Book Notes : TED Talks

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking
TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris J. Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Your number-one mission as a speaker is to take something which matters deeply to you and rebuilds it inside the mind of your listeners.
The only thing which matters is having something worth saying.
Use speaking as a motivator to get things done
Everyone has a story to tell, their own life is unique
You must only describe things in a way your audience will understand
The talk is a journey, focus on where the audience starts and where you want to take them to.

Common traps

  • sales pitches. People don’t want to hear them and switch off
  • be prepared. If people are giving up their time to listen then it is only fair that you invest time preparing
  • the organisation. People have no interest in how your NGO/company is organsied, focus on the products which people can get excited about
  • content is king. Although a good presented can make a dull topic interesting if there is no substantial content the audience will feel cheated

The key is to present one idea thoroughly – overstuffed = under-explained. Look to find something which is bigger than you and your organisation as your throughline – Show why it matters!

  • Only cover as much content as can be compelling.
  • Is this a topic I’m passionate about?
  • Does it inspire curiosity?
  • Will it make a difference to the audience to the this knowledge?
  • Is my talk a gift or an ask?
  • Is the information already out there?
  • Can I explain the topic, with examples, in the time?
  • Do I know enough about this to take up the audiences time?
  • Do I have the credibility to talk on this topic?
  • What are the 15 words I would use to describe this?
  • Would those 15 words persuade someone to want to listen to the talk?

How to actually present:

  • Make a connection
    • make eye contact
    • show vulnerability
    • be humorous – if possible. If you can’t then no joke is better than a joke which goes badly
    • loose the ego, ever: name dropping, stories to show off, boast, talking about you not the idea, politics is divisive


  • Narration
    • characters you can empathise with
    • build tensions – curiosity, intrigue or danger
    • the right level of detail – too little and people can’t imagine it and too much slows things down
    • parables – stories with meanings which relate to your topic can be a powerful way to engage an audience
  • Explanation
    • Start where the audience is
    • Make it intrigue/curiosity
    • Introduce concepts one by one
    • Use metaphors – take the concepts and make them understandable
    • Use examples – apply the concepts to lock them in place
    • It is key to string things together in such a way that people can follow you from where they start to where you want them to get to. These sequence of steps need to be built in such a way that everyone can follow the path and no one looses the way.
    • Check for jargon and remove or explain it.
  • Persuasion – take something in peoples mind, take it apart and rebuild it
    • prime then reason
    • explain why people think the way they do or a situation which people can relate to which can be used to support the point
    • reasoning
      • if x is true then y will be too
      • reduction ad absurdist – take the counter argument to a point where it created a contradiction, but be careful not to fall into mud slinging
    • be a detective – follow a curiosity trail of evidence to come to a conclusion
  • Revelation
    • Wonder walk
    • Dynamic demo – tease, context, reveal/demo, implications
    • Vision/dreamscape, paint a picture of the future. Do so such that others will desire that future


  • Visuals
    • 1/3 of TED talks don’t use visuals
    • Revelation. Ideal for presenting things which are difficult to explain. Set up the audience then let the images inspire.
    • Explanatory
      • Limit a slide to a single idea
      • people read ahead – slides can steal your thunder
    • Aesthetic
    • you don;t need to talk about every image. Let them delight people
    • Hints
      • it is better to have three slides with a single image than one slide with three
      • don’t use bullet points
      • no underlining or italics only bold to accent
      • reveal the slide slowly with a few click to explain how it builds
      • don’t do year book team photos, if you want to include such a photo then just one organic team shot works best
      • videos should not exceed 30 seconds and not more frequent than every 5 min
      • use only basic transitions
  • either following a script or not, whichever suits you – don’t try to do something you aren’t comfortable with
  • Scripted talks
    • Know the script so it does not sound scripted
    • Look at the audience at least each sentence
    • You could script the talk as bullet points and expand on each as you talk
    • Motorisation is time consuming – a memorised talk gets worse through memorisation before it gets better. You should memorise it to a level you can deliver the talk while you are doing other unrelated tasks.
    • Spoken and written language are different – if you are giving a talk you must use the language you would speak.
  • Unscripted talks
    • Consider having a bulleted list of flow
    • Know where you want to start and end then you feel safe to free form in the middle

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. If it is worth peoples time to listen it is worth your time to practice.

  • Did you grab attention from the start?
  • Was there eye contact?
  • Did the idea get built
  • Could you follow the journey?
  • Were the examples useful/sufficient?
  • How was the tone? Was it varied? Was it conversational?
  • Did it sound like it was being recited?
  • Was the humor natural or awkward? Was there enough of it?
  • Did the visuals help or get in the way?
  • Were there annoying traits?
  • Did you keep to time?
  • Were there sections you were bored? That should be cut.
  • Do the rehearsal in the exact outfit you are going to wear. This would pick up noised from earrings etc which you might want to change.
  • Wear things which boost your confidence
  • Use confidence monitors just to show your slides, don’t try to use speakers note or a script as this distances you from the audience

Maximising impact

  • Keep it short – if it can be shorter make it shorter, people will better remember it.
  • Grab peoples attention right away (don’t thank people for being there etc) the first 10 second and minute are key.
  • Deliver drama – a dramatic preview of what is to follow.
  • Ignite curiosity – as a surprising question which people want to know the answer to, but it must not be too broad to keep interest
  • A compelling slide, video or object – ideal for designers, architects etc
  • Tease – but don’t give away the punchline
  • End with power
    • Show the possibilities for what you’ve presented
    • Call to action
    • Personal commitment
    • Values and vision
    • Brief re-frame – repeat the talk in a paragraph
    • Narrative symmetry – linking back to something from the start of the talk
    • Poetically – not always an option but sometimes the topic allows it
    • Voice – volume, pitch, pace, timbre, tone, prosody


  • Use fear as a motivator to practice and prepare
  • Let your body help – take deep breaths
  • Drink mater, about a third of a bottle 5 min before the talk
  • Eat about an hour before
  • Find friends or sympathetic viewers in the audience and present to them
  • Have a backup plan – perhaps a bullet point notes or a story to tell if there are technical problems
  • Focus on the talk – “This matters!!”

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