Guest Posting: How to Give a TED Talk by Manoush Zomorodi

Manoushz ZomorodiManoush Zomorodi is the host of WNYC’s New Tech City which is available for download on iTunes. She is the author of Camera Ready: How to Present Yourself and Ideas On Air or Online. Follow her on Twitter @manoushz. She blogs at and writes for The Huffington Post.

How to Give a TED Talk

Yup, everybody wants a TED talk at their event these days. I recently coached three teachers to help them deliver “TED-like” talks at a primary education conference.

The event was held by a very high-profile non-profit organization and these teachers were no strangers to public speaking—they had years of experience giving speeches, teaching larges classes, and appearing on TV.

But they needed guidance on how to “talk TED”, i.e. engage the audience for 7-15 minutes on their topic “Why Teaching is a Calling.” They didn’t quite get how to craft their ideas into something conversational and inspiring that would RADICALLY MOVE the audience.

I tried to explain: what makes a TED Talk different?

  1. There’s no podium—just you and an open space.
  2. It’s not merely a presentation of data or research; it’s your view of the world.
  3. You give insight into your thought process, not just methodology or experience.
  4. It’s vulnerable, intimate, and even, at times, unprofessional.
  5. It’s all about an emotional takeaway for the audience.

Every company or organization seems to want a TED talk these days. And it’s understandable: when done well, talks like these can transform conferences and, if filmed and edited properly, can also translate into great online viewing. Videos of some Ted talks, like Ken Robinson’s on how schools kill creativity, have been watched online over 15 million times.

But no one wants to be a cheap imitation. So avoid common traps like:

  1. Attempting to recreate actual TED-talks, like using a real brain as a prop (sorry it’s been done) or taking long pauses after saying the word “creativity” or “inspiration.” In other words, own your individuality.
  2. Wearing black. Almost always the backdrop at these TED things is black. So don’t wear black. Even with a colorful scarf.
  3. Deciding to use prompter (which is fine) but then not writing your “script” in conversational and colloquial language (see this post on How to Use Teleprompter).
  4. Getting distracted by your body language. Everyone always asks me what to do with his/her hands.

In the process of breaking down TED-talks for my client, I developed crash course that can help you deliver a TED-like talk should your CEO suddenly discover that your company needs one too.

Week 1:

Watch three TED Talks; decide on your topic and write the three things you hope the audience gets from your talk.

Week 2:

Tell someone your “story,” consider use of possible extra media or props, draft your talk (bullet points, not written out).

Week 3:

Record yourself giving your “talk” with notes to guide you. Make edits and additions. Decide whether to stick with notes or use a prompter.

Week 4:

Give your talk to a friend (without worrying about movement or body language). Then practice giving your talk in an empty room with full movement and props; check duration. Make edits and adjustments for length and lulls.

Week 5:

Decide on your wardrobe/makeup/hair. Give your talk three more times aloud.

Rehearsal Before Event:

Do a full on-stage rehearsal with slides, props, and/or prompter. But relax (no rehearsing!) for at least two hours before the event.

If you want to dive deeper, check out How To Deliver A TED Talk by Jeremy Donovan, read this great New Yorker article on how Ted is turning ideas into an industry.Watch these two excellent Ted-talks (Nancy Duarte’s The Secret Structure of Great Talks and, a personal fave, Amy Cuddy’s Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are) and of course, read my book on presentations, Camera Ready and follow me on Twitter @manoushz.

A version of this post originally appeared in Manoush’s blog. It is re-posted here with her express permission.

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Another resource is Jeremy Donovan’s book How to deliver a TED Talk”

Chris Anderson, the curator of TED, wrote an interesting article in the HBR on How to Give a Killer Presentation

Frame Your Story

If a talk fails, it’s almost always because the speaker didn’t frame it correctly, misjudged the audience’s level of interest, or neglected to tell a story.

Many of the best talks have a narrative structure that loosely follows a detective story. The speaker starts out by presenting a problem and then describes the search for a solution. There’s an “aha” moment, and the audience’s perspective shifts in a meaningful way.

Plan Your Delivery

…pay attention to your tone. Some speakers may want to come across as authoritative or wise or powerful or passionate, but it’s usually much better to just sound conversational. Don’t force it. Don’t orate. Just be you.

Develop Stage Presence

…eye contact is incredibly powerful, and it will do more than anything else to help your talk land. Even if you don’t have time to prepare fully and have to read from a script, looking up and making eye contact will make a huge difference.

Plan the Multimedia

…don’t repeat out loud words that are on the slide. Not only is reciting slides a variation of the teleprompter problem—“Oh, no, she’s reading to us, too!”—but information is interesting only once, and hearing and seeing the same words feels repetitive.

Putting It Together

Presentations rise or fall on the quality of the idea, the narrative, and the passion of the speaker. It’s about substance, not speaking style or multimedia pyrotechnics. It’s fairly easy to “coach out” the problems in a talk, but there’s no way to “coach in” the basic story—the presenter has to have the raw material. If you have something to say, you can build a great talk. But if the central theme isn’t there, you’re better off not speaking.

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