how to give a TED style talk

5 of the Most Worthwhile Ways To Prepare For A TED-Style Talk

If you are here, congratulations! Because we know something has been cooking in your mind; or to put it in the words of TED, we know you have “Ideas worth sharing”. 

Most TEDx speakers hold no degree in public speaking and not many of them have a history in giving life-changing talks. But like you, they have something to tell the world. 

Regardless, the thought of preparing and presenting for an event of this value might seem daunting. But you’re not alone in thinking what you are because here’s what TEDxCalgary speaker Janice Tanton said about her experience : 

It took me two weeks to think through whether or not I could do this — to break through the safe, quiet solitude of my cocoon-like studio and step into the stage spotlight to share.

It was then that she came to an understanding of why we feel that way:

Fear, in my opinion, is just a misguided form of creativity.

With the right preparation plan in place, it is possible to eliminate this fear and guide your creativity along the right path. Keep reading to discover 5 of the most worthwhile ways to help you in the prepping process for your TED talk.

1. An Idea Worth Sharing

An incandescent light bulb over a dark background signifying an idea.

Chris Anderson, curator and CEO at TED, says thatA TED talk is like playing tetris with the brain, all these ideas are coming and you want to put them in the right slot where they will be received.” 

Hence, when you choose your topic, you have to make sure you know,

What is the Purpose of Your Idea?

What do you want your audience to feel? Maya Angelou was right when she said that people will forget what you said and did, but people won’t ever forget how you made them feel. 

What do you want your audience to do? You need them to come on a journey with you. How do you do that? Take it from our guy Chris Anderson again,

You need to start where they are and you need to give them a reason to come with you.

Considering that there will be tons of speakers talking on a variety of different topics, you need to create the context for your talk. Take the example of Bill Gates at his TED 2009 Presentation when he wanted to make a point about the spread of malaria.  

He didn’t just begin by stating that malaria was something that the audience  needed to care about. Instead, he opened up a jar on stage and said “Malaria is spread by mosquitoes. I brought some here. I’ll let them roam around. There is no reason only poor people should be affected.”

Moments after the audience was taken aback, he revealed to them that the mosquitoes were malaria free and went on with his talk. He had managed to create the scenario and also successfully convinced the audience why the point he was trying  to make was important for them as well.

So, be clear on your purpose, because purpose fuels passion and according to Larry Smith,      

      “Passion is the thing that will help you create the greatest expression of your talent.”

Is Your Topic Intriguing Enough?

It is great that you have an idea worth sharing, but that alone won’t suffice. While choosing a topic, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself. These questions will help you narrow down to the one topic or idea that will go on to become an impactful TED talk. 

Does this topic interest me?

How much of an interest you have for a given topic will influence not just its content, but also your delivery of it. We’re talking body language, engaging with the audience, making an impact and so on.

Consider this – Steve Jobs talking about his Apple Iphone versus Steve Jobs talking about growing apples in his backyard will be very different on many terms. 

It is unlikely that his eyes will gleam and his body language will radiate confidence while talking about apples in his backyard, as opposed to when he is speaking about his Apple products. 

“People love (hearing) what other people are passionate about” – hence your chances at having a favorable impact will increase as the audience will have understood and echoed your interest in your topic.

Do I have enough knowledge to deliver it?

You can be passionate about pizza and go on prattling your love for it, but that alone isn’t enough unless you bring in perspectives and fresh information that your audience didn’t know about. When was pizza first made? What are its key ingredients ? Why was it the dish that came to represent Italy?

Feel free to approach any experts in the topic of your interest and research on it as much as possible. Your audience needs to see you as a credible spokesperson on the idea you are sharing. 

This aspect is crucial at the time where you might have to answer the questions your listeners have for you. You ought to have a holistic understanding of your topic to answer them with confidence.  

Will my topic interest the audience?

While it is very natural to straight away zero in on that one topic that drives you, you might also want to consider if it has the capacity to intrigue your viewers. 

