TED’s Magical Red Carpet


Watch any TED(x) video or, better still, attend a live event, and you will probably notice that speakers stand in the middle of a circular red carpet. This choice is not just a question of aesthetics. That red carpet actually plays a key role in the success of the TED format.

Having the speaker stand in the middle of a red carpet has several important consequences, leading the speaker to follow best practices that they might not be aware of.

No script or notes. Since there is no table, lectern or other furniture within reach, the speaker cannot easily read from a script. This forces them to deliver their talk from memory, which is much more compelling because few people can read from a script and make it sound natural. And no matter how good you are at reading, the audience can see that your eyes are scanning the text and this breaks the magical connection with their minds. Encouraging people to speak from memory pushes them to make a much better talk than they might otherwise.

No laptop to operate. Being all alone on the red carpet also means that you cannot press keys on your laptop to move slides forward. You have to use a clicker. This is actually a good thing because every time you touch the laptop the audience is distracted, while a clicker can be discretely pressed without anyone being aware of this. You’ll need to practice to be able to do this smoothly without ever hesitating or looking at the clicker, but a well-timed and well executed click makes any presentation better.

No screen to point at. Except in the smallest venues, standing on the red carpet also means that you cannot easily point at the screen. This is also a good thing because every time you turn to point or even just to look at the screen you break the connection with the audience. This distance forces you to concentrate on delivering the talk and not focus on slides, which makes any talk or presentation more compelling.

Limiting speakers to the area of the red carpet stops them using the entire stage space, which some people can find limiting. In the case of TED(x) format this is actually a plus because they are always recorded on video and a speaker who uses a lot of space is much harder to record. But there is also a useful side effect that it minimizes the risk of speakers walking about too much. When it is done well, movement around the stage can be very useful. But very often it is not done well and just becomes another distraction. People in the audience have different tolerances for movements, too. Some people don’t mind if the speaker moves around all the time, but for part of the audience this can be a major irritation.

And you don’t need to be a TED or TEDx speaker to benefit from the advantages of a red carpet. You don’t even need the red carpet. You can achieve a similar result in all your presentations by clearing an open space to speak in, by having your laptop discretely to one side, using a clicker and avoiding turning to the screen. To make this work you will also need to be able to speak from memory, but this is always a good idea anyway. And if your content is too complex for you to remember then maybe you need to simplify. Anything that is too complicated for you to remember is probably too complicated for the audience, too.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

If you would like a lecture, a workshop or one-to-one coaching to become a more compelling speaker you can contact Andrew Hennigan through speaker@andrewhennigan.com or call 0046 073 089 44 75.

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