.
The speaker begins by introducing a concept he calls “The Seven Deadly Sins of Speaking”. He claims committing one or more of these sins will make people not want to listen to you. Without dragging you on for any longer, I will get right into analyzing them one by one.
“Speaking ill of somebody who is not present” is how he describes it. He advises us to not speak gossip, because according to him, it will get people to stop listening to you. He claims the reason people don’t like to listen to gossip is because they know they are going to be your next target.
The first feeling you get when you hear the speaker mentions this is the feeling of guilt. You become self conscious about the times that you have spoken what could be considered as gossip. I felt the same. Do I speak ill of people behind their backs? Am I a bad speaker?
But then it hit me. Sure, I felt like a bad person for talking gossip, but this speech is not supposed to be about that. It’s not about how to be an ethical/morally good speaker. It’s about how to get people to listen.
And when I asked myself the question “Do people really stop listening to me when I talk gossip”, the answer I could give myself was no. It seemed obvious. Everybody loves to listen to gossip. Sure, nobody would admit to it, but we are all guilty of it. Who wouldn’t want to hear some juicy story about their boss’s secret affair, or the ongoing divorce of the coworker they absolutely hate?
Sure, I can see someone stop listening to gossip at some point (assuming they realize that is what they are doing) because they got disgusted of themselves for being a trashy person. But not a lot of people realize what they are doing is listening to gossip… or admit it. I can name a few instances where I listened to stories about other people’s lives with much intereset, which I now realize was grade-A gossip.
A huge part of magazine/media industry is based on people’s appeal for gossip! If you Google top gossip magazines and do a bit of research (or use your common sense), you will find out that millions of people read them everyday.
I also realized that the reason Treasure gives as to why people hate listening to gossip is inherently flawed and proves his claim is wrong. If people showed no interest listening to gossip, why would you fear any gossip made about you? Won’t you be able to find comfort in the fact that nobody would listen to it? Also, even if we forget that for a moment, how does you not listening to gossip stop others from gossiping about you? At least when you are there listening to them, you give them less time to talk about you behind your back.
Gossip is known to spread like wildfire. Wildfires spread fast. This is because a tree next to a one on fire loves to catch on fire as well. Just like that, gossips travel from the speaker to the listener quite easily, because they love to listen.
It might be unethical, immoral, unproductive etc, but people do listen to gossip, and they are not going to stop any time soon.
“It’s very hard to listen to somebody if you know that you’re being judged”, says Mr. Treasure, showing an image of Lady Justice. Yes, it is hard to listen to someone who judges you… it’s unpleasant.
The first thing that came to my mind when I saw the image of the of Lady Justice was an actual judge giving verdict in court. Then I realized, people on trial don’t ignore the words of the judge, although being judged is unpleasant. As a matter of fact, if I was on trial, I would be paying attention to every word that comes out of the judge’s mouth. Maybe that’s not exactly what the speaker meant, I thought. Maybe I shouldn’t take the literal meaning of the word of it.
So I tried to imagine a different scenario, a more ordinary one. A teacher grading my assignment? My drill sergeant telling me off? My partner commenting on my fashion choice? A stranger calling me an a**hole? My boss calling me an idiot? Gordon Ramsay telling me I’m a useless chef? My arch nemesis calling me a coward?
In all of these scenarios I could see myself getting angry, sad or miserable. Of course, I can absolutely see myself hating the person speaking to me.
However, I could not imagine myself not listening to a person because they judged me. Maybe I will avoid them depending on what kind of role they play in my life… but if someone says something judgmental to me, they would be sure to get my attention, and even make me remember it for a long time.
Also, if the speaker was right, wouldn’t that put a stop to verbal bullying/racism? The issue would take care of itself. Bullies/racists would be completely harmless, always getting ignored by their would-have-been victims. Don’t they know that people just don’t listen to judgmental comments?
