Article Category: Speech Critiques

Video Critique: Al Gore (TED, 2006)

Al Gore - TED 2006This article examines Al Gore’s presentation from TED in 2006. My aim is to evaluate the effectiveness of the presentation, not to express scientific or political opinion on the content of the message.

This was a fantastic presentation worthy of study. There is much to be learned from analyzing what Gore did well, and what he could have done better.

Humorous Opening Segment

The first six minutes of this sixteen-minute speech are devoted to establishing rapport with the audience. Gore does this with several humorous observations and stories.

Tamsen Salvador writes:

Whether you love him or hate him, Al Gore will make you laugh out loud. No kidding!

Kate Trgovac observes (and laments):

After a wry and witty bit of stand-up (Al, where was this passion, charisma and personality during the 2000 campaign?!?!), Gore got down to brass tacks.

Remarks like those from Kate are echoed often when people view this video. Let’s take a closer look at the techniques employed by Gore in this opening segment.

  • By my count, he gets nineteen laughs from the audience during this time (@ 0:54, 1:01, 1:11, 1:17, 1:30, 1:54, 2:00, 2:12, 2:18, 2:55, 3:02, 3:12, 4:27, 5:05, 5:11, 5:22, 5:26, 5:37, 5:48).
  • Primarily self-deprecating humour. Not only is this form of humour generally safe, but this humanizes Gore effectively.
  • Storytelling! I love it.
  • Lots of smiles.
  • Delivery and comedic timing is superb.
  • Vocal varietyis fantastic in several impersonations:
    • Restaurant customer: “He’s come down a long way…”
    • Man on runway: “Call Washington! Call Washington!”
    • News reporter voice.
    • Bill Clinton: “Congratulations…”
  • Gore is holding the slide remote during this entire opening sequence, despite not using it once. Why? Holding objects (e.g. remotes, pens, papers, props) can limit mobility to use arm gestures, so he would have been better off picking up the remote only when he needed to use it.

The Fifteen Call-to-Action Slides

A set of 15 text slides forms the core of the presentation. The text of these slides is reproduced here (coloring inspired by Ferry Simatupang):

  1. Reduce emissions from your home energy use (better design, insulation, green electricity)
  2. Reduce emissions from your car and other transportation (buy a hybrid, light rail, carpool, biking)
  3. Buy the most energy-efficient appliances and other products. Be a green consumer.
  4. Live a “carbon neutral” life. It’s easier than you think. Reduce; then offset the rest.
  5. To find out how, go to: Use the carbon calculator.
  6. Then make your BUSINESS Carbon Neutral. (It’s not as hard as you think.)
  7. Then, whether you work in the T, E, or D — INTEGRATE climate solutions into all your innovations.
  8. Invest sustainably — in companies and funds that are part of the solution.
  9. Become a catalyst for change in your community. Teach others about the Climate Crisis.
  10. Raise awareness by promoting “An Inconvenient Truth” in your community.
  11. Send someone to Nashville who can learn how to give my slide show in your community.
  12. Become politically active – Speak up! Contact your elected officials! Make our Democracy work!
  13. Urge the U.S. to join the rest of the world community in capping and trading carbon emissions.
  14. Help with the mass persuasion campaign when it is launched this Spring.
  15. Let’s call it the “Climate Crisis” It really is a “Planetary Emergency”

Highlight colors. What is the symbolism for the use of green and red here? I cannot figure it out. I thought perhaps green was going to indicate environment friendly phrases, and red the opposite. But, that relationship isn’t used consistently. I think it would have been better to stick to one highlight color.

Text-only slides. This presentation follows one that Gore gave to the same audience earlier in the conference which was highly visual, so I suppose it balances out. Still, audiences prefer more visuals and less reading from the slides.

Gore - tornado effectTornado slide transition effect. Why was the bizarre swirling effect used to lead into each of the 15 main slides? Perhaps the letters magically falling into place is a metaphor to show how some complex theories are leading to some simple actions? It’s possible, but that isn’t the impression I had.

A better alternative? He’s trying to convince the audience that there are very simple actions they can take. Yet, there’s this complex set of letters flying around the screen that looks anything but simple. A simple appear or wipe effect would have been cleaner.

“Teach others. Learn about it. Talk about it.” (Slide 9) I particularly liked this slide. Simple and effective. A clear call-to-action within a set of calls-to-action.

Audience Awareness and Interaction

Gore - t.e.d.T, E, and D. Slide 7 directly references the Technology, Entertainment, and Design groups in the audience. The best presentations are customized for the audience, and Gore demonstrates this.

