Three Best Practices from TEDx for Everyday Presentations

In real life I am one of the speaker coaches at TEDxStockholm. People often ask how they can learn to speak TED style, but to do it just like a TED or TEDx talk they would need more time than they would normally budget for even an important presentation. TEDx speakers often work on their talks months before an event and then invest many hours in preparation and rehearsals.

But there are some best practices that we can learn from the TED(x) format that will help in any presentation or talk, including the routine business pitches where you don't have the luxury of having plenty of time and the help of professional coaches. There are many of these practices but there are three which are especially important.

Keep it Short. In the TED format all talks are limited to an inflexible maximum of 18 minutes, and many talks are actually much shorter -- some in single digits. This is one of the key elements of the TED success story. Almost all speaking -- and writing -- can be improved by making it shorter. A shorter talk is more impactful, more likely to be heard, more likely to be understood and more likely to achieve results than a longer one. Plus there is an added bonus. A shorter talk is much easier to learn and to practice. You might not dream of delivering a two-hour presentation from memory -- it can be done, but you need special techniques for that -- but when it is 10-15 minutes almost anyone can learn to do it smoothly. Shorter talks also avoid wasting time creating elaborate slide decks, a major productivity suck in many organizations.

Have an Overall Idea. One thing that distinguishes TED format from many other speaking formats is the principle that every talk should be built around a "great, well-formed idea". You could deliver a wonderful lecture about Antartica but it would not be TED-like unless it focused on a central idea. This concept is extremely important and if you want your presentation or speech to have any impact you should choose a single unifying message to guide the development of the content. At one time I did speaker workshops for students at a top French university. In their standard program students were expected to choose a theme and present on that theme. Results were erratic until I provided a list of topics to choose from. Then everyone made a good presentation. The difference is that the topics in my list were not general themes like "sport", "science" or "food". They were specific ideas like "Why should the Euro 1 and 2 cent coins be eliminated (or kept)". This highlighted that the real problem for most people is not executing the design of a presentation; it is choosing a coherent message. Having this message makes it easier to develop a compelling presentation, makes it easier to follow and makes it more impactful.

Practice then Practice More. Preparation for a TEDx event usually involves many practice sessions with the speaker alone, the speaker and coaches, the speaker and test audiences. Professional speakers always practice more than you probably think but they are getting paid for it. People who speak as a part of another job maybe have less time available but they almost certainly are practicing away from the public eye but never talk about it. You might only have one hour for practice but use that hour. A TED-length talk can be practiced three times in an hour. Use also dead times in taxis and airport lounges to run through key parts like the start and end a few more times. Practice so that most times you never need to look at the screen, a video monitor or your notes. This gives a much stronger connection with the public and makes your presentation or talk more effective. Try also to do realistic practice sessions using a clicker and a laptop in front of you to get used to not turning to look at the screen.

There are many other tricks that you can use to make presentations and talks that are more impactful. Borrowing these three best practices from TED(x) is a start, but also try watching TED(x) videos and attending TED(x) events to learn more. There were more than 3000 events last year so there is probably one close to you.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

For lectures, group workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about public speaking and other influencing skills you can contact Andrew Hennigan at or 0046 73 089 44 75.


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