What makes a TED talk special? Is it the use of spectacular props or the masterful delivery? These are the sorts of questions that I have been asked - somewhat anxiously - recently.
TED's motto should give you a hint. It reads "ideas worth spreading". For TED, the idea is at the heart of a TED talk; all else follows from it.
Chris Anderson, curator and organiser of TED, explains this in more depth in a video titled "TED's secret to great public speaking". Before you read on, I encourage you to watch it. It's only 8 minutes long and embedded below:
In the video, Chris Anderson summarises four key factors for a great TED talk like so:
- Focus on one major idea.
- Give people a reason to care.
- Build your idea with familiar concepts.
- Make your idea worth sharing.
Not surprisingly, these four points all feature the idea as a core element. Taking a step back, though, there's another, less obvious, key factor involved here: the audience.
Thinking of the audience first has always been my mantra and recommendation for a good presentation. You have to think about what's in it for them. You have to help them understand your topic, especially if it's something new to them. And you have to think of what you want them to take away from your talk, ideally something usable; something they can apply or implement right away.
So while the idea is number one on Chris Anderson's list, the rest of the items shouldn't come as a surprise if you've been paying attention over the last 10 years or so, when the concept of "modern" presentations took off. These are good recommendations for every talk, not just TED talks.
So we're back to square one: The main difference between a TED talk and your average (good, modern) presentation is the absolute focus on the idea. Figuring out and expressing what your idea actually is can be easy and obvious - or it can be really hard. Some people just enjoy doing what they do (and talking about it) but never sat down to explore their motivation behind it all. To address the fear behind the original question: What's really hard about a TED talk is not so much the performance up on the stage but that soul searching and deep thinking about your topic, your motivation, your idea. But that's actually good news for most people. It means that they can concentrate on the content, on what they are already doing and talking about. It's not about being a great performer on stage. That's secondary. Out of the thinking about the idea may come an idea for a prop or a specific way to express it on stage, but the work on the content comes first. That's something people can cope with; and it's a challenge they are happy to accept.
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