TED, TEDx, and other TED-style talks have become so pervasive and so popular that, even in business settings, speakers are often asked to give “a TED talk.” (And BTW, TEDx refers to independently organized events held for local communities, or communities of interest.)
If you have a TED, TEDx, or TED-style talk coming up, here are the ways in which your talk will be different from a standard business presentation.
What Makes a Talk Be a TED-Style Talk, Anyway??
First, let’s look at the superficial differences:
- TED-style talks are delivered without notes, from memory. THEY ARE NOT, as some people think, spontaneous; far from it! They are scripted and carefully rehearsed, often for months. In contrast, most business presenters use notes to deliver their speeches. Unfortunately for us in the audience, those notes are often on their slides.
- TED-style talks are professionally visualized. This isn’t as true in smaller, TEDx venues — but if someone’s speaking at the mothership (TED), their slides, videos, or animations are generally well-crafted. If they bring props onstage with them — a Teddy bear; a suitcase; or, as neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor really did, a brain! — those props look good, and are well-lit. In fact, the whole stage is well lit. This is called having “high production values.”
- The talks that you see on TED.com have been videotaped from several different angles and skillfully edited. You can see what I mean on this video of Anne-Marie Slaughter speaking about the path to true gender equality for men and women, or on virtually any other TED video
When most people think about “giving a TED talk,” these are the elements they picture: scripted, highly produced, and edited presentations.
But before you start looking for a videographer to make the movie you’ll show during your talk… or for a forklift that can raise you into the air while you’re speaking, like Al Gore in his TED-style movie An Inconvenient Truth, let’s back up and look at some of the easier-to-achieve distinctions between TED-style talks and run-of-the-mill business presentations.
TED Talks Are “TED Talks” Because of Their Approach
Most B-flat — that’s music-speak for “average” — business presentations are… well, flat! They’re about conveying facts and expectations, not passions and possibilities. And because business speakers represent their organizations instead of themselves, they tend to be cautious not just in what they say, but in how they say it.
- TED-style talks are personal. The only reason to give a TED talk is that you feel passionately about something, and your sense of purpose creates an energy boost for both you and your audience.
- TED talks often take us on a journey. As the speaker shares his transition from ignorance to understanding of some important truth, we follow along in his footsteps. Where business speeches generally focus on a desired outcome, TED talks are also about the process of realizing how you’re going to get there.
- TED talks are concise. Because their times is short (generally, 5-18 minutes), TED speakers have generally done the hard work of cutting out any extraneous ideas. Ideally, every word of a TED talk counts — and that’s very different from the public speaking most of us are used to!
And last but not least,
- TED-style talks feel important. Almost every speech presents an “ah-hah!” moment (the TED organization uses that phrase), and recounts with great intensity what it feels like to break through a problem in your mind. The problems themselves are often weighty — but even when they’re not, hearing about a breakthrough moment makes you feel that something big is at stake.
Craft Your TED-Style Talk with These Differences in Mind
Instead of thinking about multimedia, or memorization, or how you’ll look on video, start planning for a TED-style talk by focusing on the differences that matter:
- Choose a topic you’re personally passionate about;
- Play with different ways to narrate (take us on) your journey of discovery around that topic;
- Stay focused on your most important point; and
- Understand what makes all of this important to your audience.
In my next blog post, I’ll show you how to use those points to craft a TED-style talk that you’ll enjoy giving!