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3 Must-Have Visual PowerPoint Tips From the Top TED Talks

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Humans are visual creatures. MIT Neuroscientists have found that the brain can recognize images seen for as little as 13 milliseconds. In fact, web pages with images draw 94 percent more views than text-only sites. How can a speaker take advantage of this powerful way that the brain operates?

That’s why visual social media performs the best and TED Talk speakers use visuals to win over an audience. There’s plenty of eye-popping statistics about visuals and why you should use them. By 2018, 84 percent of communications are expected to be visual.

TED Talk speakers seemed to know this early on. These speakers have changed the PowerPoint landscape–their slide decks are utilized in their speeches and presentations as complements, not crutches. TED even suggests that none of their speakers should include a slide containing more than six words. These professional public speakers are replacing those words with images–which makes sense–a picture is worth a thousand words, after all.

Through the coaching of business leaders and TEDx speakers, three major visual design techniques have become apparent with successful presentations. Read on to learn how you can implement these suggestions to talk like TED.


Studies have shown that people are more likely to remember a fact or information if it is linked to an emotional response. What elicits an emotional response? High impact visuals.

Research has even concluded that pictures do a better job of producing emotions than film. A few well-placed, poignant photos will cement the information in your audience’s brain by appealing to their feelings.

Where can you find high-impact visuals? Take your own photos for a personal touch or search one of the many online photo databases for pertinent images.


How do you ensure your presentation is dead on arrival? Litter it with bullets.

Preserve your message–give it life and longevity–by taking tips from TED and limiting each slide to six words. Or heed Seth Godin’s advice in Really Bad PowerPoint. The ebook sets out the three (incorrect) goals presenters usually have for their PowerPoint slide decks. Speakers will tend to use their slide decks as:

  1. A makeshift teleprompter
  2. A record of what was stated
  3. A memory aid for the audience

First, your slide deck should never replace proper preparation. As for the last two, both are addressed when you use high-impact visuals.

Besides, you want your audience listening to you–not reading. And science has shown us people aren’t good at multitasking. Don’t distract them from what’s important: your verbal words.


It has long been an adage in writing to “kill your darlings” or cut mercilessly, but presenters can benefit from taking this advice as well. Instead of bombarding your audience with words, use high-impact visuals.

Instead of including three bullet points of dry facts from the EPA to prove the horrors of pollution, follow Seth Godin’s example and show an image of a bird, killed by an oil spill. Edit out the dry words with powerful pictures.

Nancy Duarte suggests throwing away your first brainstorms and murdering your darlings. This serves the dual purpose of curating your ideas and getting rid of the obvious. The next step is choosing images that embody your message or thought. By opting for visuals instead of dry text in your slide deck, you ensure that when you say the meticulously crafted speech you have written, it doesn’t fall on deaf ears.

Take a cue out from the most successful and remembered TED Talks–high-quality visuals lead to a high-quality presentation. Join the thought leaders of the 21st century by creating some eye candy for your audiences to snack on long after your talk has ended.

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