PREACHING & 11 Tips From the Best TED Talks Speakers

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: In the communication portions of my courses (as a missiologist, they all have a communication segment) I often play TED Talks that serve as examples of reliable/valid communication theory practiced well. Here is an Inc. Magazine article that similarly highlights communication tips from some of the most popular TED talks.

11 Public Speaking Tips From the Best TED Talks Speakers

by Jeffrey James, Inc. Magazine, 7/26/16.

There’s no question about it: TED Talks have raised the bar sky-high for what’s considered a memorable and compelling business presentation.

That being said, there are a handful of TED Talks speakers so talented that they almost make the rest seem dull and uninspired.

What makes them so special and popular? It’s not just their subject matter, although that obviously plays a role.

Here’s the secret: what the truly great TED speakers do differently from the rest can be found in the first few minutes of their presentation.

And that makes sense if you think about it. It’s during the opening remarks that the audience sits up and pays attention… or reaches for their iPhones.

With that in mind, here are five of the most popular TED Talks speakers (as measured by page views), with the techniques they use to enthrall their audiences.

To see the techniques in action you need only watch the first two minutes of the TED Talks embedded below. (Although they’re definitely worth watching in their entirety!)

1. Sir Ken Robinson

TIP No. 1. Use self-deprecating humor to lower barriers.

Unlike many other TED Talks speakers, Robinson doesn’t have a dynamic physical presence. Furthermore, because he’s an academic, he must overcome the perception that he’s likely to deliver a boring lecture.

He therefore opens by poking a little fun at himself and at educators in general. By puncturing his own balloon, he makes everyone feel more comfortable and more likely to listen to what he has to say.

TIP No. 2. Tie your experience to the shared experience.

In the midst of his humor, Robinson relates his personal experience at the conference to that of the attendees. This further humanizes him and brings him into the community of the audience.

Robinson establishes such a strong rapport with the audience that he doesn’t need visuals or graphics to make his points. This is a testament to how well he manages to capture and then hold the audience’s attention.

2. Amy Cuddy

TIP No. 3. Get the audience to take an immediate action.

The point of all public speaking is to convince the audience to make a decision, which means convincing them to move (conceptually) from wherever they are now to wherever you’d like them to be.

Cuddy starts by getting the audience to move physically, thereby creating the momentum for the conceptual move she intends them to make. This is a more creative take on the “show of hands” opening that less-talented speakers use.

TIP No. 4. Create a sense of suspense.

In her first few sentences, Cuddy also promises the audience they’ll be learning something important later in the presentation. This causes the audience to pay attention lest they miss the promised nugget of wisdom.

Note how cleverly Cuddy intermingles Tips 4 and 5! The suspenseful promise lends additional meaning to the movement, while the movement helps “lock in” the importance of the promise…

5. Dan Gilbert

Tip No. 9: Start with a startling fact or statistic.

Gilbert introduces his TED Talk with an unexpected fact that’s immediately relevant to his overall message, and uses contrast (20 minutes versus two million years) to frame that fact, thereby making it seem more vital.

Startling facts grab the attention of both sides of the brain. The neurons in your left brain signal “Yay, here’s a fact to remember!” while the neurons in your right brain signal “wow, that’s really weird!”

TIP No. 10. Use visually arresting graphics.

Gilbert immediately reinforces the startling fact with a graphic of two skulls that reinforces and strengthens both the informational content (for the left brain) and the emotional content (for the right brain).

By simultaneously hitting both sides of the brain, Gilbert completely captures the imagination and interest of the audience, even though he’s only 30 seconds into the presentation.

TIP No. 11. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

This is true of all great TED Talks speakers but particularly true of Gilbert, who is a master at reducing complex ideas into easily understood chunks of content.

Indeed, if you watch any great TED Talk, you’ll notice at once that speakers neither “drill down” into details nor take the proverbial “50,000-foot view.” Instead, they simplify without ever becoming simplistic.

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