What the audience is actually hearing is, “if you feel like you have been judgmental to someone when you spoke to them, then you are kind of a bad person/ you should feel bad”. And obviously, everyone feels like that to some extent. It is this feeling of guilt that acts as the façade for the flaws in the speaker’s content (more explanations in the original full lesson). By the time you have finished reading this lesson, you would realize that most Mr. Treasure had been doing on stage had been judging his audience, thus proving himself wrong about people not listening to judgmental speakers.
People hate listening to people who are negative, claims Mr. Treasure.
The speaker says that his mother, in the last years of her life became very negative. As an example he quotes how one time when he told her that it’s October the 1st, she had said “I know, isn’t it dreadful”. First of all, I bet most people would feel dreadful on any day of the month if they were living the last days of their life (assuming they were aware of it). Second of all, the fact that he is relating this story to us from memory proves that he was listening. Third of all, if she was speaking to someone who shared her opinions/ attitude, they would have agreed with her and added to the conversation. Fourth of all, didn’t he just judge his dead mom, complain about her (fourth sin) and speak ill of her where she is not present (admittedly as a joke)? Still, people in the audience seemed to be tuned in just fine (except for one lucky guy who appeared to have fallen asleep).
So this speech itself is proof that the arguments presented are flawed.
On a side note, I really hope my children won’t deny listening to me in my deathbed because they caught me committing one of Treasure’s seven deadly sins of speaking. If that is to happen, it would be because I had been a terrible parent and they hate my guts.
Moreover, anyone who has ever experienced depression would know that it makes you focus more on negative things around you, like negative NEWS. Fore more information, checkout this article by someone called Kendra Cherry on what she calls “the negativity bias”, which would have you thinking people only listen to negative things.
By the way, when you follow my lesson series you will learn/understand how negativity and positivity are both misleading approaches to judge whether an audience would find a piece of content appealing.
Note: Since the purpose of this article is only as a teaser/ trailer to provide proof of value of the lesson series and entice you to enroll in it, I’m going to keep this short. Also, that way, I figured, you would be more curious to learn about the rest. Therefore (because I notice I have already written quite a lot about the first three points), for the points mentioned in the rest of Mr. Treasure’s talk, instead of going into detail, I’m only going to briefly mention examples that prove them wrong.
According to the speaker, nobody likes to listen to people who complain.
He says the English love to complain about everything… be it politics, sports, or the weather. He calls it their national sport.
If it’s so popular that you call it your national sport, surely more than one side must be playing it, meaning people do listen to these complainers and even complain back? It could be to make small talk, out of politeness, or genuinely being passionate complainers themselves.
All these guilt trips create an unrealistic image in your head… making you discard all the instances that go against the rule as invalid. And that’s not going to help your future in getting people to listen to you.
It’s quite possible to mistakenly assume that people don’t listen to complaints. But it’s simply not true. When Treasure says these words in his judgmental tone (like a wise mentor who you disappointed by your actions), your mind makes you feel guilty. It takes inspiration from a past memory to draw a half-imaginary scenario in your head where you’re talking to your friend/ coworker and you’re complaining like a whiny little crybaby/ grumpy old man.
Thinking back about the times you complained makes you feel guilty. But what if that is what you have to do at the moment… to make a valid complaint? What are you supposed to do? Keep it to yourself? Maybe you want to file a complaint at the police about something. Thankfully Treasure is wrong and the police do listen to the complaints they get (but maybe not act on them, but that’s a different issue).
You might feel guilty about your complaints that you fear are unreasonable, but people do listen to complaints.
Remember that one time in Hell’s Kitchen when a customer complained about the food to Jean Philippe, but then Gordon Ramsay overhead them? And then he proceeded to verbally destroy the customer? I bet he hoped Ramsay wasn’t listening, as the words came out of his mouth. However, unfortunately for that person, Treasure was again wrong, and people do listen to complaints.
By the way, totalitarian regimes and dictators would absolutely love a population who doesn’t complain out of the fear of nobody listening.
Also, it’s pretty common for most late night tv show/ morning talk show hosts to complain about current events. People listen to them everyday for hours.