You definitely want them to carry your idea into the world, therefore, try giving them something of value. A topic that benefits them in a way, or affects the way they see the world. 

Doing a little background check of your audience might also provide useful insights to help you cater your topic in a way that will interest them. 

You can use these questions as checklists for all the potential ideas or topics you have in your head and filter them on the basis of how much they agree with these questions. 

You could also employ different methods to tweak your topic (eg. using humor to connect with the audience if your topic is completely new to the audience) so that they obey the above three aspects to a greater extent.

2. Take it From TED

The TED Commandments

First things first, if you’re going to be talking at a TEDx event, you definitely need to wrap your head around these TED COMMANDMENTS to ensure that your words have the ability to make an impact you are looking forward to creating (without compromising on the set rules).

1. Thou Shalt Not Simply Trot Out thy Usual Shtick
2. Thou Shalt Dream a Great Dream, or Show Forth a Wondrous New Thing, Or Share Something Thou Hast Never Shared Before
3. Thou Shalt Reveal thy Curiosity and Thy Passion
4.Thou Shalt Tell a Story
5.Thou shalt Freely Comment on the Utterances of Other Speakers for the Sake of Blessed Connection and Exquisite Controversy
6.Thou Shalt Not Flaunt thine Ego. Be Thou Vulnerable. Speak of thy Failure as well as thy Success.
7.Thou Shalt Not Sell from the Stage: Neither thy Company, thy Goods, thy Writings, nor thy Desperate need for Funding; Lest Thou be Cast Aside into Outer Darkness.
8.Thou Shalt Remember all the while: Laughter is Good.
9. Thou Shalt Not Read thy Speech.
10.Thou Shalt Not Steal the Time of Them that Follow Thee.

10 TED Talks that Top your List

It will be very beneficial for you to do your own research and find the content that makes your favorite talks your favorite. Study how your most loved TED speakers add their own personality to their talk. Observe how different speakers structure their content differently to deliver in the same 18 (or less) minutes. 

For starters, check out this TED talk by Will Stephen that is very helpful in terms of making you understand how to be efficient at your delivery. 

If you observe closely, you will see that though he claims to have been saying nothing of any value, the way he is presenting it actually makes a lot of sense. And in doing so, Stephen showcases the points given below:

  • Using expressive inflection via hand gestures to project confidence
  • Asking the audience questions
  • Sharing a personal anecdote
  • Appealing to authority
  • Making use of visual aids
  • Emphasizing on core parts, changing tone where required
  • Connecting the end to the beginning

3. Teasing Out the Idea

Rule of Three

A sign showing the number 3 attached on the net of a goalpost.

Carmine Gallo, in his book, Talk Like Ted, places great emphasis on the rule of three. It refers to the tendency of the human brain to remember about three pieces of information in a span of about 10 minutes. 

Right from the ancient Romans and their obsession with “omne trium perfectum” (everything that is three is perfect, remember veni, vidi, vici? ) to your academic papers that stressed on having an intro-body-conclusion for your essays, to a research from the University of California published in 2014 – the results show that the human brain loves receiving things in three. 

Most movie plots, speeches or presentations follow this structure. The three part structure, as Gallo calls it, is as follows : 

SET UPSetting up the scene, creating the setting, context, introducing characters etc. leading to a rising action
CONFLICTA conundrum of events, problem arising
RESOLUTIONClarity and conclusion

You do not need to follow the exact same copy of the table above. What we’re trying to say is, try to condense your content into three pieces; so you can narrate three stories, talk about three ideas, events and so on.

Steve Jobs applied this rule for many of his public speeches, the most famous of which is his commencement speech at The University Of Stanford. In his talk, he narrates three stories from his life that made him what he is and keeps his audience engaged from the start to the end. 

You can check this article we wrote on The Power of the Rule of Three in Speech Writing to gain more insight on ways to apply this rule.

To sum it up in the words of Dale Carneigi,

Tell the audience what you’re going to say, say it; then tell them what you’ve said.”

