What a Supermodel and an Amputee Have in Common (and How It Can Help You Succeed in Life)

by Tara Cahanap

What do Aimee Mullins (double amputee) and Cameron Russell (world-renowned supermodel) have in common? Is it the fact that they are both featured as two of the most watched TED talks on the website’s history? Is it because they are powerful women who have come a long way in their struggles for success? What links them together? What is the secret to their success?

Passion. This is what Carmine Gallo says in the opening chapter of his book, Talk Like TED, where he introduces these two wildly successful TED talks and hooks his readers with a promise: their secrets to success could easily be ours.

So begins his first topic of discussion: how to enhance your public speaking techniques by infusing them with emotion and passion. Upon first glance at the cover, the book seems like a self-help book for lecturers. It is even advertised as such, bearing the subtitle “The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds.” As compelling as that promise is on its own, what the book doesn’t advertise on the cover is how remarkably relevant its content is to young adults in today’s world.

The book outlines a unique process for planning a talk. It shows the reader how to craft the art of public speaking by exploring topics like how to “deliver jaw-dropping moments” or “master the art of storytelling.” But if you look past the chapter titles and into the more technical “TEDnotes,” the real gems are the underlying principles governing this so-called “process.” Sprinkled with inspirational quotes from TED speakers, the book, at its marrow, is about humans. Humans doing the things they love and being moving and memorable. The book explores what it means to find a passion and run with it. And for the intellectually curious students that we are, this is what should catch our attention. For us—the newest movers of momentum in the science world—passion comes easy. We are hungry for research opportunities, we push through the most challenging classes and immerse ourselves in volunteer work, all in the hope of fanning the flame of that passion. But we may be just dipping our feet in the larger pool of the scientific community. Gallo teaches us how to dive head first and tread water, promoting our will to run with the passion we already have and encouraging us to take the next step. It is not enough to have ideas – we have to know how to communicate them.

Originally a book assigned in the curriculum for Pitt’s Speaking of Science class, Talk Like TED has gained a special place in Dr. Judy Cameron’s heart, who not only teaches the class on how to give scientific talks, but travels around the world to speak about her neuroscience research. “This book is about communication… it’s about being an active participant when you’re explaining something.” Cameron talks about this idea of the underlying message behind Gallo’s book, pointing out that “if you want to be good at science, you have to practice and practice… communicating yourself and your ideas is exactly the same thing.”

What Gallo does is stunning. He identifies a factor that ties together some of the greatest minds in the world, elaborates on it, explains why it works and then inspires readers to incorporate it into their own lives. For example, in his chapter “Unleash the Master Within,” Gallo identifies passion as a consistent characteristic across all successful individuals. He focuses on Steve Jobs in particular, the key to his public speaking allure and how he captivates his audience because he is able to effectively translate his intensity and his devotion to his work.

Gallo goes further to provide scientific evidence explaining the effectiveness of the tactic. He discusses a Pace University researcher who studies entrepreneurial passion and how integral it is to a successful speaker’s self-identity. Then, to wrap it all up, he urges the readers to embark on their own journeys, quoting TEDx speaker Larry Smith: “Passion is the thing that will help you create the highest expression of your talent.” Finally, he hits you with a question that still lingers in my head to this day: “What makes your heart sing? Identify it…and share it with the world.”

Dr. Alan Sved, a leading Pitt neuroscience researcher and seasoned lecturer, co-teaches Speaking of Science and is an avid supporter of the book. “If there’s one thing I think students should take away from this book, it’s that a book like this is important.” He focuses on a key point in saying, “the thing I come back to is this: why are TED talks 18 minutes long? Because that’s how long it takes to get a message across… these are issue and skills to think about that.”

As a student getting caught in the currents of adulthood, I can attest to feeling lost. Lost in the personal sense and lost looking towards tomorrow. But this book gave me a lens to look through, one that helps me find the things I care about and let them shine through my work. A lens that focuses me and helps me understand my role in communicating ideas. The book churns my thoughts and brings them into sharp, concentrated focus.

 That being said, I urge anyone (and everyone) to pick up a copy of the book. As Gallo says, “ideas are the currency of the twenty-first century”, and Talk Like TED feels like hitting the lottery.