Judges, cops, teachers listen to them all the time. They might not like it, but they have to do it. Again, the speaker relies on your feeling of guilt of trying to come up with excuses for your actions instead of taking responsibility for them. We all assume we are guilty of that crime to some extent.
What about when you do have a valid excuse? Keep it to yourself?
How do you know someone is exaggerating about something until later when you find out they were? Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes made exaggerated claims about her company’s technology and capability to revolutionize the healthcare industry. People listened to her. For many years. Rich people. Educated people. Ordinary people. She raised more than $700 million for her company. People only found out about her exaggerations years later in 2015 when a Stanford Professor raised concerns which ultimately led to her exposure.
MLM recruiters make exaggerated claims about income all the time. Millions of people listen to them and believe them.
The speaker says this sin can get to a point where you are outright LYING! “Nobody likes to listen to a liar”, he says. But how do you know if someone is lying to you before you listen to them? Or even after you listen to them? Lying has been done throughout the history of mankind. We have all done it. People listen to and believe lies everyday. Politicians, scammers, gaslighting partners, bad friends, good friends planning surprise parties for you.. all these people are all known to lie. And we have all listened to them and believed them dearly at some point of our lives.
Steve Harvey announced on stage that the winner of Miss Universe 2015 was Miss Columbia (which was a lie). If Mr. Treasure was right, Mr. Harvey wouldn’t have had anything to worry about, because who would listen to a lie?
“Bombarding people with biased opinions on a certain topic” is how he puts it. Again, politicians, political commenters, political analysts, fake news creators, they all do this all the time. There’s always people who listen to them religiously. I have done it. You have done it. We don’t want to admit it.
The arguments Mr. Treasure makes do sound true when you are engulfed by your own guilt of being a poor speaker, but they simply are not in the real world. Didn’t both Donald Trump and Joe Biden both get millions of people to listen to their speeches which I’m sure included complaining, negativity, exaggerations and let’s be honest some lies?
The speaker’s advise on speech are like saying “You want to come up with a product that would sell worldwide in millions? Make sure it’s healthy.” This sounds right, but it’s misleading. Most fast food are quite unhealthy. People know this. But they still buy. Cigarettes give cancer… they say that on the packaging! But people still buy. Now, have some people stopped eating fast food and smoking because of health concerns? Yes, I’m sure millions have. But your theory doesn’t explain the behavior of the ones who haven’t. Mine does, as you will learn when you follow the lesson series.
He introduces something called HAIL which stands for what he calls the foundation of powerful speech, and also just happens to mean “to greet or acclaim enthusiastically”. How convenient. Sounds almost like he came up with the acronym first and then crammed/stretched the subject matter to fit it (Creed from The Office comes to mind).
“Being clear and straight. Not using deception and lies.” Read what I wrote about lying.
“Being yourself and not imitating a non-genuine persona.” Isn’t this the exact opposite of what he has been preaching so far? What if I’m a judgmental person who loves to gossip and complain? A proper conundrum.
“Be your word. Do what you say. Be trustworthy, and take responsibility.“ Read what I wrote about lying and excuses.
“Wishing people well. No judgement.” Read what I wrote about judgment.
Toolbox of Speech
Finally he talks about what he calls the toolbox of speech, the voice. These function as party tricks where he demonstrates talking in different styles to impress the audience, and also tap in to their insecurity about not having a strong commanding voice when speaking in public. I’m going to skip over this except for a couple of points.
“Talk from your chest, not the nose or throat. We vote for the politicians with lower voices. People associate depth with power and authority.”
This is a tricky one, because there is some truth in it. Treasure says we vote for politicians with deep voices. The first thought I got was, what about what they are actually saying? Wouldn’t that matter more? Don’t we listen to our mothers, who are women, who are known to have less deeper voices than men? We do. However, this speech itself is proof that you can get away with saying just about anything as long as you sound good. Apparently Elizabeth Holmes used a fake deep voice in public because she believed it would make people trust her more. I guess it worked. But then again, people listen to female comedians with high pitched voices (eg. Maria Bamford) for hours, so there’s that. Anyway, this is more complex than what can be discussed here, as you would learn in later lessons like Business Lessons From the Homeless.
