As I’ve been inviting speakers to submit ideas for a TEDx talk, the question has come back: “how does a TEDx talk differ from a normal presentation?

First, I suppose I should say there is no “normal”, a Sales presentation differs from a Keynote, differs from an After Dinner, and is different again from a Motivational talk. All of them start from an understanding of the audience, and what’s in it for them.

However, that’s a very incomplete answer so, at the risk of invoking the gods of parody, here goes.

Most TED talks I have watched use the following structure:

Shocking opener
Personal Story
A bit of detail
Link back to personal story
Idea worth spreading

To explain:

Shocking opener

As I say in my book, plug, any presentation needs to start with something that grabs your attention. Watch almost any TED talk and you’ll see the same thing, but as TED talks sit in a day of interesting stuff your talk really needs to grab everyone immediately. I actually stole that bit in my book from Graham Davies excellent The Presentation Coach (with suitable attribution). Graham suggests there are three elements to an opening – the speaker’s credibility, the benefit to the audience, and an attention grabbing statement.
When you gain the TED stage I would argue that your credibility and the benefit are taken as read, what’s left is your chance to be audacious in your opening statement.

Personal Story

You’ve now bought a little time. So tell a personal story which might not actually be immediately connected to the opening. But it needs to be personal. Growing up with a sister who suffered from …. Seeing my father bought down by …. A bit of tragedy seems to often creep in here.

A bit of detail

Now it’s time for the science. The clever stuff. In this section you even get to brag a little. The important thing here is that although you know enough to fill several encyclopaedias, you just need to include the bits we need in order to understand what you’re talking about. Remember the vicious TED time limit?

Link back to personal story

This is where the audience should have the Ah Ha! Moment. Tie it all together and make us understand why you personally care about this matter. How it affects you.

Idea worth spreading

This is the point of any TED talk. Tell us the idea you want to spread and – by now – we should understand why it matters.

Of course. If you can think of a better structure then you should use that.

These are observations, not rules.

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