Five Takeaways from the Book TED Talks – The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking

Founded by Richard Saul Wurman and Harry Marks in 1984, the TED conferences originally featured talks focused on Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Under the catchy tagline Ideas Worth Spreading, the range of these talks has since expanded to include other academic, scientific and cultural topics.

If you have ever watched any of these talks, you will have noticed that they are not the usual boring PowerPoint-based presentations we get in conferences of all kinds. Storytelling techniques – long a proven method for grasping and keeping listeners’ attention – prevail in most TED talks. Another obvious key to their success in the succinctness; speakers have 18 minutes to tell a compelling narrative.



In his engrossing book, TED Talks – The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, published last year, Chris Anderson, who took over the conferences in the early 2000s, offers the reader a truckload of useful and practical suggestions on how to put together and deliver a memorable presentation. A must-read for everyone who needs to speak in public these days (and who doesn’t?)

To whet your appetite, we have selected five of the most stimulating presentation tips we found in the book. See below.

1.What is the takeaway?

As you organize your talk, decide on what is the point you are trying to make. There must be an overarching theme connecting all the elements of the story. This is called a throughline in movies, plays, and novels. As a planning exercise, make sure you specify a concrete objective in no more than 15 words. What is your goal? What do you want to accomplish? What do you want the audience to do, how do you want them to feel after you leave the stage?


2. Get personal.

Speakers need to connect to the audience, break the ice and build trust. A talk is much more than mere words. You need to engage the audience on many levels. There are different ways to do that. Making eye contact with the audience, for example, is always effective. Showing some kind of vulnerability, such as admitting that you are nervous, may also work. Using humor at the beginning – through a personal anecdote, presenting funny visuals, or by playing with irony and sarcasm – may do the job. Don’t try to be funny if you are not comfortable with it, though.

3. Visuals.

We all know the staggering amount of technology available out there to help public speakers: slides showing graphs, photography, infographics, animations; video, audio, etc. Yet, it may come as a surprise that at least one third of the most viewed TED talks do not make use any of these tools. So maybe you should ask yourself: do I really need to use them? And how much of it is really necessary? Most people are extremely familiar with these so-called innovations by now anyway, so it’s hard to make an impact based only on them. Besides, visuals may distract the audience, taking their attention from you! Then again, great slides may add to the presentation, especially when they do not only repeat and highlight what is being said verbally. Ideally, visuals should reveal (show something that can not be easily described by words); explain (make concepts clearer: a picture is worth a thousand words!); and delight (give the talk aesthetic appeal).

4. To memorize or not to memorize.

Although most TED speakers have their presentations scripted out beforehand and memorize them, this approach does not work for everyone. There’s beauty and power in variety. You need to discover your own natural style. Possible options: you can write and memorize your talk; use in-the-moment language to talk about something you are familiar with (it helps to have a mental structure of the points to cover, though); or even read your piece! Whatever makes you more comfortable and confident. However, remember that preparation is essential for any format you choose.


5. Traps to avoid.

There are some speaking styles TED organizers do not recommend. The sales pitch: trying to sell products or services directly through your talk may damage your reputation as a speaker. The main job of a speaker is to give not to take. So be careful. Find out if this is the kind of talk your audience is expecting. The ramble: to be under-prepared or not to have a set objective is insulting to the audience; the org bore: talks that focus on the greatness of an organization or on how amazing their staff is will probably bore the audience to death – they don’t work there after all. The inspirational performance: despite the fact that great TED talks deeply inspire and move the listeners, this effect cannot be manipulated through tricks and gimmicks. It needs to feel real. So avoid copying the so-called “inspirational” talks, where the speaker is full of self-praise and despicably phony.

For more tips, I strongly recommend you get the book now and make sure your next presentation is a hit.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette




Four Amazing Ideas from TED talks on Education.

If you are a regular reader of this blog you probably love the TED talks as much as I do. I make a point of watching at least one a day. There is always something to learn from them. Even if you don’t find the content that interesting, you can always profit from the speakers’s way of getting her points across, and copy some of the techniques to hone your own presentation skills.

This weekend I needed a break from binge watching Netflix’s THE KILLING – which I did last weekend – and, as consequence, must have put on a couple of kilos, having raised my consumption level of popcorn and ice-cream considerably, while following detective Linden (Mireille Enos) drive relentlessly in the rain along the streets of Seattle. So I chose, instead, to raise my usual share of TEDs’ intake, which was very sensible of me, since they feed the mind and soul rather than the body: I usually take notes while watching them, which stops me from grabbing the popcorn or digging into the ice-cream.

This is a list of 5 interesting takeaways I collected from some talks I’ve recently watched. They are all on education. The summaries are not quotes but my own interpretation and wording of the ideas. I strongly recommend you watch the clips as a way to contextualize my comments better.

Here is the list:

TED Talks

TED Talks


1. From “A 30-year History of the Future” (by MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negromonte).

In 30 year’s time you will be learning English by taking a pill. It will travel though your blood stream and reach you brain, formatting your neural connections accordingly. Well, based on Negromonte’s strong track record of predictions that were eventually realized, I would not discard the possibility.

2. From “Let’s Teach Kids to Code” (by Mitch Resnick, Director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT Media Lab).

There’s not much difference between the so-called digital natives and the rest of us. They are very fluent in gaming and using apps, but not in creating them. Their attitude to technology is overall very passive. They need to learn how to code to really be able to fully express themselves through technology and make use of all that is available. He compares technology to a natural foreign language: kids at this point are fluent at reading it but not at writing. He proposes we start teaching kids to code immediately to make a difference. Besides, coding will teach them not only this new “language” but a whole lot of content that can be expressed through it: just like the Content and Language Integrate Learning (CLIL) approach some of us use to teach English.

3. From: ‘Want to Innovate? Become a ‘now-ist’ “ (by Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab)

According to the speaker, learning is not education. The former is discovering things for yourself actively, the latter is about passing on knowledge to someone else who’s passively at the receiving end of the channel. Learning is what really matters today, if you want to become an innovator. To engage in learning you have to be connected, pro-active and very rooted in the moment (a now-ist). You must be alert and strive to be aware of everything that is going on around you. It’s necessary to seek collaboration from peers online, developing skills on how to get useful people together on your network to make your ideas happen as soon as possible. Not much planning is required to put out your innovative ideas. Don’t waste time overthinking what the outcome will be like. Adjust and learn as you move along. “Demo or die” (quote from Nicholas Negroponte he uses in his talk): ship your concept as fast as you can.

4. From “How the worst moments of our lives make us who we are” (by writer Andrew Solomon).

This is about education in its broader sense. The speaker, in a beautiful and moving talk, much in the vein of Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis and Philip Roth’s Nemesis, claims that the key to happiness is to “forge meaning and build an identity” for yoursef out of the worst adversities that may have struck you in life: be it imprisonment and ostracism in the case of Wilde at the end of the 19th century; contamination by polio in the early 1940s for the characters of Nemesis; or, as in Solomon’s personal account, exposure to cruel bullying at school and prejudice at large in today’s American society for being a homosexual. Meaning is not out there to be found, it’s a narrative you have to build from within and then invite others into. Just like Wilde and Roth, Solomon proposes you take full ownership and responsibility for your failures and falls and, maybe through love and art, re-create yourself to grow and be complete. Don’t miss this one!

I guess this is it for now. Enjoy you TED talks and please suggest some as you rate and comment on this post.

NOTE: You might want to check out our my series of eBooks TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART,  available  from AMAZON.COM 

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Au revoir

Jorge Sette.