“Talking with enthusiasm, having a rhythmic voice, and not being monotonic like a robot.”
At first glance, it might sound plausible that a monotonic voice will always sound boring and people will get tired of it fast. However, comedians like Mitch Hedberg and Steven Wright famously spoke in monotonic voices and had people listening to them for hours. In fact, the voice was a part of the appeal. Stephen Hawking used a monotonic voice box to speak for many years until his death. Yet, when he spoke, people treated his words like gospel. Again, this is tapping on to your insecurity of having a dreary monotonic speaking voice.
Also, doesn’t purposefully changing the way you naturally speak go against his own principle of authenticity (being yourself and not imitating a non-genuine persona)? Surely the audience will make the connection/ notice the conflict.
However, as you will learn in lessons like “One Man’s God Is Another Man’s Fool”, guilt can make people blind to what is right in front of their eyes.
At this point, he could say that being too attractive would stop people listening to you, because they would feel intimidated by your superior looks, and people would still write that down. And for the next point he could say people would not listen to you if you are too unattractive, because, well, they are not attracted to you, and people would write that down as well. By the way, I’m sure both of those have happened to someone in some context, but what I’m getting at is this information has no value as advise on how to get people to listen to what you say.
Also, if we are being technical, for anyone to know if somebody is gossiping/judging/lying etc to them, they have to listen to what they are saying first. Maybe they realize it in the first minute, maybe after an hour, or even several days. Either way, the speaker would have got their audience to listen to what they spoke.
Also, if you stop for a moment and think about it, you can’t have natural interactions with people if you try to abide by Treasure’s rules. Just think about it. You’d have to keep a lot of things to yourself if you were to try to avoid breaking any of his guidelines.
When you are devoid of the guilt of committing the speaker’s sins, the whole speech amounts to a simple piece of entertainment using cheeky puns/ dad jokes and weak attempts at sounding profound/deep. It’s almost comical.
The use of the word “blamethrower” to describe people who love to give excuses… a play on the words blame and flamethrower. How the four factors in “the foundation of powerful speech” conveniently combine to make the acronym HAIL, which is a pronounceable word and also has a meaning related to talking/speech. How he refers to talking loudly all the time as “sodcasting”… a play on the words sod and podcasting.
In the last minute of his speech, after saying that at the moment people are committing most of the seven deadly sins (committing the sin of judgment himself by doing that and thereby proving himself wrong because it didn’t make people stop listening to him), he says “If everyone took an extra minute to think before speaking, the world would be such a better place”. This sounds very profound/ deep but is embarrassingly impractical for so many reasons I’m sure you can think of right away.
But you can tell the audience is tuned right into his frequency, because they laugh at every joke he makes and responds with loud applause and whistles at the end. And the comment section is completely oblivious to what is happening too.
It’s quite ironic how most of these comments come so close to realizing the truth but miss it. If I was Julian Treasure, I would have had TED delete some of them out of the fear of being exposed.
He gets the audience to participate in a lip warmup exercise towards the end which I’m not going to get into at the moment.
The Blind Leading the Blind
However, I should I mention that I refuse to believe Treasure tricked his audience on purpose. I am convinced that he believes in what he preaches. He probably did the warm ups himself before coming on stage that day. The reason I say this is because when you look at this TED talk from his perspective, it’s a big deal that can boost his whole career (it probably did, 30 million views is huge!). I don’t think he would risk losing that opportunity, his reputation and his credibility by presenting content that he didn’t believe to be bulletproof.
I can only imagine the panic attack he would have had if he had realized the
chinks gaping holes in the armor of his whole presentation on the night before this talk while practicing in front of the mirror in his hotel room. Yikes! Just thinking about it gives me stomach cramps.
