How to present like a TED Talk pro

Would you like to deliver your next presentation like a TED Talk pro?

It’s not a bad aspiration.

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talks have become a global sensation during the past 40 years.

They now exist in more than 170 countries and are viewed more than 1.5 million times a day.

And some of the best-known and most influential people on the planet have spoken at them, including Bill Clinton, Richard Branson, and Sheryl Sandberg,

They have raised the presentation game, and there is plenty other speakers can learn from them, as we explored during our latest Media Team Academy masterclass.

Our CEO James White, who led the session, said: “When I think of TED talks, I tend to think of them as inspiring, entertaining and motivating.

“Surely, that is what all good business presentations should be.

“There are things we can learn from them no matter what size audience you are presenting to or the format of the presentation.”

James was joined on the sofa in our TV studios by Victoria Smith, one of our expert presentation skills tutors, to explore what TED can teach us about the importance of preparation, developing a clear and simple message, the power of storytelling, and speaking so people want to listen.

Oh, and why you need to be a bit more like Yoda.



Let’s start with preparation.

It is something we always stress during our presentation skills training courses.

Our view on preparation is neatly summed up by Mark Twain, who famously once said: “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”

Yet many people still think they can wing a presentation.

“Why would you do that?”, Victoria asked.

“Give yourself a chance. Prepare, plan and rehearse out loud, and you’ll feel less anxious.

“One of the other things you can do when preparing your presentation is to think about your personal brand.

“That’s not just marketing talk. It is thinking about how you want to come across.”

That could be as simple as choosing three words.

For example, Victoria’s three words would be clear, calm and friendly. For James, the three words are friendly, inspirational and supportive.

“That helps me think about how I want to come across,” Victoria said.

“And it is important because people make a judgement about you in just seven seconds.”


One message

Preparation should also focus on creating one clear message.

Victoria said: “That can be hard to find and can take a bit of work. But once you’ve got it, you can include it in the beginning and the end and refer to it in the middle of your presentation – repetition helps the audience understand what your message is.”

That message needs to be simple – no one ever asks for a presentation to be made more complex.

And it should be backed up by an example, ideally a human one.

“We all relate to stories about people,” Victoria said.


The power of storytelling

Storytelling is crucial, so let’s explore it – and what works best - in more detail.

“People are hardwired to love stories about people,” Victoria said.

“Knowing that our audience loves stories and is receptive to them means we should use them in our presentation.

“They might be about you – you’ve probably got loads of stories.

“People are sometimes cautious about talking about their stories and sharing their experiences. But they work. They captivate the audience. They relate.”

But what do we want from a story?

“We need a likeable hero who has a challenge to overcome. And we want to see how your message helps overcome that challenge.

“Names, places, ages and locations help to reel people in as well.”

Metaphors and analogies also work well, as we saw during the pandemic with Jonathan Van Tam.


Why like Yoda you must be

So, what is it about the little green grammar-challenged fella that you should emulate in your presentations?

I’ll let Victoria explain.

“If you had to pick a hero from Star Wars, who would it be?”, she asked.

“Most people would say Luke Skywalker. But who inspires him? Who is his mentor?

“It is Yoda.

“Our job as presenters is to be the mentor and the one who gives the gift of the good idea.

“We are not the heroes. It is not about your ums and errs. It is about what the audience gets from you.

“The audience is the hero. They have come along to try and learn something.”



The ums and ers point is pivotal.

People can get hung up on trying to eliminate them from their presentations, thinking they will make the audience feel less about them.

They can also become almost paralysed from the fear of making mistakes or things going wrong when they take centre stage.

Victoria says presenters must try to overcome these fears.

 “We are human beings, and things go wrong all the time,” she said.

“And people forgive us.

“If we make a mistake, stumble or go blank, people tend to be on our side. They want us to do well.

“You’re the expert, and they want to hear what you have to say.

“We’ve all had those terrifying moments where our minds go blank. But the world goes on.”

Victoria says it is also vital you do not get frustrated with yourself if you forget to discuss something during your presentation.

“If you forget to tell us something or leave it out, let it go,” she said. “We don’t know what you don’t tell us, so we can’t judge.”


