Esther Perel shows public speakers how to arouse an audience

February 23, 2013 | Presentations, Verbal communication

If you would like to see a terrific piece of public speaking, check out the Valentine’s Day address by Esther Perel on TED.com. On its face, the presentation’s title, The Secret to Desire in a Long-term Relationship, is titillating and relevant to just about every human being. But there’s a lot more going on here than a titillating topic and universal relevancy.

There are several elements that make the presentation potent? While watching the video, notice that Perel, a psychotherapist and author of the book Mating in Captivity, succeeds with her audience by:

  • Organizing her presentation using a rhetorical question structure
  • Speaking fluidly without notes, thus demonstrating mastery of her subject matter
  • Employing verbal repetition to create rhythm and stress certain points
  • Using consistently open and demonstrative body language
  • Making consistent, direct, well-distributed eye contact with audience members
  • Peppering her speech with vivid words and phrases
  • Bringing appropriate humor to the subject
  • Offering metaphors and analogies to illuminate the concepts being conveyed

Let’s take the rhetorical questions that kick-off Perel’s speech, which serve to frame her subject and foreshadow the material she is about to cover.

Why does good sex so often fade even for couples who continue to love each other as much as ever?

Why does good intimacy not guarantee good sex?

Can we want what we already have?

Why is the forbidden so erotic?

What is it about transgression that makes desire so potent?

Why does sex make babies and babies spell erotic disaster in couples?

When you love, how does it feel? And when you desire, how is it different?

Once she starts to expound on those questions, Perel uses verbal repetition throughout her talk, a sort of spoken parallel sentence construction that helps focus the minds of audience members.

In this first example Perel uses the phrase “give me” to line up a succession of points that collectively convey the concept: Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one. Give me comfort, give me edge. Give me novelty, give me familiarity. Give me predictability, give me surprise.

In this next example, she uses word “for” in combination with a different term in each case: We have an equally strong need – men and women for adventure, for novelty, for mystery, for risk, for danger, for the unknown, for the unexpected surprise – you get the gist – for journey, for travel.

All the while, Perel creates vivacity and imagery with colorful words and phrases, such as…

The mystery of eroticism
Fire needs air, desire needs space
Erotic intelligence
I stay open to the mysteries that are living right next to me
The poetics of sex
Committed sex is premeditated sex
The crisis of desire is often a crisis of the imagination

One of the most notable things about this presentation is how effortlessly and appropriately Perel incorporates humor. The audience breaks into laughter at comments that are part and parcel of Perel’s content. By contrast, too many speakers make forced efforts to get laughs from their audience with material that, while connected to the topic, is an obvious stab at humor. The problem with that approach is that if the laughs don’t come the comment is an obvious flop. In Perel’s case, it wouldn’t have mattered if the audience failed to laugh because her comments were genuine content, pure and simple.

Lastly, the use of metaphor and analogy are powerful. One example was the manner in which Perel made children’s simultaneous need for connection and freedom analogous to adults’ need of the same. By explaining childhood behaviors that we’re all familiar with, Perel made it easier for the audience to see how the same behavior manifests itself in adulthood.

This is a presentation not be missed. Click here and observe.

Mike Consol teaches public speaking, PowerPoint presentation skills and business writing to companies and business professionals in the Oakland-San Francisco-San Jose Bay Area. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 925-449-1040.

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