Lessons from TED talks; Issue #334 March 31, 2015

Recently the TED organization released new videos on their website at TED.com from the recent TED Conference. As a corporate presenter, why should you care? Because they set the bar for all presentations. In this article I want to discuss three areas you can improve based on what you see in TED talks.

Are the TED videos really all that important? Who actually watches them? They are important because more and more corporate meetings and conferences are using TED videos as substitutes for live speakers and as a way to inspire their groups. When I ask my workshop participants who has seen a TED video, more than half the hands go up.

With such widespread popularity, audiences now compare the presenters they see to the ones they have seen on the TED videos. And often the presenter in the room doesn’t measure up very well. But, you may argue, that comparison isn’t fair. I agree, it isn’t fair. But that doesn’t matter, because they are making the comparison anyways.

So as corporate presenters we have to raise our skill level since the bar we are being measured against has been raised. I think there are three areas we can work on that are related to what we see in the TED talks: a clear structure, effective visuals, and being prepared to deliver. Let’s look at each of these.


Clear structure

TED talks are short. The maximum talk is usually 18 minutes. More of the talks are even shorter, close to 9 minutes. With such a short time to communicate their message, TED speakers have to get totally focused on the most important points. They can’t ramble on around their topic and hope the audience figures it out. And they can’t run over time because of the format and expectations.

This focus on a clear message is what all corporate presenters should strive for. No matter how long you are presenting for, think hard about the few key points you want to make. Use the GPS approach in my book GPS for Presentations to focus your content. Be ruthless and cut out anything that is not directly related to your key points. You will end up with a more focused message.


Effective visuals

Not all TED talks use visuals. Not every presentation requires them. Sometimes the most effective visual is just you standing at the front of the room. Don’t be afraid to present without slides if that will focus the audience on the important personal story and message you have to deliver. For an excellent example of this, watch the TED talk by Monica Lewinsky.

When you do decide that your presentation will benefit from visuals that can enhance the audience’s understanding of your message, select them carefully. The speakers at TED have professional presentation designers work with them to create the visuals you see (Nancy Duarte’s firm Duarte Design – the top presentation design firm around – helped with the visuals for this presentation by Fei-Fei Li). You probably don’t have that luxury, but you can create effective visuals for the data and other points you want to present using the approach in my book Select Effective Visuals.


Be prepared to deliver

Why do the TED presenters look so polished in their delivery? Because they have worked on their presentations for months with excellent coaches. You and I don’t have that advantage, so what can we do? We need to do more than most corporate presenters, who deliver their presentation for the first time in front of the audience on the day of the presentation.

I recommend that you both practice and rehearse your presentation. As I describe in lesson 7 of my e-course, there is a difference between the two. Practice is running your presentation through in your head. The objective of practicing is to become comfortable with the content. But that is not enough. You must also rehearse, which is standing and delivering the presentation out loud. Why? Because that is the way you become confident with the delivery.

I can hear some of you saying that you don’t have time to practice and rehearse. You already barely have time to get all your work done each day. My experience is that if you plan a clear message and are efficient at creating effective visuals, you will save a lot of the time you currently spend struggling to create your presentation. Use some of that time to practice and rehearse and spend the rest of the extra time with your family.

Yes, the TED talks raise the bar for all presenters, and I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. Use the three ideas above to raise the quality of your presentations.

By Dave Paradi

Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don't overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 4.8 million times and liked over 17,000 times on YouTube.