How to speak so people will listen

When you present, you want people to understand your arguments.

And you want them to react to that point in a way that shows they are listening to what you’re saying.

But how do you get people to listen?

Here are four crucial things you must do:

  • Be honest – clear and straight
  • Authenticity – be yourself (you don’t have to talk in a certain way)
  • Integrity – be true to your word (double check your facts)
  • Love – care for your audience. Inspire and motivate them. It is about them, not you

What about vocal delivery?

“Think about the most appropriate tone for your presentation,” Victoria said.

“You want to be engaging, enthusiastic and passionate about your subject.

“You can also look to vary your volume.

“Many people try to broadcast the whole time, which can be annoying. When you soften the volume, it feels more intimate, and people listen in to what you have to say next.”

And don’t forget the power of the pause.

“When you pause, the audience wonders what will happen next,” Victoria said.

“It can feel quite daunting, but it is effective.

“It’s a good technique, and it also helps to address issues of talking too fast, which we do when we are nervous, and gives you the chance to breathe.”


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TED Talk expert

We were joined during the masterclass by Alan Stevens, a past president of the Global Speakers Federation, and a fellow and past president of the Professional Speaking Association of the UK and Ireland.

“I did a Ted Talk quite a few years ago called Make Your Own Adventure,” he said.

“I have done thousands of talks over the years and ended up talking to a bunch of adventurers.

“I had done none of the things they had done, and I thought you could make your own adventure.

“An adventure is something that starts and ends, but you don’t know what happens in the middle.

“So, I made up a TED Talk about making your own adventure, and it went down well.”


What advice do you give people for TED Talks?

“I always say start at the end and start with the last line,” Alan said.

“So, it is not just about where you want to get to but what you want to say. It’s important to know what those last few words are.

“I also talk to people about the ‘week ahead test’. If someone meets someone a week after your talk, what do they hear about it? What’s the message that gets passed on?”

Alan also advises initially treating the talk as a radio broadcast.

“You need to create pictures in people’s minds,” he said. “Every speech I create or coach, I tell them we will treat it as a radio broadcast initially, and add visuals and slides if they make it better.

“You want to tell them a story they can resonate with and that they can feel like they are observing.”

Is it a case of the fewer slides the better?

Alan said: “I spend a lot of my time trying to coach people not to use slides, even in business presentations.

“You really don’t need them.

“I’ve spoken to more than 10,000 people without slides.

“If you can use a slide to make things better, that’s fantastic. But you don’t need them.”


What advice would you give to people about coping when things go wrong in a presentation?

“The most nervous people in a presentation are the audience,” he said.

“They want you to perform well.

“If something goes wrong, the mark of a professional is to find a way around it. The mark of a good presenter is to manage when things don’t quite work.

“I get people to practice what would happen if certain things go wrong.”


How do you memorise what you want to say during a presentation or speech?

“I would advise people not to try to memorise word for word,” Alan said.

“You will sound like an actor. You are not an actor – you are a presenter.

“I advise people to remember chunks of a speech and the segways – ‘how do I get from that story to this one?’

“And if you remember half a dozen segways, that will get you through an 18-minute TED Talk without too much bother.”

Alan also advises that if you lose your place, repeat what you just said.

“It will often act as a memory jogger,” he said.


How do you get the right balance between speaking slowly and clearly and sounding enthusiastic?

Alan has some advice from royalty on this.

“One of the first speeches I did, over 40 years ago, was a royal occasion,” he said. “The Duchess of Windsor was there, and she gave me some advice.

“She said, ‘I always speak as though the Queen is at the back of the room, and I want to make sure she understands what I have said’.

“So, I always try to imagine someone important being at the back of the room, who is perhaps a little hard of hearing.”


Has the nature of a successful TED Talk changed over the years?

“No, I don’t think so,” Alan said.

“It is about an idea worth spreading. That concept remains the same.

“The way they are presented has varied a little. They have got shorter.

“There are quite a lot of TED Talks now that are under 10 minutes because people like bite-sized information.

“And they have got fewer slides in than they used to, which I think is a good trend.”


You can watch the whole session, which also includes detailed tips on presentation structure, by clicking here.

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We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications and leadership coaches, and media trainers. 

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