Example of a TED talk Outline

The significance of an outline has been fed into our mind ever since we were school kids. However basic the good old “intro-body-conclusion” might sound, it is undeniable that this outline has been seen in most famous speeches time and again. 

To learn in detail about the Speech outline: What it is & Why is it Useful, we recommend reading our extensively detailed article on it.

Below we offer you a brief outline of a very popular TED talk by Cameron Russel. You can catch the whole talk here:

Skim through this brief outline to understand how the speech has been effectively divided into bits that all fit together seamlessly to present one stirring TED talk.

Introducing the topic:

Gripping opening statement or title

Title – Looks aren’t Everything. Believe me, I’m a model.

0:09 – Hi. My name is Cameron Russell, and for the last little while, I’ve been a model. Actually, for 10 years. 

(Humor)

0:31 – And I feel like there’s an uncomfortable tension in the room right now because I should not have worn this dress. So luckily, I brought an outfit change. This is the first outfit change on the TED stage, so you guys are pretty lucky to witness it, I think. If some of the women were really horrified when I came out, you don’t have to tell me now, but I’ll find out later on Twitter. 

A brief preview of the topic – setting the scene

0:51 – I’d also note that I’m quite privileged to be able to transform what you think of me in a very brief 10 seconds. Not everybody gets to do that. 

Transition from the introduction to the body of the speech:

(Demonstrative activity) 

These heels are very uncomfortable, so good thing I wasn’t going to wear them. The worst part is putting this sweater over my head, because that’s when you’ll all laugh at me, so don’t do anything while it’s over my head. All right. 

(Building connection with vulnerability)

01:20 – So, why did I do that? That was awkward. Hopefully not as awkward as that picture. 

Body: 

Establishing stance/position

1:29 – Image is powerful, but also, image is superficial. I just totally transformed what you thought of me, in six seconds. 

Example to support stance – Inserting visual aids 

And in this picture, I had actually never had a boyfriend in real life. I was totally uncomfortable, and the photographer was telling me to arch my back and put my hand in that guy’s hair. And of course, barring surgery, or the fake tan that I got two days ago for work, there’s very little that we can do to transform how we look, and how we look, though it is superficial and immutable, has a huge impact on our lives. 

Telling the audience what you are going to tell them

2:17 – So today, for me, being fearless means being honest. And I am on this stage because I am a model. I am on this stage because I am a pretty, white woman, and in my industry, we call that a sexy girl. I’m going to answer the questions that people always ask me, but with an honest twist. 

Actually telling them – describing a series of events/ a process (Question 1)

2:36 – So the first question is, how do you become a model? I always just say, “Oh, I was scouted,” but that means nothing. The real way that I became a model is I won a genetic lottery, and I am the recipient of a legacy, and maybe you’re wondering what is a legacy. Well, for the past few centuries we have defined beauty not just as health and youth and symmetry that we’re biologically programmed to admire, but also as tall, slender figures, and femininity and white skin. And this is a legacy that was built for me, and it’s a legacy that I’ve been cashing out on.

Presenting statistics from credible sources- adding weight to your argument

3:27 – But unfortunately, I have to inform you that in 2007, a very inspired NYU PhD student counted all the models on the runway, every single one that was hired, and of the 677 models that were hired, only 27, or less than four percent, were non-white. 

(Question 2) Offering an explanation

3:45 – The next question people always ask is, “Can I be a model when I grow up?” And the first answer is, “I don’t know, they don’t put me in charge of that.” But the second answer, and what I really want to say to these little girls is, “Why? You know? You can be anything. 

(Question 3) Reintroducing the main idea to reinforce it

5:25 – The next question is, “Do they retouch all the photos?” And yeah, they pretty much retouch all the photos, but that is only a small component of what’s happening. Here’s me at a slumber party a few days before I shot French Vogue. Here’s me on the soccer team and in V Magazine. And I hope what you’re seeing is that these pictures are not pictures of me. They are constructions, and they are constructions by a group of professionals, by hairstylists and makeup artists and photographers and stylists and all of their assistants and pre-production and post-production, and they build this. That’s not me. 

Conclusion:

Acknowledgement/ Gratitude

8:53 – But I’m also happy and honored to be up here and I think that it’s great that I got to come before 10 or 20 or 30 years had passed and I’d had more agency in my career, because maybe then I wouldn’t tell the story of how I got my first job, or maybe I wouldn’t tell the story of how I paid for college, which seems so important right now. 

Offering a Takeaway

09:11- If there’s a takeaway to this talk, I hope it’s that we all feel more comfortable acknowledging the power of image in our perceived successes and our perceived failures. Thank you. 

4. Telling Your Tale

Starting your TED Talk Right

When Larry Smith opened his TED talk by saying these following lines – “I want to discuss with you this afternoon why you’re going to fail to have a great career”…

He knew he had managed to grab his audience’s attention. Provocative statements like these create a sense of wonder, curiosity, and in this case, fear, in the mind of the listeners. 

This is why speech openings set the stage, the mood and atmosphere,  for everything that you are going to say later on in your talk. 

Everyone is most attentive at the start of the speech as compared to the other parts of it, and that is why you can make clever use of the first few minutes to ensure a powerful opening.

In case you are looking for inspiration, we have written a great article on 15 Powerful speech opening lines, along with guidelines to create your own. 

And now that you know the importance of starting a speech, be sure you also wrap your mind around How to NOT start a speech. We’ve got you covered there too!

The Art of Storytelling

A group of people sitting by a bonfire and telling stories.

“Stories cannot demolish frontiers, but they can punch holes in our mental walls. And through those holes, we can get a glimpse of the other, and sometimes even like what we see.”

 Elif Shafak, from the TED Talk: The politics of fiction

Akash Karia, analysed more than 200 talks for his book TED Talks Storytelling resulting in the discovery of the key element that defined most successful TED talks – storytelling.

There are several approaches you can take to storytelling. Here’s an article we wrote suggesting 9 storytelling approaches for your speeches and presentations.

A personal narrative with Conflict

According to John Medina,“The brain remembers the emotional components of an experience better than any other aspect.” When we risk being vulnerable and let our guard down, the audience mirrors that emotion. If we don’t, they are more likely to remain distant from us. 

Stories containing conflict manage to capture and stimulate the listeners’ emotions and keep them engaged. 

However, be sure to avoid manipulating the audience’s emotions with superficial inspiration. For example, telling a story to lead to something like this is the moment I will make the audience cry. It comes across as outdated and manipulative and is best to stay away from.  

Show, Don’t Tell

If you want your audience to picture the story you’re sharing with them, you need to do more than just voicing it out. This requires you to first and foremost, visualize it in your head and tap the five senses as you’re doing it. Karia suggests remembering this acronym – VAKOG  to successfully paint a mental picture in the mind of the audience.

V – visual – see

A – auditory – hear

K – kinesthetic – touch

O – olfactory – smell

G – gustatory – taste

Adding specifics and details helps your audience relate to the event you’re describing along with increasing chances of remembering what you said. 

For example, instead of saying “I met two people that day who made me what I am today” try saying “On that day, I met two people- a woman wearing tangerine sandals and a grey haired old man puffing his pipe, and they have made me what I am today.”

It makes you sound credible and realistic.

Rhetorically Speaking

Top view of a woman seated with a blank notebook opened up and a pen in hand.

In the process of preparing your TED talk’s content, be sure to not leave out the ever helpful rhetorical devices. These devices enhance your speech to make it more compelling and persuasive.

Remember Martin Luther King Jr’s historic speech I have a dream? In it, he used a certain rhetorical device called anaphora – which refers to the repetition of a phrase or a word at the beginning of consecutive sentences.

As seen when he says,

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”

Anaphora is just one of the many rhetorical devices out there. You can use these devices throughout your speech, right at the start or towards the end to make sure your talk has the impact you want it to have.

