What Makes a Talk a TED Talk

I was invited to give a 10 minute talk last month to an audience of 100 people. When asked how I was going to structure it, I said I’d do a TED style talk.

We’ve all heard of TED talks, watched them on YouTube and my client was intrigued to know more. “Paul I’ve seen and loved TED talks, but what specifically makes it a TED talk?”

So I answered:

  1. A common theme throughout the talk.
  2. Substance over style – it’s the content that really matters, not necessarily the style.
  3. 18 minutes max. Strip out detail, focus on the topic enough to be compelling, it’s what you leave out that matters. The first draft of my talk lasted 15 minutes – too long, so instead of reducing the whole talk, I left out two or three key components, leaving the remainder compelling.
  4. Have a structure that runs through the theme – settling down to start, the context of the issue, main issues and practical applications works well. Finish with a call to action.
  5. Connect with the audience quickly – eye contact, humour, strip away your ego.
  6. Lots of short stories and anecdotes.
  7. Visuals work – no bullets or lists.
  8. Memorise either the script or key points to remind you. Never use notes, never stand behind a lectern and read and never be tempted to use PowerPoint as your notes however professorial you are. (if you want a quick way to memorise, which I always do – just email me)
  9. Practise beforehand – run through from scratch – speed rehearse if you need to but never wing it, however experienced you are.
  10. Have a compelling open – drama, ignite some curiosity, tease.
  11. Finally the platform. Remove all barriers, nothing between your audience and you, make it natural as possible.

These are the ingredients to a TED talk. The preparation time is completely out of sync for the time to deliver – mine took days to prepare, memorise and practise. That’s why TED talks are so cool.