7 Presentation tips from TED’s Chris Anderson


Chris Anderson, TED’s Curator, is putting himself front and centre of many a stage as he promotes his new book, ‘TED Talks: The official TED guide to public speaking’. I was fortunate enough to be given a seat in the audience recently as Chris talked about what makes TED tick and gave us his tips for a great presentation.

TED began in 1984 in California (where else?), when 300 people gathered to discuss Technology, Education and Design. A serial media and tech entrepreneur, Chris bought TED in 2001 and has steered it to become what the New York Times calls a multimedia colossus (NYT’s warts-and-all piece is worth a look).

Chris talked about how he sees TED as merging the ancient tradition of telling stories around the flickering light of the campfire with the new and growing world of digital technology. He also had some forthright views on what does – and doesn’t – make a great talk, as well as some tips. So here goes with the tips I’ve taken away…

  1. Have something to say. Sounds rather obvious, but Chris was at pains to explain that whatever the presentation, there needs to be a “vision that transmits” and connects with people, that sparks the imagination of everyone in the audience, that has meaning and is useful.
  2. Be generous with your ideas. “The speaker should give a gift” says Chris, “and people hate being sold to, but are happy to have their preconceptions challenged”. This, he says, is what accounts for the huge number of views for any TED talk that provides the keys to a more meaningful and satisfying life.
  3. Use visuals with care. Bullet points, dense blocks of text, and the cardinal sin of reading out your slides don’t go over well at TED. Graphs, images, pictures and infographics are fine as long as they’re clear. It’s worth noting that TED has invested in Prezi. Also worth noting is that some of the most memorable TED talks, such as Benjamin Zander’s, have few or no slides.
  4. Use words well. As Chris pointed out, Albert Mehrabian’s research on the importance of body language, voice and words in communication has been misinterpreted and misused: “Words matter!”
  5. Take care with humour. Not everyone finds your double entendre funny, and for some cultures it may even be offensive (the afore-mentioned NYT article has examples of TED’s zeal on this point, with a speaker’s pithy response to their censorship).
  6. Use your voice. Chris’s advice is to imagine you’re “talking to a friend you haven’t seen for a while, over dinner”. He’s very keen that speakers don’t loudly ‘orate’ and project, as digital video amplifies this horribly when put online.
  7. Rehearse and refine. We were advised by Chris to start small, rehearsing into our smartphone’s camera and playing it back, then working up to a group of friends, then small groups and finally bigger audiences.

You can find Chris’s own video about TED’s secret to great public speaking here.

And of course Chris Anderson’s book, ‘TED Talks: The official TED guide to public speaking’ is available on Amazon and in bookstores everywhere.

You may also find this blog post useful: 10 questions to help you deliver a great presentation.


Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available on Amazon.

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