Making presentations in the TED style
May 12, 2009
TED has earned a lot of attention over the years for many reasons, including the nature and quality of its short-form conference presentations. All presenters lucky enough to be asked to speak at TED are given 18-minute slots maximum (some are for even less time such as 3- and 6-minute slots). Some who present at TED are not used to speaking on a large stage, or are at least not used to speaking on their topic with strict time restraints. TED does not make a big deal publicly out of the TED Commandments, but many TED presenters have referenced the speaking guidelines in their talks and in their blogs over the years.
Thanks to Tim Longhurst (The TED Commandments - rules every speaker needs to know) you can see the list in an easier to read format below.
- Thou Shalt Not Simply Trot Out thy Usual Shtick.
- Thou Shalt Dream a Great Dream, or Show Forth a Wondrous New Thing, Or Share Something Thou Hast Never Shared Before.
- Thou Shalt Reveal thy Curiosity and Thy Passion.
- Thou Shalt Tell a Story.
- Thou Shalt Freely Comment on the Utterances of Other Speakers for the Sake of Blessed Connection and Exquisite Controversy.
- Thou Shalt Not Flaunt thine Ego. Be Thou Vulnerable. Speak of thy Failure as well as thy Success.
- Thou Shalt Not Sell from the Stage: Neither thy Company, thy Goods, thy Writings, nor thy Desperate need for Funding; Lest Thou be Cast Aside into Outer Darkness.
- Thou Shalt Remember all the while: Laughter is Good.
- Thou Shalt Not Read thy Speech.
- Thou Shalt Not Steal the Time of Them that Follow Thee.
In less than two weeks TEDx Tokyo 2009 will have its unveiling. I am advising some of the presenters on site the day before TEDx and pointing them to this particular post and other resources in the days ahead. There is not one best way to speak at a TED conference, there are many different ways. But what the good presentations have in common is that they were created carefully and thoughtfully with the audience in mind and were delivered with passion, clarity, brevity, and always with "the story" of it (whatever it is) in mind. So let the list of 10 above be your general guide. In addition, take a look at some of the TED presentations below. They all follow a different style but were effective and memorable in their own way.
• Presenting fully naked, no slides, no script
Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity? Sir Ken knows what he wants to say and usually has 2-3 key points in mind, but he does not read a script or use notes. He makes good use of humor and story to illustrate his points.
• Presenting with highly visual slides in the PZ style
Seth Godin: Why tribes, not money or factories, will change the world. Seth uses many, large colorful slides in his talks but the slides have very little (if any) text. Seth is out front totally engaged.
• Presenting with slides kind of like Al Gore
Al Gore: 15 ways to avert a climate crisis. Al Gore became an engaging presenter with the aid of simple, high-impact visuals that helped him tell the story and give evidence supporting his content.
• Using a prepared script from the lectern (no slides)
Isabel Allende: Tales of passion. In general, I do not recommend reading a speech at such a conference, but if you do read, do it in a way that is engaging as demonstrated by Isabel Allende.
• Using a prepared script from the lectern (with slides/video)
Sylvia Earle (TED Prize winner 2009). Although Dr. Earle was using a script, she knew her material so well that it felt natural and the pacing was almost perfect with the visuals.
• Presenting well in spite of superfluous, cruddy bulleted slides
Tony Robbins: Why we do what we do. Tony Robbins speaks for a living, and while I do not recommend swearing from the stage, Tony was able to engage a rather skeptical audience at TED in spite of poor visuals. Watch the presentation to see how.
• Presenting in a way that makes an amazing connection with the audience
Jill Bolte Taylor: My stroke of insight. Dr. Taylor uses some slides and one prop (an actual human brain), but mainly she lets her emotions out and tells her story in an honest, sincere way. Amazing.
• Presenting data with slides to tell meaningful stories
Hans Rosling: Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you've ever seen. Who says data is boring? Data is like notes on a page, says Dr. Rosling, it's up to the presenter (the conductor) to bring the data (music) alive for the people.
