The TED Secret to Great Public Speaking

My previous two posts centred around TED Curator Chris Anderson. The first was about his reflections on the day that TED might have died; the second was a quote about compelling presentations. I have decided to create a “tricolon” of posts about Chris Anderson, so here is the third one.

It distills the key points from his recent TED Talk about the secret to great public speaking. In fact, it is not a TED Talk in the traditional sense, as Anderson delivered it while sitting in a chair in a studio and not before a live audience. But it does contain several nuggets of wisdom that will benefit speakers wherever they speak.

Here are my key takeaways:

  • Overusing devices such as storytelling, emotion and vulnerability can hurt your talk. You will come across as cliché or emotionally manipulative.
  • All great TED Talks have one thing in common: The speaker is able to transfer into the listeners’ minds  an idea, which is an extraordinary gift. When a speaker connects with an audience, the brains of the people in the audience begin to sync with the speaker’s brain and with each other. They literally begin to exhibit the same brain-wave patterns.


  • If communicated properly, your ideas are capable of changing how people think about the world, and shaping their actions both now and in the future. Ideas are the most powerful force shaping human culture.
  • There are four guidelines to conveying an idea:

1. Limit your talk to one major idea. Ideas are complex. You need to reduce content so that you can focus on the single most important idea and explain it properly. Give context, share examples and make it vivid. Your one idea should be the theme of your entire talk and everything you say should link back to it in some way.

2. Give your listeners a reason to care. Make them curious. Use intriguing, provocative questions to identify why something doesn’t make sense and needs explaining. If you can reveal a disconnect in someone’s worldview, they’ll feel the need to bridge that gap. And once you’ve sparked that desire, it will be easier to start building your idea.

3. Build your idea based on concepts that your audience already understands.  Speakers often forget that many of the terms and concepts they live with are completely unfamiliar to their audiences. This is the curse of knowledge. We forget what it was like when we knew nothing about our subject. So use language that the audience understands. Start where they are. Metaphors can help bridge the knowledge gap because they link the new idea to an idea that the listener already understands.

4. Make your idea worth sharing. It has to benefit the audienceIf the idea only serves you or your organization, it’s probably not worth sharing. But if your talk can benefit the audience in some way, it has the potential to be a great one.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
This entry was posted in Analysis of a Speech, TED and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The TED Secret to Great Public Speaking

  1. Pingback: Analysis of a Speech by Andrew Solomon | Manner of Speaking

  2. Pingback: Make your next presentation your best yet | Manner of Speaking

  3. Rashid says:

    Dear John:

    Thanks again. Love the way you analyze and share these milestone events in the speaking world.

    In the unlikely event you (or your readers) have not yet seen it, here is another excellent discussion of the ideas laid out in the recently released TED Guide book.

    Chris Anderson in Talks / Authors at Google

    Hope you enjoy and benefit from it as much as I did.

    Warm Regards … Rashid N. Kapadia

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.