Twelve Tips for TED Talks

TED Talks


I spent Monday at ‘TEDex’ in Brussels.  It was held in a theatre holding over 2,000.  Talk followed talk.  Paddy Ashdown discussed democracy.  Jonathan Rowland discussed the consequences of nearly dying.  Some inspired, others educated, a few may still be wondering what they were trying to do.

I had written TED talks before, but never sat in the auditorium and listened.  It’s a very different experience from watching them on You Tube.  And it was clear from the very start that the ingredients for a great TED talk don’t really differ from those for any other kind of talk.

My scribbled notes became increasingly repetitive, and it was pretty easy on the train home to break them down into twelve very simple tips for preparing and delivering your own talk.


  • Start with the words ‘What I’d like to talk about’. Use hooks, quotes, questions, odd facts; but never that line. It immediately gives the impression that you are not thinking about your audience, which is a real turn-off.
  • Ask a question without waiting for an answer. Asking it and then hurrying on, without a glance or a pause just sounds what it is – that you paying lip service to the idea of asking something without paying any attention to the answer.
  • Repeat what you’ve written on a slide. Ever. You might as well stand silently and let the audience read it for themselves. Slides should illustrate your point or offer a punchline. Not a repetition.
  • Talk with your hands in your pockets. Or sway. Walking around the stage is fine. Standing still is fine. Moving your arms is to be positively encouraged. But swaying just makes your audience feel seasick.
  • Assume that you’ll come in on time. Speaking in front of a huge clock ticking-down in your line of sight is intimidating. It’s a lot worse when it has ticked down to 4:00 and you’re only half way through. You should have rehearsed your timings to the second and left some time for audience reaction. That’s approximately 120 words per minute and no more.


  • Introduce your theme early on. Hook your audience in, but then explain what’s going to be in it for them if they keep listening. Holding your core message back for minute 16 is difficult to carry off.
  • Use an autocue. Holding a sheaf of paper is preferable to forgetting your lines, but an autocue enables you to look like you’re speaking from the heart rather than the script
  • Believe in what you are doing and do it with conviction”. That’s a quote from a speaker’s story, but its equally true of anyone’s approach to public speaking. If you believe it, you will deliver it with more passion and conviction.
  • Begin well. One speaker started by taking us to a bed where he was dying. He then made a joke about things being even worse than that. He was dying next to a girl he shouldn’t have been with. You could sense the audience’s uncertainty about a suitable reaction. But they were hooked from that point on.
  • Be self-deprecating.
  • Ensure that your speech ends with a clear, memorable message rather than a list of interesting points. That message should always link back to the theme you introduced at the start. Tomorrow morning, the audience will never recall the list, but they might just talk about that single message.