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How to Make Your Presentations Wow Like a TED Talk

Today's guest post comes from Steve Farnsworth (who you might know as Steveology). He's a Forbes Top 50 Social Media Influencer and an advisor to the TEDxSanJoseCA event. He blogs at The Steveology Blog.

TED and TEDx talks are all about shining a bright light of insight onto the seemingly ordinary to uncover the extraordinary. So, how do you capture a little of that magical quality when creating your own presentations?

Last year I was asked to join the senior executive team for TEDxSanJoseCA, a localized TED event. Jumping in gave me a behind the scenes view of what it takes to put on an event of that caliber. More importantly, I saw how the TEDTalks sausage was made. Here are the shared principles I gleaned from watching 21 speakers develop, practice, and give their talks.

Tell a Story
Stories are how we’ve learned and taught for millennia. A story takes people on a journey of challenge, discovery, and emotions with salient sights, sounds, tastes, textures, and even smells. Think of the opening as a mini story. It gives the listener a place to start.

Consider Doug Dietz's journey. He begins by describing the thrill of seeing the large, shiny diagnostic imaging machine he designed in the field. That is until he saw how distraught a little girl became at the idea of lying within the loud, ominous machine. The experience, and idea that his design work caused such stress on sick children, left Doug heartbroken.


You Need a Middle and an End
That opening propels the audience into the crux of Doug’s story: the quest to find an alternative design. The middle is where we learn the challenges he faced, and how he overcame them, creating an experience that children found enjoyable, not frightening.

Then he shares the resolution, flourishing the story with rich detail. The new environment is transformed into a forest with painted trees, leaves, rocks, and streams; young patients joyously cross the painted stream that cut across their path to the machine by stepping on the rocks (“Daddy, be careful or you'll get your feet wet.”) to arrive a machine now decorated as a tree house. Doug teared up in the retelling, and most of the audience did too.

No One Cares about Your Slides
Most speakers bring slides, but due to their time limit don't use many. They are forced to focus. Ironically, many speakers put so much data on slides that no one can distinguish them. So, again, the speaker has to highlight the most important parts.

If you have to use slides, keep it simple-stupid. Just a clean visual representation or picture is best. A word or two per slide if you must. For more on effective slides check out How to Create a Captivating Presentation.

Be Passionate
When it comes to TED talks, you always hear about passion. No one ever says what that means, which is unhelpful when you’re developing a presentation for an organization, a conference, or committee that you need to persuade.

Passion is conveyed by going on an emotional journey. The speaker needs to share how key events touched and changed them. When obstacles seem insurmountable, passion drives the hero forward. Many speakers just share the facts believing the audience will “get it.” That never works.

Be Emotionally Messy
Brutal honesty – the kind that we rarely share even with friends – is required. Just like Doug, you must answer, “How did it make me feel, and what did I take away from that experience?” Share the experience, even when it doesn’t show you in the best light.

Those moments open us, and the audience, up so we can learn. Allow yourself to be human. Threaded throughout TED talks are those personal failings, wins and losses. It forges a deep connection with the audience.

Edit Mercilessly
Speakers often ask for more time than the 18 minutes allotted. No one is given more time. Usually people try to talk faster and touch on the ideas quickly. This fails big every time.

You have to cut mercilessly. Have 9 key points? Cross out 3. Can you make those 6 work in a pinch? Kill one more.

Keeping your story simple, emotionally truthful, and creating a clear vision of how good it can be, you just might inspire others to help change the world, too.

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photo credit: jurvetson via photopin cc

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