Chris Anderson on TED's secret for a great talk

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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:

Using Props in Presentations - Can You Overdo It?

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Props are great to liven up a presentation and make things more tangible for your audience; even if they can't actually touch the props you bring. If you are doing a product introduction or demo of sorts, I strongly recommend to bring your product with you, if it fits on the stage somehow. Seeing a real person interacting with it, holding it, or simply standing next to it (if it's really big) will give your audience a much better idea of the size and use than any product photo on a slide could do. So if the goal of your presentation is to introduce and eventually sell a product, this should be a no-brainer.

If you still need convincing, watch Steve Jobs introduce the MacBook Air (remember the manila envelope?) or, a personal favourite of mine, the iPod nano: Ever wondered what this pocket is for?

Why Lawyers Can Get Away with Bad Slides

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It's not really a statistically relevant sample, but over the years, I've seen quite a few lawyers speak. And I have to say that pretty much all of them are still using text-heavy slides and not a lot of visuals. Yet at the same time, these talks are often pretty good; they're informative and even entertaining. Why is that so?

The Cloth

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Panel discussion - the word alone instills dread and fear, mostly in the audience but also, I'd bet, in the hearts of the participants. There's a lot that could be said about them. In short, I have a theory that they just don't work but are often used as a "cheap" and simple measure to spruce up an event. What could be more exciting and valuable than getting insights from a group of experts on a topic, all at once?

In practice, as we all know, this simply doesn't work. The participants are often unprepared or simply not the type to make spontaneous insightful statements. So some panel discussions are scripted, at least partially, which only makes things more cringe-worthy. And in the rare case that something interesting is being said, the host has to cut the ensuing discussion short to make sure that each participant gets equal speaking time.