How to Present Like a TED Talk Pro
By John Millen
Ted has changed everything about presentations.
You probably know that I’m not talking about a guy named “Ted.” I’m referring to TED Talks, which are given at TED-sanctioned events around the world.
The original TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a conference that has been held annually since 1990.
Talks have been given by a wide array of world leaders, including presidents and prime ministers such as Bill Clinton and David Cameron and big thinkers such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and the late Stephen Hawking. They also featured artists, musicians, surgeons, and every other conceivable endeavor.
No matter their stature in the world, all of the leaders’ talks have one thing in common: they are restricted to eighteen minutes in length.
The concise, story-based format of TED Talks will help you to be a better presenter in person. Perhaps more important at this moment, this method of presentation will help you to more deeply engage your listeners when you are talking virtually on Zoom or other platforms.
Here are some TED-style strategies for developing and presenting your talk. As you read these tips, bear in mind that you can apply them to any of your meetings, from a convention speech to a one-on-one sales presentation.
1. Don’t give a presentation
Have a conversation with your audience. Presentation mode means you’re giving a performance. A conversation means you are listening and responding to the needs of your audience in real-time. You are present in the moment.
2. Focus on conveying a single idea
Your talk is not a readout, and it’s not a data dump. It’s the opportunity to convey an idea into the minds of your audience, whether they be employees, investors, donors, or others.
In his book, TED Talks, the Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, Chris Anderson, whose title is the Head of TED, writes, “The central thesis of this book is that anyone who has an idea worth sharing is capable of giving a powerful talk.” Indeed, TED’s tagline is “Ideas Worth Sharing.” You can also learn more from Anderson's brief video, TED's Secret to Great Public Speaking.
3. Less is more
An eighteen-minute window is more than adequate to share your core idea. This is true of almost any meeting or conference call. We live in a distracted world. Fight the urge to go deep and fill a five-pound bag with ten pounds of sugar.
Here’s a sample format I give my clients, which you can follow to give your own TED-style talk. With this structure, your eighteen minutes could be distributed like this:
3 minutes – Story relevant to your main idea
3 minutes – Intro of your main idea and three key points
9 minutes – Three key points/stories developed (three minutes each)
3 minutes – Close and call to action
4. Use simple slides to support your message
As you develop slides, consider using only a few slides to keep the attention on you and your talk. Also, consider using images, rather than words and numbers, to support your talk. Many people make their slides the central focus of their presentation. This is backward. Remember slides are only there to support you, the messenger, by reinforcing your message.
5. Tell your stories to bring your message to life
I believe human beings are wired for storytelling. Science has proven this is true. TED Talks take full advantage of the power of storytelling by using stories to bring their ideas to life.
Your talk will be best conveyed with a few stories illustrating your key points. The best stories have emotional resonance and a relevant tie-in or lesson learned. You can use stories from your personal and business lives.
6. Connect with purpose by starting with your why
By starting with why, the purpose of adopting your idea, you’ll be tapping into the power of meaning to inspire action. Telling stories connected with purpose adds additional impact to your talk.
7. Talk with your hands
As humans, we become more engaged watching people with open gestures and body language. A team led by researcher Vanessa Van Edwards studied why some TED Talks go viral, while others don’t.
The team reviewed hundreds of hours of TED Talks searching for differences in the most and least-watched talks. They analyzed hand gestures, vocal variety, smiling, and body movement.
Edwards’ team concluded that speakers who used the most hand gestures had the most views. “The most popular talks used an average of 465 hand gestures (yes, our coders counted every single one). The least popular TED Talkers used an average of 272 hand gestures. And TED superstars Temple Grandin, Simon Sinek, and Jane McGonigal topped the charts with more than six-hundred hand gestures in just eighteen minutes.”
And it’s not only good for presentations. Edwards also notes that thirty years ago, researchers found that job candidates who used more hand gestures were more likely to win the job.
8. Close with a strong call to action
As you develop your talk, think about what you want people to know, feel, and do. What beliefs, actions, or behaviors are you trying to inspire? Your call to action can be as simple as asking them to think about your customers in a new way.
The premise of TED Talks to that we should share our ideas in a way that they will be understood, shared and acted upon.
Without a call to action (CTA), your talk is interesting but not urgent for your listeners. With a CTA, you've added a mental flag for your audience that action is needed. Your clear CTA is the exclamation point that something needs to be done, and your listener is the one who should take action.
9. Study the best TED Talkers
Today, there are thousands of TED Talks on every conceivable topic. I have a few highly disciplined clients who start or end their days with one TED Talk for motivation and inspiration.
I recommend you visit the TED Talk site and think about how you might use this process to improve your own talks. You’ll find everything about your day-to-day communication will become easier and more natural.
So give it a try. Talk like Ted.
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