Analyzing a few of Tony Robbins’ TED talk techniques.

I don’t know a lot about Tony Robbins. In fact, I first heard about him in a Bruno the Bandit comic where Bruno gets a Tony Robbins Bluebird of Happiness. (I loved that comic!) I know he is a motivational speaker and that makes me slightly paranoid about any talk of his.

That being said, I just watched a TED talk by Tony Robbins, the first in the 20 most watched TED Talks playlist  on youtube.

Tony Robbins: Why we do what we do

And there is a lot for all to learn. He makes some interesting points on whatever and if you need inspiring, if you need motivation or the “why”, watch it with an open mind and find your new energy!


On a speaker technique level on the other hand, it’s impressive.


One example that struck me as he was saying it was around 4:35

But what people in this room know and what we have to remind ourselves though, because you can know something intellectually, you can know what to do and not use it, not apply it. So really we’ve got to remind ourselves is “Decision is the ultimate power.”

There are a few steps. First he separates the audience from the rest of society. You all know this, as successful people. Everyone in the room self identifies with being successful and being in the room.
Then he states that everyone here knows the next thing  he’s going to say to be true.
He offers an excuse for those who don’t know this by saying we have to remind ourselves to apply it. That’s for those who temporarily forgot this truth.
Then he leads the way in reminding ourselves by saying “we’ve got to remind ourselves” (notice the “we”)
And only then he offers the new idea to the group. “Decision is the ultimate power”.

If he were to go to someone on the street and offer this golden nugget of wisdom, people would cut holes into the statement with questions like “what about poverty and personal limitations and luck and ….” But by framing it as something we already know to be true yet just possibly not actively have done,  he bypasses all critical thought and embeds the concept in the mind of the audience. Nicely done. Then he continues, rapid fire, with examples and concepts so the audience can just believe that and listen on to the next point.


The entire presentation is very well built.

His opening lines are worth mentioning. He says he’s out of his comfort zone taking him to the level of the speaker, but a problem with doing that is that it erodes your credibility. He counters that on the other hand by establishing himself as a very serious speaker by telling the audience he’s used to giving 50+ hour seminars to enormous groups. He’s taking himself down to the level of the audience AND establishes credibility at the same time. Nice!

Great sidestep too where he says “I’m not a motivational speaker, I’m the why guy.” He re-writes his frame to something he invented and thus side steps the entire anti motivational pre conception.

Interesting also how he pumps up the audience into interaction. A first question to the audience offers lukewarm reaction, he calls the audience out on it, laughs a bit and moves on. All very positive, and an important step in getting the audience going. And after a while he uses this momentum to push ideas, again, past the critical thinking of the audience, into their mind.

Another interesting technique is the overspanning relation evolution through the talk. First he’s just this guy.
Then he makes himself loved. “You are all great, you are all smart, we are all smart, you are all awesome!”. He makes himself a part of the group, moving from the audience group to “we” in his speech. With notes of self relativation, because everyone is fallible and he’s not an asshole. He also actively loves his audience, the high five around 6 minutes is a great example! (Even though the guy isn’t that funny, said it twice and only got his moment because Tony gave it to him. He turned a potentially annoying guy into a big, audience unifying, help.) He also talks in extreme terms, words like idiots, etc. And when he laughingly calls the high five guy a “son of a bitch” around 7:55.
Next he moves away from that and becomes more abrasive. He tells parts of the audience that they’re idiots. At this point he’s established himself as a voice for the group. And he’s established that the group is good and smart and most in the audience are happy to be a part of that. Every audience member wants to be “good” and “smart” so when they are  singled out to not be part of that  group, they don’t like it and want to fix it. At this point, it doesn’t matter if you’re singling out a small or big part of the group, the fact that the voice says that everyone does that, is enough to trigger every member in the audience to want to belong, to fix it. Which you can easily do, by accepting (and doing) what the voice of the group, ie the speaker up front, is telling you to.
An example of this in a small scale (this is really a technique that builds throughout the talk and slowly erodes your critical thinking) is when around 11:39 where he “asks how  many of you like surprises”. The audience reacts very eagerly with hands etc because pleasing the voice is good, yet the voice harshly declares “Bullshit!” and then pushes the ideas that “you call surprises you don’t want problems and you need problems to get anywhere”. Then he moves on because there is, again, nothing to win with people thinking this over.