• Presenting in sync with many, many slides
Larry Lessig: How creativity is being strangled by the law. Who says you can't speak well to 200 PowerPoint/Keynote slides? No one does it like Prof. Lessig.
• Presenting from the piano, the stage, & within the audience
Benjamin Zander: Classical music with shining eyes. What can I say? If you present with even half the conviction and passion of the great Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and loyal TEDster, you will blow their socks off.
These are not the only good presentations at TED, but these are some of the better ones. Perhaps you'd like to share your personal favorites from the point of view not just of content but from the stand point of preparation, design, and delivery.
Bill Gates vs. Bill Gates
Again, you do not have to use slides at TED (or TEDx, etc.), but if you do use slides, think of using them more in the style of Bill Gates the TEDster rather than Bill Gates the bullet point guy from the past. As Bill has shown, everyone can get better at presenting on stage.
If you have a short-form presentation to give, be more like the new & improved Bill Gates (left).
Garr, I often reference your work as a benchmark for my participants to follow, I enjoy reading your blogs and find them a great and stimulating resource.
Re the above, I agree with you that Sir Kens tells well articulated, humorous and memorable stories. His delivery is to be admired. But I don't think that it's a great presentation.
I think it is a disjointed collection of stories and I reckon he makes some of the presentation up along the way. For example he finishes his presentation with a quote from Jonah Sulk (if all the insects were to disappear etc) and finishes that quote with "and he is right" to much applause. What's the relevance! he does this all the way through his presentation and I ask myself, so what, why did he tell me that. I have also asked many people what they think. I'm not totally alone. 1/3 ask so what and wish he would get to the bloody point, 2/3 love him to death and feel moved and inspired.
I think he could have done more with his 20 minutes given that it was meant to be the presentation of his life and would be viewed by millions.
Having said all that I only know half the story. I don't know what his objective was and don't know who he was directing his message to.
I have a transcript if you want it. I sent it to Ted, it was posted with all my errors removed. I don't think its there now.
Posted by: A Twitter User | May 12, 2009 at 04:03 PM
Thanks Justin. You make many good points. I actually do not disagree with you for the most part, but for Ken this style works. 4 million have watched his talk so far so it has made a connection with more people than just myself. But yes, the points you make are not invalid. However, I do think he made his point even though it was quite a simple (but important) one. His message was sticky.
Anyway, thanks very much! Ciao. g
Posted by: Garr | May 12, 2009 at 09:00 PM
Great post, thank you.
TED's 18 minutes are like the 140 characters of Twitter: keeps you in check.
Also, the beautiful video recordings make sure that presenters do not need to worry about stand alone slides living a life of their own online post-presentation.
Posted by: Jan Schultink | May 12, 2009 at 10:30 PM
Love the TED TALKs and love your take on how to make a presentation good! Thanks! I usually do no words, only photos presentations and they always command attention. I believe too many words is commonplace and makes for some boring talks!
Posted by: Monica Diaz | May 13, 2009 at 05:30 AM
Awesome post, there's nothing like TED Talks! But your link colors are blinding my eyes, and I'm only 23 so I'd like to keep them for a bit longer if thats OK with you.
Posted by: Tyler Hayes | May 13, 2009 at 07:41 AM
Garr – what a great range of helpful examples. Thanks.
Posted by: Wally Bock | May 18, 2009 at 12:30 AM
An excellent post Garr. Found through a tweet from saman325.
Posted by: Howard Poon | May 21, 2009 at 11:04 PM
TED presentations are amazing. They always manage to keep you captivated by using what they have to say in a concise and yet entertaining manner. It challenges my ability to multi-task...I want to watch and listen! Plus I like the "speak of thy failure..." point. Right? What better way to make a connection with the audience and create a more intimate emotion in the room. Love it!
Posted by: Kimberly McCabe | May 28, 2009 at 04:21 AM
My goal is to give a TED talk. I've been using this audio program development by Cathey Armillas. Highly recommend it if you too wish to give a TED talk.
Posted by: Rose Wellman | June 03, 2015 at 02:42 PM