To get a clearer understanding of the importance of using these devices, check out this article we wrote that brings to you  4 Ways to Use Rhetorical Devices to Make Powerful Speeches. It also delves into the importance of having a powerful beginning and end to your speech along with suggesting ways to do this with the use of rhetorical devices. So be sure to check it out.

Visual Aids

If anything, visual aids like presentation slides, photos, statistics, graphs, etc should add to what you’re saying and never be a cause of distraction.

Images can help your listeners visualize and remember the places, things or people you talk about. 

Similarly, if you’re making use of infographics, stats and figures, try to make the numbers come alive

For example, after placing a chunk of numerical data in front of the audience, say something along the lines of “to put that into context” or “that’s the equivalent of 50 people standing on top of each other.” 

Ending it on the Right Note

If you’ve come across the video of Barack Obama’s iconic “Obama out” mic-drop speech ending, you know how crucial it is to end your talk on the right note. 

Check it here:

As a result of the recency effect,  the ending of your speech matters greatly because when we are presented with a list of items to keep in mind, we are more likely to remember the last few things than those at the start or somewhere in the middle. 

Hence, incorporating important themes as you close your talk benefits you. Be wary of falling for age old cliches like “Be the change you want to see” or “That’s all the time I’ve got”. Sure, they mean good, but you gotta be realistic about it and ensure things don’t fall flat as you end. 

Try going over these 5 Ways to End your Speech for Maximum impact and win the hearts of your listeners.

Advisory Panel

BYOC (Be Your Own Critic)

After you’ve sorted your content, you might consider rehearsing it before D-Day. If to memorize or not to – is your question, we have an article for you right there.

Irrespective of the side you choose to go with, here’s something that will benefit you. Look into the lens and record yourself everyday. Choose to record different parts of your speech. Go over the recording and find one thing to improve on and work on it. 

Mentor or Expert Feedback

Have a group of people (experts in your field, public speaking coaches, mentors, 10 year olds, trusted friends etc) who you can rehearse your talk with. 

While practicing with them, try to gauge how much of your talk they are able to grasp. Pay attention to their faces and reactions (people generally tend to tilt their head towards the right  when they’re interested in listening to something) and ask for honest feedback about your talk. 

Keep in mind the feedback they provide you with and incorporate it as per your will. You might want to keep your unedited and revised drafts separately. 

Find Local Stages

Try getting on as many stages as possible to get comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. 

You can consider joining your local toastmasters club or speaking at local events that provide you with similar speaking opportunities. This will help you build your confidence. 

The goal is to practice your content to the extent that you’ve internalized it and can deliver it to an audience as comfortably as you talk to a close friend about it.

5. Going Down in History

A table top setup consisting of a blank paper with the words "Marketing Strategy" written on it and surrounded by an iron, tape, a couple of markers, a potted plant and books on marketing and pricing.

Provide Access

Try giving your audience a link to build a deeper relationship with you. If you have really inspired someone, they’ll most likely want to connect to you. 

You can do this by providing them the link to your blog, giving out handouts, etc. 

Marketing

Create a mailing list of people who you can share your talk with; include your family, colleagues, mentors etc. 

The first hour after the video release plays a key part in determining the sort of impact your talk can make. Hence, try to reach out to the maximum number of people you can by sending them invites with details. 

Final Words

To sum it up, giving a TED talk provides you with a platform and a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get yourself and your ideas out there where they can impact hundreds and thousands of people. By using these tips for your TED talk preparation process, you can certainly make the idea of your dream TED talk a reality.

As Chris Anderson says,  “It is not enough that it is a good talk. It needs to be the best talk that you can give.”

And though we’ve tried to give you a list of worthwhile ways to prepare for it, the truth is that

“There is no formula to a TED talk.

Above all else, we want people to be original, to be themselves, to own their talk.

Do it  the way you know best.

Make it yours.”

Hrideep Barot is the founder and chief writer at Frantically Speaking, a portal to help people learn everything about public speaking. The purpose of franticallyspeaking.com is to showcase the lessons that he has learned (and still learning) from his numerous stage experiences and mentors over all these years.