TED Talks are billed as talks worth listening to and ideas worth spreading. For speakers seeking to make an impression, the Talks also happen to be worth studying.
Ted Talks aren’t improv. They are finely shaped, easily accessible and entertaining presentations. They are highly personal. They are intentionally irresistible.
That irresistibility flows from how TED Talks are constructed. They are typically built around engaging stories, digestible facts and personal authenticity. Speakers are focused on their message and considerate of their audience. The language is clear, crisp and down-to-earth.
My experience in speech-writing and media training has reinforced the perception that many speakers are self-indulgent. These speakers satisfy themselves at the expense of starving their audience. They may have something valuable and insightful to say that gets lost in the fog of wordiness, wandering thoughts and needless detail.
One Ted Talks admirer calls them 18-minute speeches that seem like friendly conversations on your back deck. They are videos at the speed of TikTok. They become journeys people want to join. That’s why they are immensely popular worldwide.
TED Talks aren’t college lectures or storytime at the local library. TED Talks are intended to motivate. They are designed to deliver an effective call-to-action on an important issue or idea. They work for in-person audiences and online. They can tackle global problems or local issues.
There isn’t a formula for a TED Talk, but there is a general path to follow:
- An intriguing opening hook
- A clearly stated key message
- An orderly progression of points that support the key message
- A compelling closing story that sells the call-to-action.
TED Talks can be assessed as much by what they omit as contain. Interesting, but extraneous information is left on the cutting room floor. Talks are given without notes or aid of a teleprompter. Pictures, charts, slides, drawings and objects can be used if they contribute to, not distract from the goal of motivating viewers.
My experience in speech-writing and media training has reinforced the perception that many speakers are self-indulgent. Perhaps not on purpose, but still gratingly so. These speakers satisfy themselves at the expense of starving their audience. They may have something valuable and insightful to say that gets lost in the fog of wordiness, wandering thoughts and needless detail.
The originators and coaches of TED Talks do a great service to audiences everywhere by training speakers how to connect and inspire with their words. You don’t get on stage because of reputation or chutzpah. You get on stage by applying rigorous discipline so your words sparkle and your thoughts shine.
You produce a highly polished, succinct and thought-provoking speech by zeroing in on what you want to say, finding a way to say it clearly and authentically, editing relentlessly and practicing religiously. This is the route to any successful speech, yet it is often the road not taken. Speakers take shortcuts, using excuses like how busy they are, how familiar they are with the subject and how confident they are in speaking off-the-cuff. Too often, they are sadly mistaken. They waste a good audience. They miss an opportunity to impress and to inspire.
Another fallacy is that good writing translates into good speaking. Writing is meant to be read. Speaking is meant to be heard. What it takes to maintain the attention span of a reader is different that is required to retain the focus of a viewer. Don’t forget, people in audience for a speech are more likely to remember what they see than what they hear. The art of the TED Talker is to captivate an audience with ear-catching, modulated words that reveal a story that has a serious punchline.
The notion people are born-speakers is silly. Effective speaking is a learned trade. What TED Talks have shown over the years is that a wide range of people, from all walks of life, from extroverts to introverts, can enthrall an audience if they have the guts and perseverance to work at it. Search online for examples of TED Talks, including local versions. Here is a particularly relevant TED Talk by Julian Treasure given in 2013 that deals with vocal techniques that will entice people to listen to your words. https://www.ted.com/talks/julian_treasure_how_to_speak_so_that_people_want_to_listen?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare