How to Deliver a TED Talk

I recently attended my first TEDxTalk.* I had always hoped to go to one of these Technology, Education, and Design inspired events. Maybe it was the mission “to spread ideas worth sharing” that intrigued me, or maybe it was the line-up of fascinating speakers. Regardless, I was full of anticipation as I walked through the ticket line and into the auditorium.

My first TEDxTalk did not disappoint. In addition to leaving with many things to ponder, it made me think about these speakers who shared their ideas in only 18 minutes and what made certain talks crowd favorites.

That is where Jeremey Donovan’s book How to Deliver a TED Talk came into my reading life.  This book is literally a ‘how to’ manual for anyone interested in speaking in public; the TED Talk circuit being the holy grail for some.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Content must come from your heart

"Speaking does not inspire people; content inspires people."
- How to Deliver a TED Talk, page viii

Mr. Donovan is Group Vice President of Marketing at Gartner Inc, a TEDx organizer and a TEDx speaker. Jeremy Donovan describes himself as a ‘speaking nerd’ and offers up nuggets of wisdom as a coach to many TED and TEDx speakers.

He has spent countless hours watching the most viewed, the most popular, TED Talks out there. He watches each video at least 3 times each looking to capture the 1) essence of the idea, 2) the delivery, and 3) the design. A common pattern that emerges is that your talk will fall short—no matter how polished you are as a speaker—unless your idea comes from your heart. It is then that your idea will be inspiringly contagious.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Speak as you would to your friends

"Great speakers drop the pretense, forget all the rules, and use simple and authentic conversational language."
- How to Deliver a TED Talk, page 161

In the section of the book devoted to the design of a TED Talk, the author outlines several practical tips on how to put your talk together.  He is a very big advocate of not using slides in your presentation delivery at all. He points to the fact that four of the ten most viewed TED presenters did not use slides. Although this should make any budding speaker sit up and take note, the reason not to use slides that resonated with me the most was that you do not prepare slides to speak to your friends. If you can craft your talk in such a way that it doesn’t appear ‘crafted’, your audience, or that really large group of ‘friends’, are more likely to walk away feeling moved by what you said and feel inspired to spread your idea even beyond the boundaries of that room.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Speaking is about giving to your audience

"I always show up to give...whenever I speak, I don’t show up wanting anything from anyone … I always show up to share."
- Simon Sinek, as quoted in How to Deliver a TED Talk, page 27

I mentioned earlier that for some speakers a TED Talk or a TEDxTalk would be a career highlight, and I have to admit, it would be for me, too. But what Jeremey Donovan very wisely suggests is that we examine our motivations for wanting to speak in public, TED Talk or otherwise. The question he asks many hopeful speakers to help get to our core motivation is: “Why do you want to give this talk?”

The best answer is one that focuses on the audience and not you as the speaker.  An answer that speaks to an opportunity to reach a new audience, build your brand, or grow your business doesn’t have the authenticity that an audience and the organizers of any TED Talk event will buy into. Instead, the best speakers will respond that they have an idea they are so passionate about that they need to tell people about it. They believe it could make a difference for an individual or in the global world.

As Jeremey Donovan says, “I recognize that you may never actually deliver at TED Talk. However, you need to be able to express your ideas in a way that inspires others.” This book is a go-to manual that could easily be referred to multiple times when preparing to give a presentation to your Board of Directors or for that upcoming wedding you’ve been asked to emcee. Whether aspiring to be the next TED Talk viral sensation or not, this book should be a tucked away in the office of anyone who does any speaking in public.

*In the event you are wondering what the difference between a TED Talk and  TEDxTalk is, the basic difference is that a TEDxTalk is an independent, community based (often local) event that uses the TED Talk license after meeting certain criteria as defined by the TED Talk organization.

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Barb Brittain-Marshall

ABOUT Barb Brittain-Marshall

Barb Brittain-Marshall is addicted to reading. Seriously, it has become a bit of a problem. Stacks of books clutter her home. She fears an intervention is close at hand...
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