Juan Enriquez begins his April 2012 TEDxSummit talk as all great talks begin: with a story. But this story isn’t personal and it isn’t about an individual like you. Rather, it’s about the beginning of the universe. He uses great visuals to show the evolution from the nothingness of time to a universe to a star to Earth. It’s an awesome depiction of the birth of a planet, and Enriquez does a great job making this part of his talk accessible to the average viewer, a feat which he continues to maintain throughout his complex talk.
Throughout his talk, Enriquez does well to stay on the layperson’s level. He doesn’t fall prey to the dreaded Curse of Knowledge. Rather than use $100 words and an onslaught of jargon, he makes things easy for his audience to understand and fun to learn. And one of the best qualities of his talk is the amount of humor he uses. The audience giggles throughout, whether that’s from a little arrow labeled “You are Here” on a picture of our universe or from photos of Pamela Anderson and Michael Jackson when he discusses the theory that humankind as we know it is all that’s left. “Is this it? That’s all she wrote?” he jokes.
Something that stands out in Enriquez’s talk is its excellent structure. He crams a lot of information into a little more than sixteen minutes, but none of it feels too rushed or crammed. It’s a very intuitive structure, one that’s simple for the audience to follow. He starts out discussing his topic on a very big scale– the universe, evolution, 29 upgrades in humanoids over time– and he ends on a very small scale– discussing what all of this means for you and your future. This intuitive flow is essential in a presentation. Always connect your topic to how it affects your audience. Always relate why it should matter to them. If Enriquez had eliminated the last five minutes of his talk when he explained the implications of this information for the average person, his talk would have been a lot less compelling. We like to hear how things affect us on a personal level.
Enriquez references many secondary sources, including previous TED speakers and several scientific studies, which greatly nuances and strengthens his main point. He fuses an effective mixture of the past and the present to talk about what to expect in the future. He throws out several quotable bits of information– doozies of information in fact– that don’t leave the mind quickly, which is a feat unto itself in this era of short-term memory retention.
Enriquez also uses analogy better than perhaps anyone we’ve seen on TED. He compares skiers at the top of a mountain to cell differentiation, saying that they all go down different ways and become different things, and it’s extremely difficult to go back up the mountain after you’ve gone down (i.e. when a cell has already been differentiated). But if you have a ski lift, he says, you can do it very easily. In this case, the ski lift is analogous to the particular genes that need to be present to create a different type of cell from an already formed one. This kind of genetic mutation/manipulation is going to become the norm, Enriquez says. Plastic surgery will become child’s play compared to gene alterations. The ski analogy helps the layperson understand what’s going on. It’s an ideal way to avoid confusing or losing the audience.
In his conclusion, he offers explains for rapid brain evolution, citing the 78% increase in cases of autism within the last decade as evidence of its reality. He does well to tie his presentation into a nice little bow with his last few sentences citing the “bottom line” of everything he’s covered. Humans are becoming a different species, Enriquez argues, a hominid that is directly and deliberately controlling the evolution of its own species. Your children or grandchildren could be a different species than you. Marinate on that for a minute, and watch the whole talk here.
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