Why would you want to talk like TED?

presentation skills ted talks Nov 12, 2021
What makes a successful TED Talk

By guest contributor Teri Kingston (pictured)

What is it about TED-style speaking that makes it so attractive and compelling? What exactly do organizers mean by ‘TED-style’ anyway? And why would I, a professional speaker, want to learn to talk like TED?

Perhaps a simple comparison of the difference between a professional speech and a TED or TEDx talk will help. 

According to Cathay Armillas, a TEDx speaker and coach, there are seven elements that illustrate the difference between the two styles of presentations:

Time... content... style... delivery... outcome... ownership... method.

Let’s look at these one by one.

Many professional speakers or subject matter experts say they have no interest in distilling 40 years of experience and thousands of hours of content creation into an 18-minute talk. However, for those who do want the challenge, learning to distill hours of content into a tight, well-designed and delivered talk based on ‘one idea worth spreading’ is a skill set you can apply to all your future presentations. 

Keynotes, breakouts and workshops contain three or more points based on the information or the knowledge content the professional speaker wants to share. A TED or TEDx talk is based around ‘one idea worth spreading’ that can be stated in fewer than fifteen words. Then, the entire talk is designed to illustrate, amplify or animate the central idea or through-line.

Style and Delivery: 
Professional speaking often contains an element of motivation or inspiration.  Many speakers are trained to use ‘performance’ types of gestures and movement on the stage to engage, excite and influence their audience. They often pace the stage from one side to the other with great energy.

The style of speaking that TED prefers is more natural as if the speaker is carrying on a conversation with the audience, speaking with them rather than at them or to them. Their movements are natural and often the same ones they use every day. They are required to stay within the infamous TED red dot - which requires that they use gesture and movement intentionally and only when it enhances the through-line.  

Knowledge transfer, information sharing, motivation or education are some typical outcomes for professional speakers. A TED talk is designed around one major outcome: getting the audience to act on the idea that the talk is based around.

As a professional speaker your intellectual property is yours.  As a TED or TEDx speaker, your talk becomes free for all to share based on creative commons rights. 

Give a speech vs deliver a talk. TED talks are delivered without notes, from memory. They are scripted and carefully rehearsed, well-designed, edited so that every word counts. The more technical talks are well-produced with visuals designed to move the audience along the through-line. The best talks lead the audience on a journey that creates an understanding of the ‘big idea', often includes an ‘ah-ha’ or breakthrough moment 

In the words of TED head Chris Anderson, TED is all about ideas. Once you hone-in on yours, create an outline to help you explain why the world should care. Then, excite your audience with memorable imagery - a story - to entice them and show your idea in action. Finally, edit, edit, edit. Cut the fat and streamline your speech.

As professional speakers we invest huge amounts of time to make our presentations effective. 

The TED or TEDx arena is a high-stakes platform that demands us to develop the most refined skills possible. It is not easy by any means but, it is worthwhile. 

Teri Kingston works with speakers, authors, and executives who want to amplify their message through the delivery of a TEDx talk or TED-style talk so that they can impact, inspire, and ignite any audience every time. Teri brings insight and experience from more than 5 years of helping select speakers for the TEDx stage, coaching those selected, and, most recently, her own experience of delivering her own TEDx talk.