Book Review: How to Deliver a TED Talk

Thursday, September 27, 2012
by jsalvo

I was recently looking for some shorter length books to read on my Kindle and while browsing options on Amazon, I stumbled across a series of TED e-books.  It may be more accurate to describe them as white papers or articles instead of books, since they are all roughly 50-100 pages in length.  Since I am a fan of TED and am interested in improving my own presentation skills, I thought I’d start by reading the book ‘How to Deliver a TED Talk’ by Jeremey Donovan.

I was very impressed with the content and format of this book.  Although short in length, it is full of helpful presentation advice.  The following is a (partial) list of topics covered:

1.Selecting a Topic: Identify a central idea and work backwards to establish an audience focused narrative that includes stories and facts.  Connect with the audience by focusing on people’s inner needs for belonging, self-interest, self-actualization or hope.

2.Crafting a ‘Catchphrase’: Turn the central idea of the presentation into a memorable phrase that is implanted in the audience’s mind.  An ideal catchphrase should be short (3-10 words) and action oriented.  A catchphrase should be repeated several times during the presentation.

3.Opening a Talk: The first ten or twenty seconds of a speech is the peak of the audience’s engagement.  Capitalize on this engagement by starting your speech with a compelling opening.  Personal stories, shocking/startling statements and powerful questions are all effective ways to open a presentation.  As a follow-up to the opening of your presentation, deliver a post-opening that informs the audience of the benefits they will gain from the presentation.

4.Building a Speech Body and Transitions: The body of a presentation should ideally consist of three sections.  Segmenting a speech into three sections helps the presenter stay focused and helps the audience remember the message.  Several narrative styles may be utilized; three effective styles are the situation-complication-resolution framework, the chronological narrative and the idea-concepts description.  Transitions between sections of the speech should reinforce the key message of the prior section while teasing the audience with benefits of the upcoming section.

5.Concluding a Talk: The conclusion of a speech is the final opportunity to inspire the audience or call them to action with an easy next step.  Use language that makes it clear the speech is ending.  A few possible conclusions to a speech are a call back to a personal story told earlier in the speech, a shocking statistic or compelling question.

6.Mastering Verbal Delivery: When delivering a speech adopt a conversationalist tone and use everyday language in short sentence structures.  Avoid filler words by speaking in bursts followed by pauses.  Make liberal use of the word ‘you’ to appeal to the audience.

7.Adding Humor to a Talk: Humor should be embedded throughout the speech, strive for one joke every few minutes.  Utilize self-deprecation, exaggerated reality and challenges to authority to add humor.  Effective speakers ‘riff’ on humorous themes in clusters of three.

8.Managing Your Physical Delivery: When delivering a speech stand comfortably with hands down at your sides.  Gestures should be contained to the area above your waist and below your neck.  Maintain eye contact with individuals in the audience for three to five seconds.  If you are presenting to a large group, engage sections for one to three minutes.

9.Creating Visuals That Inspire: Use as few slides as possible or no slides at all.  If you are using slides, keep them simple with short text and images.

This is just a brief overview of the content covered in this book.  Every section is full of good examples that support the key ideas of effective presentations.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in improving their public speaking skills or wants to learn more about the format of a TED talk.


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