Most of us have watched a TED talk or two in our time. We’ve almost certainly been entranced by a powerful idea, entertained by an original speaker – or even moved to tears.
Whatever the effect, it’s a format that works. As a presentations coach, TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is one of my prime sources for examples of best public speaking practice.
Last month, I was listening to speakers at the TEDx Barcelona event, reflecting on how we can easily apply those winning techniques to give our own business presentations more impact.
“Ideas that spread”
If you’re making a presentation, it’s because you have something important to say. Results, research, ideas, innovation, processes that will lead to improvement… All of these deserve a spotlight. It’s up to you as a speaker to shine a light on your ideas – and deliver them to your audience in the most effective way possible.
Here are 5 tips to help you, inspired by TED.
- Choose a title that sparks curiosity
The title is often the first glimpse people have of your presentation – your opportunity to shine from the outset. On a busy conference agenda it can be the make or break of a session. Tempting people to attend, or turning them away.
And yet most titles say too much, or simply state what we’re going to talk about, e.g.: “Human Resources Management Practices in the Tourism Industry”.
Use your title to spark curiosity, Ask a question, use a “how to”, or play with emotive words, like these titles from the TEDx Barcelona event:
- Heroine for the 21st century
- Is capitalism conscious?
- How to awaken our inner creativity
- Start with a hook
How you begin your presentation is crucial in drawing your audience in – and giving them a reason to stay with you. Most presentations I’ve heard begin with the speaker introducing themselves.
We can do better. And TED talks always do.
One easy-to-apply hook is simply to ask your audience a question. Rhetorical, or real. At last month’s event, one of my favourite talks began with the speaker asking if we’d seen the film Billy Elliot. There was a big show of hands in response.
Another effective hook is storytelling. In fact, the entire TED philosophy is based on authentic storytelling.
That same speaker told us how, as a teenager, his passion was to dance. He was discouraged from becoming an artist out of concern he wouldn’t make a decent living. At 18 he packed his bags, left home and went to Paris to live his dream. He found a ballet teacher, was taken on by a ballet company… and his career as a dancer had begun.
What hook can you start with? The answer lies somewhere in your presentation. It may be as simple as asking a question of your audience. You might just want to tell them a story…
- Apply the rule: One slide – one message
TED talks use few slides. The central focus is the speaker, and their message. The “idea that spreads”. If slides are used, they are pared
down to the pure and simple – using powerful images to convey simple messages.
What’s the objective of your slides? As with all communication, your goal is to convey a message from you to your audience. If your data is complex, try to separate it out into key figures or elements, and get creative in finding images to illustrate them.
But follow the golden rule: one slide, one message. If you want to talk about two ideas… make two slides.
- Make preparation the key
TED talks have a prescribed format. Based on an idea worth sharing, they are incredibly well prepared, have a set length, and the speaker learns their talk by heart.
There’s a difference between a TED talk and a business presentation – which I don’t suggest you learn by heart. There are two parts I do recommend memorising, however: the introduction, and the conclusion. This helps you to start and finish with conviction.
But it is vital that you practice the whole presentation. Rehearse and film yourself, or practice in front of a colleague and ask for feedback. Integrate the feedback, and practice again. The higher the stakes, the more you should practice.
- Use elements of theatre
Business presentations are not just about transferring information – our goal is to pass on a message in a way that’s true to ourselves.
But this doesn’t mean we can’t use an element of performance. In his talk warning of the dangers of smartphone addiction, a speaker at the TEDx event walked out on stage in an imaginary phone conversation. He had also prepared someone in the audience to interact with during his talk. It was unexpected. And funny.
Using props is easy. Simple sketches too. Just make sure they are relevant to your message and content – and that you practice using them.
Your next presentation will almost certainly not involve a round red rug, be completely scripted, or recorded for publishing on YouTube. You may simply be presenting in a meeting room to a handful of people.
But you can be as effective as a TED speaker in connecting with your audience, and getting your message across.
Which TED techniques will you apply?