Many people agree that TED talks may just be the standard of excellence for in-person and virtual presentations in today’s digital world. TED, which is a non-profit devoted to effectively spreading great ideas, began as a face-to-face conference on topics related to Technology, Entertainment, and Design back in the 1980s. Today boasting millions of Internet hits daily, TED talks address a wide range of topic areas; in fact, any idea worth spreading–as their slogan suggests.
So what is it that makes TED talks so effective, whether viewed as a live audience member or viewed virtually by the global community? As several published works will tell you, there are many reasons why TED talks are successful. From my perspective as a professional presenter, following are a few of the reasons why I think TED talks hit their mark.
To begin, have you noticed there are no physical barriers separating the in-person audience and the presenter in the auditorium? The absence of a lectern is immediately apparent. In a non-verbal way, this opens up the space dynamic between presenter and audience. From the onset, there is no physical structure to hide behind, no furniture to mute presenter energy, no lectern to support reading from notes, and no limits on a presenter’s onstage movement. This dynamic clears the way for a deeper connection between sender and recipient. Experiment with this when delivering your own presentations. Observe the freedom you have as a presenter to move across the stage to accent your transitions. Observe how you may feel more connected to your audience and the reciprocal connection they may feel likewise with you.
Another reason TED talks are effective is because if they do use visuals their supporting visuals are just that—supporting. Visuals used in TED talks do not compete with presenters to be primary. They merely illustrate any content that need more clarification. That said, notice the brevity and the lean design of the visuals. They are not text-heavy. Supporting visuals should be used to support content when needed, provide illustrations when helpful, and provide an engaging experience that will help with building mental models for recall later.
Additionally, TED talks are kept to an 18 minute maximum. Certainly, there are a few exceptions here and there. However, this length of time was researched and TED staff determined it was just long enough to prevent improvisation, yet short enough to keep an audience’s attention. Obviously, your application for presentations in the workplace may find different time constraints in the real world. However, the key point here is still applicable. Your audience can only process so much information for a limited select timeframe. So leverage the limits of working memory by applying brevity to your presentations where you can. We’ll be exploring ways to keep your audience engaged for short time periods in future blogs.
Lastly, TED talks are well rehearsed – and some, many, many times. Presenters usually have plenty of lead time unless they’re called to fill in a spot that may have opened up at the last minute. Ideally, not only have they had months to prepare, but they’ve had opportunities to work out the kinks, present before others, and get comfortable with the set-up and stage. All this preparation maximizes a presenter’s feeling of control, and this is very important to minimizing any presenter anxiety. Additionally, when you know your content that well you can deliver your presentation more conversationally because it flows naturally. I realize that in your daily work life, rehearsing a presentation many, many times may not be practical for you, but do your best to prepare as much as your schedule allows with spaced rehearsals to help solidify the content in your mind.
Think of the last TED talk you viewed? If you were engaged, why were you?
What say you?