Presentation tips from TED

Secrets of the world’s most inspiring presentations

A review of Jeremey Donovan’s book How to Deliver a TED Talk.

There was a time when people predicted the end of conferences, that technology would remove the desire for people to come together in one place to hear others present. In fact the opposite has happened, live content has become more valuable and digital channels have served to amplify it to other audiences. TED Talks exemplify this. Tickets for the annual conference cost thousands of dollars and are sold by invitation only; many of the talks have online viewing figures that TV shows would kill for.

Jeremey Donovan is a self-confessed TED Talks addict; he’s watched and dissected hundreds, all of which pursue the TED mission of ideas worth spreading. And, in this very readable book he shares 113 tips drawn from the content, delivery and design that sit behind the best of them.

TED is famous for the time limit it imposes on presenters, typically 18minutes but sometimes only three, it is this stricture that makes the format so compelling. Presenters are forced to think carefully about how they communicate their idea and to ruthlessly edit their content.

Whilst you’ll find plenty of other books offering advice on presentation delivery and design, this book is particularly valuable on structuring content. I’ve selected four of the tips I found most useful and the TED Talks the author uses to illustrate them.

1) What’s your Idea?

The key difference between TED Talks and all too many other presentations is the clarity of the idea being shared. Before starting work on what you’re going to say crystalize your idea worth spreading. Often this is best done in the form of a question and answer. Susan Cain asked herself, “How can I help people accept themselves and others for who they are?” She answered with her idea worth spreading, “To show introverts that they contribute equal value to the world as extroverts.”

TED Talk: Susan Cain “The power of introverts.”

2) Organising your Idea

Donovan shows that TED Talks are frequently made up of five parts, an introduction and a conclusion with three parts in between. In these central parts the idea is unfolded through premise and proof. The most viewed TED Talk of all time is Ken Robinson’s “How schools kill creativity”. He introduces each of his three central parts with an anecdote, an emotional proof point, from which he then draws a premise.

TED Talk: Ken Robinson “Do schools kill creativity?”

3) The Hook

The first minute is the peak of your audience’s attention, so hook them fast. It could be a prologue in which you ask the audience to imagine themselves in a particular situation. Or a question, or a shocking statement; Jamie Oliver started his TED Talk by saying: ‘Sadly in the next 18minutes while I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead from the food they eat.”

TED Talk: Jamie Oliver “Teach every child about food”

4) The Catchphrase

This might sound trite, but encapsulating your idea in a pithy action orientated phrase helps the audience remember and spread your idea. Simon Sinek shared a common thread for why some leaders and companies succeed while others fail. He communicated his idea as, “Start with why.” A further tip is to repeat your catchphrase at least three times during your presentation.

TED Talk: Simon Sinek “Start with why”

How to Deliver a TED Talk is essential reading for anyone briefing speakers, preparing a presentation or writing a business pitch. And, along the way you’ll be introduced to many ideas worth spreading.