TED Talk Principles for Better Lectures

Decorative: "TED Talks"


"Take It from TED: Improving Lectures Using TED Talk Principles" (post) suggests that, "by applying five TED principles, we can make ordinary lectures and presentations more compelling."

TL;DR Version

  • "Focus on a single, powerful idea, pare away anything that does not support it, and reinforce that idea with stories, examples, and analogies."
  • "[P]rovide a clear, compelling take-away, and do so upfront."
  • "[E]stablish a strong connection with students, one that generates trust and draws them in." 
  • "[U]se the five Cs to create a narrative arc that keeps students engaged on the journey and follow a simple, repeatable structure that marks the path along the way" -- conflict, causality, character, complexity, closure.

1.  Idea

a. "[A]sk yourself why the content matters": "Of the many things students could learn, why this and why now?"

b. Ask "why it matters to you": "What is it that you find so entrancing, important, or useful about the lecture content that you think students need to know it, too?"

c. If is "a necessary component," "[A]sk yourself why it’s required and how it fits into the big picture. Would the picture be complete without it?"

  • "Work to create that sense of importance, for you and for your students."

d. "Strip away anything that could obscure that primary focus and zero in on the core nugget of meaning."

  • "[F]lesh it out with analogies and examples that help students understand it more deeply."
  • "Be ruthless as you prioritize and prune ... you are not watering down the content but rather distilling it to its essence." 
  • "For long-term retention and effective application, depth of understanding matters more than superficial coverage." 

2. Throughline

a."In every TED Talk, there runs a clear, discernable throughline. Often the throughline boils down to a one-sentence take-away ... [that may be] surprising or counter-intuitive ... [and] spark[s] curiosity."

  • It is "identified up front, often at the beginning of the talk, sometimes even in the title."
  • "TED speakers begin with the take-away and use their talk to explain how they arrived at that conclusion."

b. "It’s helpful when planning a lecture to write down your throughline and keep it firmly in mind as you plan." 

  • "[S]tate it explicitly in the lecture itself."
  • We often "leave out the single most important message because we assume it’s obvious."
  • "Don’t bury the lead!"

3. Connection

"[E]stablish a relationship with the audience ... use questions, stories, and vulnerability to draw [students] in and disarm [their] our natural skepticism."

  • "Invest time in planning those first few minutes."
  • "Think about how you will establish a connection with students, how you will spark their curiosity."
  • "Is there an object you could bring to make the content come alive?"
  • "A compelling beginning is not a gimmick, but a lever for establishing personal and intellectual connection."
  • "Everything else—student’s attention, their openness to learning—depends on whether they are with you from the start."

4. Story

"Like stories, good lectures have a narrative arc, so consider the five Cs of storytelling as you plan."

  • "Specificity and sensory information make stories come alive."
  • "When giving a lecture, think about how to bring sensory information and detail to the story."

a. Conflict

  • "Offer the audience a problem, a conundrum, or a paradox."
  • "It could be as simple as the tension between what we assume and what is actually true, or the disconnect between what we do and what makes sense."
  • "Conflict begs for resolution and makes the audience want to hear more."

b. Causality

  • "One thing must lead to another or it’s not a story."
  • "Make sure all the parts of the story connect logically."

c. Character

  • "You need a compelling protagonist or antagonist, someone or something that is the focal point of the action."
  • "It could be a liver enzyme or the spread of fascism; it need not be human."

d. Complexity

  • "A problem too easily overcome isn’t interesting, so explicate the challenges, setbacks, and trade-offs along the path to resolution."

e. Closure.

  • "[A]rrive at a place that brings closure to the conflict (or leaves it open in a satisfying way), thereby reinforcing the throughline."

5. Structure

a. Most TED Talks "follow a very simple structure ... that it makes the trip through the content seem easy ... [so] [t]hose listening can connect the dots":

  • "[I]ntroduction, context, main concepts, practical implications, and conclusions"
  • "[T]teaser, background, demonstration, implications" 

b. "To find a simple, reusable structure, pay attention to the structure of your best lectures."

  • "Can you abstract a general outline to reuse?"

6. Books referenced

  • Anderson, Chris. TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. Boston: Mariner Books. 2016.
  • Gallo, Carmine. Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 2014.
  • Karia, Akash. TED Talks Storytelling: 23 Storytelling Techniques from the Best TED Talks. Copyright @ Akash Karia. 2015.
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