On a side note, I realized that if it was the case that Mr. Treasure had been challenged by his friends to go on stage, talk some nonsense, convince a bunch of middle aged academics to do some silly noises with their mouths and get away with it too as joke, he would have done brilliantly well.
Now, to give you an idea about the revelation I had that I mention at the beginning, it was about how human motivation is purely based on emotions (full explanations on this in earlier lessons). While learning more about it I also discovered that the emotion an audience receives from the content is heavily influenced by context, so much so that context is a part of content itself (again, more explanations in detail with examples in earlier lessons).
I realized that people were blinded/intimidated by the speaker’s appearance, body language, confidence and overall personality. They were also influenced by their own guilt of being terrible speakers themselves (by Mr. Treasure’s measurements) and also the credibility associated with TED talkers in general. What had been sold to them were those feelings intimidation, guilt and insecurity, as opposed to actual knowledge and wisdom.
However, no content is free of its context, which is true for this very article as well. (This will make more sense when you follow the lessons series from the start, specifically lessons like Business Lessons from Memes.)
For an example, when he says lying makes people not want to listen to you, it makes you imagine a scenario where you are talking to family/ group of friends. And you picture yourself lying about something… maybe a fake story about something awesome you did to gain reputation. And you imagine your audience realizing you are lying and judging you for being a pathetic liar. You feel miserable. You think “Of course Mr. Treasure is right. Who wants to listen to a liar? What was I thinking?”
But, as we discussed earlier, we know lots of people listen to lies all the time, both with and without realizing it. And that is fine. That is just the reality of real life.
Guilt creates our reality and traps us in it.
The reason I attached the YouTube video at the end of the article instead of at the beginning was to avoid the influence of Mr. Treasure’s personality and the branding of the video on your perception of the content presented by him. When you read it in my writing first, and then watch the video, you can detach yourself more from the visual and auditory charm of it, rather than if it was the other way around.
Remember how I asked you to imagine it was you who said all this, and not Julian Treasure? That too was to help you get rid of any thoughts of intimidation/ insecurity about criticizing an “expert”. The validity of any content should hold up irrespective of who put it out, right?
Now, what does this mean? Does this mean we have to cancel Julian Treasure? Have we just exposed him? Are the millions of people who watched this and believed it complete idiots? Is this speech a part of the government’s plan to control our minds? No.
Although admittedly this article gets a bit snarky at some points, this lesson is not just about Treasure, his speech or his audience. I have merely used this video as an interesting example to explain how humans perceive reality. This speech is not a glitch in the matrix that nobody had noticed before. On the contrary, this is how the whole matrix functions.
This is how all the people perceive all of reality all the time, including myself. Just like the audience of this TED talk go tricked for ten minutes, we all get tricked in some way or the other, in every day of our lives. We cannot avoid it. And that’s fine. What we can and must do is to understand enough to be at peace with it. As you go through the lesson series, you will learn sensible explanations for how and why all of this works.
This article was originally intended to be published in the middle of my lesson series. However, I decided to publish it at the beginning for a very important reason.
While writing the first few articles, I realized that they do not give the reader a good sense of the value of the rest of the series.
The way I saw it, it won’t matter how much value the series will hold in later lessons if most of the readers turn away at the first few lessons. It would be like asking you to dig a tunnel to find gold… but if you go at it for days without even an indication of it, most of you would just give up and go home.
That is not good for either me or you.
So I took it upon myself to solve it by giving you a glimpse — a scanned image of the gold that you can expect to find towards the end of this journey by bringing this article to you.
By the way, the actual version of this lesson you will receive in the original series will be much more detailed than this one. Also, while this lesson is mostly limited to me pointing out flaw in Treasure’s talk, the lessons you will find later in the series will actually teach you how to speak so people will listen… because unless, this lesson series would be just as futile as this speech, merely an entertainment piece. The wisdom you will gather by following this will be more valuable than anything you ever have in your entire life, period.
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