Theoretical physicist and futurist Michio Kaku is arguably one of the smoothest talkers in his field. Never lost for words and always charismatic, he seems to be one of the gifted few for whom public speaking is second nature… Or is he? Watch him taking questions and you’ll see that he consistently does a handful of things to deliver eloquent and captivating responses.
1. Clarify The Question
You can’t give a clear answer to an unclear question. So the first thing you need to do is digest and clarify the question – not just for yourself but for the benefit of the audience.
In this video, the question is not only long-winded but also poorly translated. Before proceeding to answer, Kaku interprets the question and identifies the concern at its core.
He takes this…
Q: “Who will control the area of information that will be generated by these technologies in the world we’re talking about? What will the position of the governments and the (…) that future of our world which we discussed?”
… and rephrases it like this…
“Some people worry about ‘Big Brother’ – that computers will spy on us and they will control us.”
Ahh, much better. Clear, concise and in terms we all understand.
2. Use the PPF Structure
PPF? Past – Present – Future. Kaku gave the audience context for the question by going back to the origins of what we now know as the internet.
Past: “That was a possibility before 1989. You see, before 1989, the internet was called ‘ARPANET’. And it was created by the Pentagon – by the military – to fight and win a nuclear war.
[…] But then, in 1989, something magical happened. In 1989, the National Science Foundation of the United States took this military weapon and gave it away for free.”
He then came back to the present day to address the question. By starting with a mini history lesson, he established a credible narrative which he could then carry forward to assert his answer to the question.
Present: “Now, the internet is unstoppable. No nation can control the internet – because it was given away for free. The problem is not ‘Big Brother’. The problem is ‘Little Brother’. Pesky Nigerian scam artists who want to steal your credit cards. Criminals. Yes, they are a problem. Viruses…”
Future: “…we will have petty criminals, we will have viruses. But no government can control the internet. Governments try, but they will fail.”
3. Tap The Power of Association
Great communicators use association to make their concepts seem more familiar to audiences. Association also makes learning and understanding easier by helping us connect new knowledge to our existing knowledge.
Kaku tapped the power of association in three ways.
He began by using a term we all ‘get’ – “Big Brother” – to clarify the question. He later then used an analogy, quoting a former Chinese statesman:
“As Deng Xiaoping of China liked to say, ‘When you open the window, some flies come in.’ Yes, some flies do come in. But the air comes in. Refreshing. Ennobling. Air comes in – oxygen that makes us breathe again. And I think that’s the beauty of the internet.”
Finally, he used that analogy as a springboard to provide a powerful metaphor:
“The internet is air that we breathe: information, life, ideas, innovation. But, there’s a price to pay. And that is: a few flies come in with it…”
4. Use Rhetorical Devices Liberally
Aside from the use of analogy and metaphor, Kaku uses several other rhetorical devices to boost his charisma:
“That’s why the internet is so strange. People say, ‘Why does the internet have no instructions? Why doesn’t it have a government? Why doesn’t the internet have a sensor?’ You can say anything you want; do anything. Why?”
Triads (aka Speaking in Threes)
Note the three questions in the example above. Also, “Blueprints, codes, coding…”. What’s the difference between ‘codes’ and ‘coding’? I have no idea. But the three sound good. Kaku used repetition to achieve a triad, too, with “… gave/given away for free.”
Repetition (various forms)
“That was a possibility before 1989. You see, before 1989, the internet was called ‘ARPANET’.”
“That’s the way we scientists wanted it. We wanted the internet to be a road to rebuild America after World War III. After nuclear war, many cities would be vaporized, and we scientists were told by the government, ‘Rebuild America after World War III.’“
“The National Science Foundation of the United States took this military weapon and gave it away for free. This is the first time in history that a major military weapon was given away for free. Blueprints, codes, coding – all of it, just given away for free.”
“But I think that’s a small price to pay. A small price to pay – these little viruses – for the enormous power that the internet gives us…”
“The internet is air that we breathe: information, life, ideas, innovation. But, there’s a price to pay.”
When we read a transcript, such repetition seems like overkill. But I bet you didn’t think so when you watched the video, did you? It just goes to show that written and spoken communication are different ball games. When speaking to an audience, using repetition like this reinforces your message, gives the audience a chance to digest what you’re saying, and gives you more time to formulate your statement when giving an impromptu speech.
The “Not This – That” technique (that’s what I call it, anyway)
“The problem is not ‘Big Brother’. The problem is ‘Little Brother’.”
This is one of the simplest ways to create a powerful contrast to highlight your point.
Great speakers are not born. They are made.
Practice doing these things to make yourself a better speaker. And, as always, share your experiences in the comments below or in the Facebook group.