TED talks are amazing. At a time when our communication is increasingly digital, it’s a spoken word format that’s sort of a throwback to the classic oral tradition when we gathered around the campfire to listen and share stories. The best of those stories would travel from community to community.
Of course, I say it’s ‘sort of’ a throwback because TED talks travel with the assistance of today’s online media. As of January 2018, over 2,600 TED talks have been posted to ted.com with 5–7 new talks added each week. The site boasts over a billion views. Why are we so drawn to TED talks? Initially focused on technology, education, and design, the annual main TED conference and numerous independent TEDx events have been home to our brightest scientists, scholars, entrepreneurs, artists, and politicians.
While TED draws the best from each respective field, it’s the format that makes the ideas worth spreading. TED speakers are limited to 18 minutes or less. This constraint often sparks creativity. They’re also a good fit for our dwindling attention spans, which TV sitcoms have worn down to 20 minutes and online video looks to whittle down even further. That’s why it’s easy to fit in a TED talk after lunch or during your work out and why they make great conversation starters at meetings and teaching tools for classes.
As a teacher of persuasive presentation (I’ve even coached a few TEDx speakers), TED talks provide mini master classes in various communication lessons. There’s also added value in watching a successful presentation. That’s why I often reference and show these talks during class.
Here are seven TED talks to help you become a better speaker and presenter.
Simon Sinek: How Great Leaders Inspire Action
This may have been one of the first TED talks I watched. Like many big thinkers on the TED stage, Simon Sinek’s talk framed the idea that would become the centerpiece of his best-selling book. Sinek’s call for leaders to start with the ‘why’ is helpful across domains. Whether you’re leading an organization or trying to persuade an audience during your next presentation, understanding why you’re doing what you’re doing is a critical step that too many skip. And it’s the perfect place to start planning your next talk.
Nancy Duarte: The Secret Structure of Great Talks
Duarte has probably directly and indirectly helped more speakers than anyone else listed here. Her books Slideology and Resonate are required reading for any presenter. Here she breaks down the structure of great talks. What do Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Steve Jobs’ iPhone launch keynote have in common? They’re both built on contrasting two concepts — what is and what could be.
Andrew Stanton: The Clues to a Great Story
Grounded with a “why” and a solid structure, it’s time to reinforce your presentation with one of the most powerful tools ever invented — stories. Pixar’s Andrew Stanton has been the creative force behind studio hits such as Finding Nemo and WALL-E. During his TED talk, Stanton shares why the best stories start at the ending and work back. CAUTION: Stanton opens with a story that features graphic language but it’s worth it. Grab some headphones and your smelling salts and tune in.
Melissa Marshall: Talk Nerdy to Me
Jargon is a problem for technical communicators from all walks of life — from scientists and engineers to business professionals. While focusing on helping scientists communicate, Melissa Marshall offers advice that can help communicators everywhere better relate to their audience. Her talk is just four minutes (!) and it closes with an equation for simplifying complex communication.
Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability
With your talk mapped out and embedded with stories it’s time to get up on your feet. This is a scary construct for many. That’s probably why over 36 million have viewed Brené Brown’s talk on the connection between authenticity and vulnerability. What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful. Embrace this.
Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are
As you begin to conquer your public speaking fears, it’s time for Amy Cuddy to teach you how to fake it. Rather, she shares that “power posing” — striking a larger than life superhero pose — helps your body lead your mind to new levels of confidence and presence. You can fake it ’til you become it, as Cuddy says. While some of the findings have been challenged on repeatability, the connection between mind/body and confidence is still valuable.
Sir Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity
The lesson here? This is just a good talk. Sir Ken Robinson’s entertaining call for building a more creative education system is an exemplary TED talk. This gets back to the idea of modeling. Watching these speakers is instructive as it helps us learn by seeing what success looks like.
Watch these talks and you’ll be on your way to crafting your own idea worth spreading.