How to become a TED talk hero

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How to become a TED talk hero

You have been invited to give a TED talk or want to give a TED-like presentation to surprise your audience. Now what?

A single pebble thrown in the ocean will change the shoreline: TED talks can catalyze ideas, accelerate learning and move large amounts of people.

ExciTED as you are, you may soon realize that what has made you successful at regular talks, will simply fall flat at TED. Much has been written about common sense ideas to design and deliver an excellent TED talk. So what else is there to say?

Our experience includes organizing dozens of TEDx events, coaching hundreds of TEDx speakers and delivering several TEDx talks ourselves. What we have found is that there are 5 heroic rules, which can make the difference between sticking your ‘TED’ toe in the water and really making waves. Each of these 5 rules can move your talk from merely being good to absolutely heroic.

Rule 1: Fall in love with your audience.

You are passionate about your idea. That’s why you are on stage. Passion, however, can act like a magnet: it can attract or repel. Therefore, always make sure to align with the needs of your audience. Make clear how the audience will be better off after you have left the stage. Shift your focus from ‘Here I am’ to ‘There you are.’ Don’t fall in love with your idea. Fall in love with your audience instead.

Rule 2: Open with a power snack.

We know that a powerful opening is essential to the success of the speech. Too many people use the sugar donut approach to try to reach the heart of the audience. A sugar donut gives you a short energy burst. After that, sluggishness kicks in and the speech limps to the finish line. We have found that a superb nutritious opening covers four elements:

Inform what your talk is all about (I’m here to talk about…)
Excite about how they will be better off after the talk (After my talk, you will be able to…)
Set the expectations about what they can do with the information (You can apply this to achieve…)
Involve the audience to participate (for example with a rhetorical question.)
Rule 3: Only show what your audience needs to know.

If your dentist tells you she can remove your wisdom tooth in 18 minutes, or in 30 seconds: which option would you prefer? The lesson here is that you can either plan a good TED talk using the 18 minutes allocated time, or you can give a heroic TED talk in the shortest time possible. Therefore, while designing you TED talk, start with your 30 seconds elevator pitch, containing the magic of know-feel-do.

This is what I want people to know
This is what I want people to feel
This is what I want people to do

From here, create a powerful opening, paint stories and pictures which stick in the mind of the audience and close on a high note. Keep in mind that shorter talks tend to attract more viewers on the web and result in a more energized audience. In our hyper connected world ‘more’ is no longer the answer to ‘too much.’ Don’t try to impress your audience with your elaborate brilliance, dazzle them with brevity instead.

Rule 4: Unleash your inner Picasso


Yes, yes: we know: Many people see a presentation as a vehicle to cram in as many words and data as possible. This is not for you. Your job is not to give people the opportunity to have a break and go to the bathroom; your job is to stretch the attention span of a room full of raving fans.
The US Navy gives the best advice on this; Keep It Simple Stupid!
 Our advice: Go naked. The best talks are often the ones without slides. Alternatively use single picture slides. The ‘D’ in TED stands for Design. Surprise your audience with a beautiful set of custom designed slides. 
When people remember your talk when walking out of the venue, they tend to spread the message amongst their followers. In the end, it is not what matters on stage, it’s the conversation afterwards which counts.

Rule 5: Relish the entire experience

Planning the content makes up 50% of a good talk. The other 50% is the delivery. It always saddens us to see an amazing story clouded by a hapless stage performance.
 Being nervous on stage is normal. Even for a TED talk hero. However, you will do vastly better with a couple of easy steps:

Glue your feet to the ground. Many speakers tend to walk back and forth, like a caged polar bear. This is not only distracting, it also shows nervousness.

Focus on your audience. Constantly try to make eye contact. Move your eyes across the audience with a ‘W’ or ‘M’ pattern.

Breathe! We have seen speakers give the first quarter of their talk with only one deep inhalation. Play with silence. Take regular short breaks to inhale and exhale. When creating silence, you can hear a pin drop and funnily enough, this increases the attention span of the audience.

Be vulnerable. It’s ok, even heroes are human. Humans love humanity and they appreciate you showing it.

Carefully plan how you will enter and exit the stage. Make sure you enter giving the audience high expectations. Also, make you sure you exit presenting the audience an opportunity to give their appreciation back to you.

Speaking at TED is an opportunity to become a hero to advance your ideas. These 5 TED talk rules will help you to set yourself up for TED success. And that is what really matters: in the end, a TED Talk hero’s life is about success, not perfection.

This blog was co-authored with Jan Scheele

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