7 tips for crafting a great TED talk

The nonprofit TED has become a major forum for leaders bringing forth new ideas. Here’s how to make your speaker’s talk a success, regardless of the venue or audience.

When planetary scientist Carolyn Porco gave a talk for TED—the nonprofit devoted to “ideas worth spreading”—she described new evidence that the ingredients for life could exist on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

The discovery could have enormous implications, suggested Rob Friedman, senior director of executive communications at Eli Lilly and Co.

“Right now, on one of the moons of Saturn, theoretically somebody else could be delivering a talk on how to deliver a TED talk,” Friedman joked.

Friedman offers his own tips in a new Ragan Training session, “How to write an effective TED talk.” The session provides tips for writing for executives and others who may give a speech for TED and other venues.

TED talks differ widely. Why, then, are they so compelling? You can hear a researcher describing having a stroke, Friedman said, or take in an expert’s thoughts on motivation or how schools kill creativity.

Yet successful TED talks share several characteristics. They take on a problem and offer a solution, Friedman said. They include an element of novelty. They are built around stories. And they touch the heart.

Here are some tips for writing your leader’s TED-style speech (or your own):

1. Offer one lesson.

Tell about something life has taught you or your speaker.

“What’s one lesson that made a huge difference for you?” Friedman said. “Or if you could go back in time and give yourself one lesson, what would it be?”

2. Describe a pivotal life event.

What defining moment really changed your life?

“That could be a moment of triumph or joy, but … some of the most powerful stories start with loss or pain or terror or failure,” Friedman said.

3. Tell about overcoming weakness or failure.

The theme should be, “I got knocked down, and I got back up.”

4. Offer an element of novelty.

TED talks offer either information you’ve never heard before or a new take on or a solution to older problems, Friedman said. Often they include “jaw-droppers.”

In Porco’s talk, a clip of which Friedman played for his audience, she showed pictures from the Cassini–Huygens probe. Then she said she was about to show her audience an image no human had ever seen before.

Friedman adds, “Talk about a great attention-grabber.”

5. Tell about a relationship that made a difference.

This could be a key message from a parent, mentor, coach, teacher or even a child, Friedman says.

6. Dramatize your topic.

The magician David Blaine talks about how he held his breath underwater for 17 minutes (among other amazing feats), Friedman said.

Director James Cameron gave a TED talk in which he explained that his purpose in making the movie “Titanic” was to visit the actual wrecked ship on the sea floor. “He said he got the studio to fund his expedition by telling them that was how he was going to open the movie with scenes from the real Titanic,” Friedman said.

7. Check out others’ talks.

Here are a few of what Friedman lists as the most-viewed TED topics:

· The 10 things you didn’t know about orgasm

· Underwater astonishments

· Your body language shapes who you are

· The power of introverts

· How great leaders inspire action

· The surprising science of happiness

Other topics include “These robots come to the rescue after a disaster” and “How too many rules at work can keep you from getting things done.”

What eye-openers can your speaker wow the audience with?

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal RaganTraining.com. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.


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