TED Talks: TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson

Reading Time: 3 minutes


A great introduction to the fundamentals of public speaking from the organization that spreads the ideas of the world’s most influential people. There are lots of useful tips and tricks in here.

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Key Takeaways

Convey one big idea

Don’t fall into the trap of trying to cover everything in a single talk. Instead, convey one big idea that leverages your personal experience.

A big idea can take an audience on a journey that alters the way they view the world. You should be able to define your idea as a throughline that is 15 words or fewer. Essentially, what is the core point of your talk?

Think about the audience, their context, and why your problem matters to them. As a tip, choose one person that you like and assume you are presenting the talk to them.

Open and close strong

Script the opening minute and the closing lines. These are the most important parts of the talk. Use good images and stories to ignite curiosity and reflection. How people remember something is largely influenced by how it ends.

Bad talk types

Avoid sales pitches or talks that focus on what your organization does.


No slides = better than bad slides. For each slide, convey just one idea and remember that less is more. For photos, have them take up the entire slide. Use only one typeface and 3 fonts throughout the presentation. Avoid bullets, italics, and underlines.


Rehearsals help shape the talk. Ask for advice on clarity, tone, variety, and examples.

Talk structure

One potential structure for your talk: introduction, context, main concepts, practical applications, conclusion.

Build trust and connection

When you build trust and connection with your audience, your idea will resonate. To do so, consider the following tactics:

  • Make eye contact as you walk confidently onto the stage
  • Show vulnerability
  • Drop the ego – consider being self-deprecating

Tell stories

Our minds co-evolved with storytelling, a byproduct of fire; elders were often the best storytellers that helped us imagine, dream, and understand the minds of others. Stories are easy to follow, and they give us the ability to understand complex ideas and understand imagined realities. Adding stories to your public speaking toolkit will enhance your effectiveness.


With whatever you set out to explain, you need to incite curiosity. Make the audience care. You also should be incremental with new concepts. Don’t confuse everyone with too many concepts. Use metaphors to help people understand. Finally, show people drafts of your talk to avoid the curse of knowledge – assuming that other people have the same context as you.


Enhance your persuasion by offering a counterintuitive idea that convinces the audience that their world view isn’t exactly right. If you can effectively prime people, add humor, and leverage anecdotes, you will increase your chances of success.

Do things differently

While there are many time-tested principles of public speaking, don’t be afraid to do things differently. Show your unique style and character. Challenge the norms. At the very least, be interesting.

Script or no script?

A difficult question. You have three options: write out a full script, write out a structure, or go unscripted.

With a script, it’s sometimes difficult to translate written words into a talk. You also don’t want to sound too rehearsed, so if you go with a script, you need to fully mastery your memory of the talk so that you can add your character back in.

Whereas scripts can make every word count, unscripted talks can be half-baked and rambling if they don’t have sufficient preparation. With unscripted talks, it can be helpful to have transition steps or a clear map of the journey that you can follow.

Whatever style you go with, you need to believe what you’re saying.

Mental preparation for the talk

Have a mantra to keep you focused on why your talk counts, “This idea matters.” Five minutes before your talk, breathe, do push-ups, and drink water. Remember the power of vulnerability. If you screw up, say, “Oops, sorry, a little nervous here.” Look at the audience for sympathetic and encouraging faces. And finally, remember that it’s not about you, it’s about your idea.

What to wear

Wear something that makes you feel good, and rehearse your talk in that clothing.

How to end your talk

Zoom out to the vision of your talk. Show the possibilities that your idea unlocks. Have a clear call to action to help people engage with your idea or pay it forward. Paint a vision of what the world looks like when the idea spreads.

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