What you can apply from TED Talks

At Speakeasy we regularly refer to the amazing library of talks at TED, a wonderful resource for anyone looking to improve their presenting and storytelling skills. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and has evolved over the years into one of the most influential communities on the planet.

A platform for people with something to say, TED attracts thousands of attendees to its main conferences @ $6,000 a ticket – and there’s a lengthy waiting list! Speakers have included Bill Clinton, Bill and Melinda Gates, Jamie Oliver, Madeleine Albright, Steve Jobs and Peter Gabriel. Thanks to a Creative Commons license, TED talks are available to anyone for free via the internet and millions (including myself) regularly log on to find fresh inspiration and spiritual and intellectual nourishment!

But what I’m concerned to do here is demonstrate how anyone looking to improve their communication/presenting skills can find relevance from this extraordinary resource. So here’s my guide (a personal view) to getting the most from TED.

Presenting University

A lot of Speakeasy members ask me if there are any books or other resources they can study between sessions. I put together a simple e-book, the Speakeasy A-Z of Presenting a while back, but to be honest you could do a lot worse than simply watch and learn from the TED presenters. I played golf for my country when at university and from an early age I learned a lot by simply watching great players. My brother is a pro and I played with him and caddied at the highest level. I developed a swing largely by mimicry.

Within reason, you can adopt the same approach with presenting and speaking. Learn from wonderful speakers like Sir Ken Robinson and Ben Zander and Brene Brown. For example, both Sir Ken and Brene Brown open with a self-deprecatory remark or story. It puts the audience at ease and makes them immediately likeable. I’m not saying you should copy them and not be your authentic self, but you CAN learn so much from these talks – treat them as homework and test-drive some of their techniques and principles in your own presenting.

Authentic Storytelling

TED speakers leave you in no doubt that they passionately believe in their message. It’s often representative of their life’s work so it’s personal, raw, insightful and compelling. Others speak of more recent experiences that have affected them – like Ric Elias whose outlook on life changed forever when his plane came down in the Hudson River. These days people are distrustful of slick, polished pitches. You’re on safer ground if you’re open and honest about who you are and what you believe in. It comes down to knowing your own story and being totally true to your convictions.

Message over Oratory

You don’t get speaking gigs because you’re a good orator. People ask you to speak because you’ve got something to say. Know your message and develop sound presenting/storytelling skills to do it justice.

Ideas Worth Spreading

This is such a clever strap line because it’s exactly what TED is about. And it also epitomizes the Speakeasy philosophy.

  • Idea – have you got a message?
  • Worth – is it something worthy of our attention?
  • Spreading – are you doing enough to get it known/talked about?


TED reminds us that we have the power to influence others and effect change, as long as we communicate a strong message. William Kamkwamba became a powerful voice for the global environmental movement despite being a poor young man in famine-torn Malawi. But he had a great story that resonated with people. TED celebrates endeavour and struggle and reminds us of what’s possible with limited resources.

Painting the Picture

Some people find TED a little dreamy and idealistic, but sometimes you really do have to sell the sizzle and paint a picture of what might lie ahead. Martin Luther King used it to good effect in his, “I have a dream…” speech. Audiences like to be inspired, to imagine there’s a bigger story still to unfold. You may present a logical, intellectual argument but without the emotional buy-in you’re unlikely to get your audience to act on your suggestions.

If you’re serious about developing into a persuasive and influential person, learn from great storytellers and apply some of the techniques on display at TED.

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