And that is an awesome technique 🙂

It also incorporates the overspanning technique of stimulating you into an alpha state by overloading your brain with lots of information, by talking really fast 🙂 It’s the same alpha state the churches attain here, except that they do it by going really really slow and sedate, that’s that sleepy feeling you get while in there, yes thats on purpose.


I am duly impressed!
I’d go see him if he ever does a meta talk about his techniques!

Published by Gert


7 thoughts on “Analyzing a few of Tony Robbins’ TED talk techniques.

  1. He is very much into the guru business, isn’t he?

    Mind you, he has something to say and show, but sometimes audiences play along but are in fact less controlled than they seem to be. I personally think these techniques may work for a while, but enough people see through them that one has to find new ways to sway an audience often enough.

    So I’m less impressed, but maybe I have seen this kind of thing too often already.


    1. He’s a motivational guy. Don’t know if he’s a Guru per se.. As I mentioned up front, I barely know the guy

      I looked at the whole thing on a human interaction (some would even dare mention NLP) level, honestly. He’s using techniques to catch the audience’s attention and other techniques to carry his points to the critical listener.
      And yes, anyone being aware of these techniques will recognise them, but since they plug in at a very basic human herd mentality level and basic social interaction level, they’ll still work to some degree.

      That being said, teaching adults will always involve several levels of techniques and these are a nice addition to the big array of available skills. 🙂
      That you recognise them doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used when teaching you. It does on the other hand put a small part of the responsibility for your success in that course back into your lap..
      I’m observing rather from that point of view than any other.


  2. I am so glad this article has been posted. His talk is a demonstration of his first slide: “Effective leaders have the ability to consistantly move themselves and others to action because they understand the ‘invisible forces’ that shape us” The talk is his attempt to show he is someone who understands these forces,ie the crowd teaching techniques you examine here. It is very impressive, and it does beg for critical examination.


  3. this is the best critique i have seen of this sort of public speaking –
    i am a huge fan of public speaking – and have often said to my self what the heck is it that guys like tony robbins do – that makes them able to fill rooms and yet when i speak to people one on one presenting these same ideas – they not only fall on deaf ears they fall in behind great arguments — and yes i have been saying these things for years long before tony robbins showed up –
    the difference as i see it is much like what this Gert has pointed out –
    highly structured style –
    i think it would make a great interview to speak directly to this style – i wonder if tony robbins would respond with alacrity or would he be like the character tom cruise plays in Magnolia -Frank T.J. Mackey –
    when he is interviewed as his real father is dying –
    thanks gert


  4. Tony Robbins is a bullshit artist. The man has gotten rich by getting gullible or desperate people to pay their hard earned money for his program. The man speaks in nothing but platitudes.

    He should be ignored and disregarded.


    1. Interesting comment. I’m guessing that’s a popular opinion, though I wonder if it’s entirely correct. Is it possible that you hate his techniques rather than the man? ie you dislike NLP?


  5. In this era, devoid of religion, Tony is a new Messiah of unbridled positivity, the psychic unipolar toxin that caricatures America’s decline.
    With his Colgate polished smile, he is evenly excited talking about boring things than explaining one of his new money-making epiphanies.
    The “Neuro-Linguistic” provides an aura of validity for techniques of which the scientifically proven effects are virtually non-existent.
    The “Programming” reduces the substrata of human consciousness to mere mechanics which can be manipulated to achieve your goals.
    Those “quick fix” techniques only provide a short boost in confidence and energy, to the degree one beliefs in it, placebo-wise. There’s a large share of well documented cases of people collapsing after that nlp-castle evapo in the sky. They get to know a core truth that even Lord Buddha pointed out: the more you try to control the mind, the more restless and rebellious it becomes.


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