Ask for Help. Gore asks for help twice from “those of you who are good at branding.” Techniques like this help create a conversation rather than a presentation.

Contextual Ad-libbing. Gore refers to Larry Lessig and other speakers from the conference. This reinforces that he’s not just giving a speech. He is part of the shared experience (the conference) just as he hopes the audience will be part of the shared solution (climate).

Gore - hands upAsking a Question with Purpose. Gore asks: “How many people here serve on the Board of Directors of a corporation?” (14:20) Many hands go up. This is textbook audience interaction, but many speakers stop there. Instead, a few seconds later (14:25), he follows up with: “You will have legal liability if you do not urge your CEO…” The emphasis here on you is made more powerful with the earlier question which prompted many audience members to raise their hands. (i.e. “Oh, I raised my hand… when he says YOU, he must mean ME.”)

Other Observations

Unnecessarily complex language. Recapitulate is the only one I caught. Gore otherwise uses fairly simple, easily understood language.

“Killer app.” (8:45) “CCS is going to become the killer app” Is this phrase mainstream? Or is this more readily understood in technology circles? I liked it, but I have a technical background. It might not be as effective in other audiences.

Failed humour. (7:05): “I know that you wanted some more bad news about the environment.” It seems like he’s looking for laughs here, but doesn’t get any. He also doesn’t get a laugh on his follow-up line: “I’m kidding”. It was reassuring to know that his humour wasn’t all perfect. He demonstrates good technique by not dwelling on the failed joke. He just moves on.

Inconsistent phrases. He uses “It is easier than you think” and then later “It’s not as hard as you think.” Consistency would be better, considering this phrase is one of the key take-home messages from his presentation.

Gore - hand in his pocketLeft hand in his pocket. I suppose one could argue that this adds to a very conversational style. Nonetheless, I don’t like it because if his hand is in his pocket, then it isn’t readily available to punctuate his words with gestures.

Not political? (15:47) “This is not a political issue… We are one.” I agree that it isn’t political, but Gore’s words and gestures are sending mixed messages.

  • He gestures to the audience’s right when he refers to Republicans. He gestures left for Democrats. When you’re trying to take politics out of it, perhaps it is better not to reinforce this left-right polarity?
  • Earlier in his opening, he takes a crack at the current Republican administration: “What in the world could be wrong in Washington. [pause] I remembered it could be a bunch of things.” If he truly wants to remove the politics from the situation (and I believe he does), partisan jokes should be removed. He’s clearly capable of delivering humour which is safer.

Repetition makes for memorable phrases. (~11:44). “People do what you pay them to do.” Great line, with repetition of “do“. This is followed shortly by: “…based on the short term returns, you’re going to get short term decisions.” Again, repetition of words “short term ” makes for a memorable phrase. Great energy in this segment.

Oops. (14:41) “The market will work to solve this problem” (turn to screen, pause, then turn back to audience) “… if… if we can accomplish this.” The slight glitch in delivery here weakened this point. I’m glad I’m not the only one to botch lines once in a while.

Emotional peak. (~14:50) The segment ending with “we have to buy a lot of those ads” felt like the emotional peak of the presentation. Gore is emphatic with his voice, his facial expressions, and his gestures. I loved the emotion in this segment.

Other Opinions

Loïc Le Meur:

Al Gore gave a mind blowing speech…

Bruno Guissani:

It shows both the “old” Gore – lecturing us about global warming with depth of knowledge and intensity – as well as the “new” Gore that many seem to have discovered only recently – funny and passionate and convincingly authentic.

Finally, here is just one of many comments from TED participants, many who witnessed the presentation live. [If you ever doubt what effect one presentation lasting 16 minutes can have, read all of these comments.]

My wife and I came to TED uncertain about Al Gore and not thrilled to hear him. He seemed fake to us in the national political election he had gone through. His presentation profoundly changed our view of him even more than his message. We bought the messages. We did not buy the message presenter. At TED, he gave a sense of his humor, three-dimensionality, commitment to the cause, ability to criticize himself. We left with a positive attitude toward him and a commitment to help. — David and Heidi Hoffman

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Comments icon2 Comments

  1. Keith Davis says:

    I enjoyed the video…
    Still smiling as I write this.
    Shows the power of humour! Brilliant.
    How does he do it without notes?

  2. Excellent, in-depth analysis of this speech. Thanks for taking the time to dissect it. I learned a lot!

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