Independent Thinking Blog

5 Elements of a Great TED Talk

I was watching this amazing TED talk about turning food deserts into food oases. Ten minutes later I was ready to pick up a shovel and dig. And I don’t enjoy gardening.

So what makes for a great speech?

In How to Deliver a TED Talk, author Jeremey Donovan dissects what makes these short missives some of the world’s most watched and “most inspiring” presentations. The book identifies the 10 TED Commandments (e.g., don’t sell from the stage, don’t trot out “thy usual shtick,” and “reveal thy curiosity and thy passion”) and offers a terrific roadmap for creating and delivering quality presentations.

Among Donovan’s advice:

  1. Begin with the end in mind, and have a clear idea of your central idea. Donovan writes that “laser focus on a single concept will give a fine mesh filter for editing your material.”
  2. Have a catchphrase. The author advises that the best catchphrases are short and include a call to action. Think “Yes We Can” or “If it Doesn’t Fit, You Must Acquit.”
  3. Avoid intro buzzkill. Donovan points out that nothing sets a speaker up for misery more than a poor introduction. Not your intro, but the person introducing you. (People who stand up and just read verbatim from speaker bios drive me crazy.) The author writes that “constructive introductions are limited in scope to information that ties to the speaker’s central unifying idea.” Could we adopt this rule, please?
  4. Open strong to hook your audience. The best openings? A personal story,  a shocking statement, or a powerful question.
  5. Reiterate the “why.” Donovan points out that your conclusion is your “final opportunity to inspire your audience to change their perspective or call them to action.” He highlights several ways to accomplish this, including shortening your sentences  and giving your audience an easy way they can take that next step.

The strength of How to Deliver a TED Talk is its simplicity. Like the best TED talks, it is filled with stories (in this case examples from various presentations) that illustrate how to spread your ideas with grace and eloquence. In addition, the author ends with a call to practice and prepare to be a great speaker. Whether you’re preparing for your first presentation or looking for ways to elevate your effectiveness, this book is filled with advice and “ideas worth spreading.”

What speaker “best practices” would you add?

*Disclosure: I received a free copy of How to Deliver a TED Talk in exchange for agreeing to review it–but without any restrictions on what I might say.

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