Business presentations are an opportunity for leaders to showcase their expertise and audience members to engage with valuable, inspiring information.
Before the pandemic took hold, I had the honor of coaching speakers for TEDxCaryWomen. Participating in the process was educational (even for a veteran, like myself), and the principles and techniques we’ll discuss pertain just as well to virtual events. Let’s look at which best practices from TED-style talks apply to everyday business presentations.
1. Adjust your mindset to invite curiosity.
The first best practice that sets TED speakers apart is that they approach their talks as if they’re simply chatting with their audience. This approach touches each listener in a way that feels personal and invites listeners into the conversation.
Chris Anderson, curator and head of TED, describes this process in his book “TED Talks: the Official TED Guide to Public Speaking.” He says it all starts with mindset:
“The first step is to think of your talk as not being an issue, but an idea. … An issue-based talk leads with morality. An idea-based talk leads with curiosity. An issue exposes a problem. An idea proposes a solution. An issue says, ‘Isn’t this terrible?’ An idea says, ‘Isn’t this interesting?’”
I think this is one of the elements that makes TED talks so alluring — there is no judgment. But there is a shake-up, a prompting, an invitation to see or experience life from a different perspective. If you approach your next business presentation with a similar mindset, your ideas will resonate with your audience like never before.
Pro tip: What would happen if, when preparing for that next town hall meeting or Zoom chat, you shifted your mindset from “let’s get through this” to “how can I pique my audience’s curiosity and invite them to be a part of the conversation or the solution?”
2. Excavate your idea worth sharing.
TED talks are a maximum of 18 minutes — a length intentionally chosen by TED organizers based both on neuroscience and strategy. Eighteen minutes is long enough for a speaker to flesh out a complete idea, but short enough for listeners to absorb, digest and understand the material. This particular “guardrail” helps TED speakers focus on one core idea and may be a good benchmark for your next business presentation.
Whether you’re a TED speaker or a business leader, the real work starts with sorting through the topic and teasing out the core idea. Like an archaeologist carefully sweeping aside the grit to expose the nugget of real value, you must excavate and extract your big idea worth sharing.
Regardless of the length of your presentation, aim to get your idea down to a pithy, punchy 10 words or less. Also referred to as the through line, core message, or what I call your unique perspective, these 10 words must be easy to recall and repeat. After all, if the listeners can’t recall and repeat your key point, did they really “get” the message?
Pro tip: To get to your unique perspective, ask yourself: Why is this topic relevant to this audience at this time? What about it is crucial for them to understand in order to move forward?
Ask these questions not once or twice, but over and over — in the repetition, the answers will emerge. The goal is to discover the real need and express it simply and in plain language so listeners can recall and repeat your idea worth sharing.
3. Connect, don’t perform.
It’s easy to watch a masterful TEDx talk and think that the value is in the performance. After all, TED talks are known for being inspiring and entertaining, and TED speakers are absolutely at the top of their games. But to focus on the performance is to miss what really sets these presentations apart: the connection.
Consider your favorite TED talks and why you treasure them. I bet your answer has to do with the speaker’s passion, conviction, and their ability to connect with their listeners. Successful business presentations have this in common with TED-style talks. So how do you ensure you connect with your audience when you give your next presentation?
Developing an authentic business presentation takes thoughtful consideration. A cut-and-paste presentation rarely meets the need. Authenticity requires a commitment to writing and rewriting until you nail the content. Beyond content, delivery matters, too. Consider where to stand and what gestures emphasize your points effectively without coming across as phony or forced. Then, practice out loud.
Thorough preparation will allow you to keep it real and talk to the audience as if you’re talking to a good friend over a favorite beverage; the real you will shine through. This level of authenticity builds rapport, establishes trust and creates a lasting impression with your audience.
Pro tip: A successful presentation is not about getting everything perfect. It’s about being prepared, wanting to connect and sharing openly with others. To get there, remember to practice out loud.
4. Share your passion to inspire.
As a business communicator, you might not always feel as passionate about your subject matter as a TED speaker. However, you can use the desire to accomplish your goals as fuel to drive an engaging delivery that inspires action.
Regardless of the topic or how many times you’ve delivered a presentation on the subject matter, it’s crucial that you deliver your ideas with enthusiasm. Keep in mind that your audience will take their cues from you. If you seem disinterested, you can bet your audience will be bored. To deliver a message that resonates, you must convey your conviction for the topic.
Pro tip: Again, this best practice is about developing the mindset that will make you a successful presenter. It’s your enthusiasm for your topic that drives an engaging, authentic delivery that will in turn resonate with listeners.
Whether you’ve been asked to deliver a TED-style talk or present to your team via video, remember that every presentation is an opportunity to connect with people who can help you achieve results. Use these four best practices to ensure that you’re taking full advantage of your next opportunity.