More than a billion Ted Talks are viewed annually, so Ted curator Chris Anderson had a lot of material to work with when he decided to write a book about presentation skills.
If you haven’t heard about Ted Talks, these are the 18-minute presentations given at conferences on the subjects of technology, entertainment and design (Ted) since 1984. Eighteen minutes was the length of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.
When Mr Anderson took over the helm in 2001, he started to put the talks online – and they went viral. Today the non-profit organisation is devoted to spreading ideas globally, in 110 languages.
While other books have been written about presenting, inspired by Ted, this one comes straight from the horse’s mouth and is littered with dozens of references to real Ted talks.
Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern who had an affair with the president Bill Clinton, talks about writing her mantras, “This matters” and “I’ve got this” on her speech scripts, while Microsoft’s Bill Gates “puts a huge effort into learning and rehearsing” to overcome his reputation as a poor public speaker.
“There is no single successful formula to presenting, says Mr Anderson. “That’s because a key part of the appeal of a great talk is its freshness. We’re humans. We don’t like same old, same old.”
Always be authentic, he encourages. “Your goal is not to be Winston Churchill or Nelson Mandela. It’s to be you.”
The biggest lesson he has is to “slash back the range of topics you will cover to a single, connected thread” – what is known in storytelling as the through line. “In a sense, you cover less, but the impact will actually be significantly greater.”
As the Ted speaker BrenÃ© Brown adds: “Plan your talk. Then cut it by half. Once you’ve grieved the loss of half of your talk, cut it another 50 per cent.”
q&a engage the audience
Suzanne Locke expands on the art of presenting a Ted talk:
Which presentation template should I use?
None of them. Mr Anderson says you should never use built-in templates of bullets, letters and dashes provided, whether by PowerPoint or Keynote for Mac. Start with a blank slide instead. As the author says: “Bullets belong in The Godfather. Dashes belong at the Olympics Avoid them at all costs.” Prezi, in which Ted was an early investor, offers an alternative mode to the other two presentation tools, zooming in and out of a two-dimensional landscape.
What about fonts?
Stick to one typeface (Helvetica or Ariel are best), in no more than three sizes (large for headlines, medium for main ideas and small for supporting ideas) and never less than 24 points. Use simple font colours for contrast (black on white, white or yellow on black) and just one colour font per presentation unless you want to show “emphasis or surprise”.
Anything else about my slides?
Ensure the presentation is set to a 16:9 ratio, like most screens. Videos should be no longer than 30 seconds – limit yourself to three in a presentation.
Should I rehearse?
Yes, “until you get annoyed”. Cut yourself down to 90 per cent of the allotted time. Record it and look for any physical traits or tics you weren’t aware of. Look at your presentation from a distance of six to 12 feet to check it’s legible. And bring a USB stick to the venue with the videos and fonts filed separately.
Ted Talks: The official Ted guide to public speaking was released in hardback in May by Headline.
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