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How To Write A TED Talk

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Blog 3 Proven Speechwriting Techniques all Great TED Talks Use in Their Presentation
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DISCLAIMER: TED and TEDx is a registered trademark of TED Conferences, LLC. TED Talk-Style Training and private coaching are programs of Moxie Institute and are not endorsed by, affiliated with, connected to, or sponsored by TED Conferences, LLC. or any of its affiliated entities.

Presenting on a TED stage is a pinnacle in public speaking. It has a significant impact on your career by positioning you as a thought leader in your field.

We’ve coached TEDx speakers for numerous TEDx events helping them take their idea and bring it to life—that’s what we want to share with you here.

Knowing how to write a TED Talk—or the style of one—will give you the confidence you need to go on stage and deliver an impressive performance.

Preparation is the key to success, as we are going to help you be ready for that step.

Our team at Moxie are pros at writing exceptional speeches. Here are the steps we have used to successfully write many compelling TEDx Talks that we’ll cover below:

  • Choose the main topic for your talk
  • Craft a clear and concise message around your topic
  • Find the story in your topic
  • Tailor your visual aids to your audience, story, and brand

Ready to write you own unforgettable talk? Read on!

Choose The Main Topic For Your Talk

Give yourself an edge by choosing something you know well and are deeply interested in. When you draw from your personal experience, you will feel more confident, and it will be much easier for you to connect with your audience.

As you explore ideas for your topic, TED recommends you ask yourself three questions about the topic you choose;

  1. Is my idea new?
  2. Is it interesting?
  3. Is it factual and realistic?

Ideally, you want to answer each one of those questions with a resounding “Yes!”. There is always a topic worth exploring if you put your creative mind to it. Even during lockdowns when in-person speaking came to a halt, resilient speakers found topics to share. See Moxie’s top 10 TED Talks for inspiration if you are having difficulty coming up with your topic.

Craft A Clear And Concise Message Around Your Topic

A TED Talk is limited to 18 minutes. During that short period of time, your message needs to be articulated so that you convey it succinctly and effectively. Here is how you can do this using clarity and concision.

Clarity

Your audience needs to understand your message with minimum effort.

The first thing to do is prepare your talk without using complex terms and industry jargon that may be familiar to you but not to your audience.

Remember, your talk will likely be posted online for others to watch so it’s not just the audience on the day you need to think about.

Tailor your message so that everyone can grasp the meaning of your talk by using language that is simple to understand.

To do this, write out a section of your talk and ask yourself the following:

  • Would my family understand this if I said it at dinner?
  • Would someone I just met on the street get what I’m saying?

Concision

Clear and to the point is the object of concision.

As a speaker, you want to strive to use as few words as possible while still conveying the information you want your audience to know.

This is why it’s important you have familiarity with your subject because it will be easier for you to find shortcuts to get your message across.

Choose your words and structure your sentences with care and precision. By making your communication crisp and straightforward, you elevate your position as one with authority on the subject matter.

For concision, ask yourself:

  1. What’s an easier way of saying this?
  2. Is there a simple analogy or metaphor I could use instead?
  3. What could I cut out without losing any meaning?

Find The Story In Your Topic

Fact, figures, ideas, and principles are informative and practical but not necessarily memorable.

Stories, on the other hand, can make your talk unforgettable.

They stir up emotions, engage audiences, and help them empathize with you. They are the bridge between your research and your audience.

The story doesn’t have to be about how you changed the world either, but perhaps how one or a few people’s lives were transformed meaningfully.

The majority of us have the limiting belief that our story is ordinary and boring. But if you dig deep you will find a “hero’s journey” story you can polish and use in your topic.

Here are some ideas we use at Moxie to find the best and most amazing stories for the stage.

We use story types and story archetypes and fuse them together to make the story burst with colorful anecdotes and memorable facts wrapped in a beautiful narrative. Here is what we mean.

First, we choose from four tested and proven story types:

  1. The Story of Me
    Talk about your own journey. Think of household names who have used this story type, like Oprah Winfrey, Walt Disney, and Henry Ford.

  2. The Story of Us
    Talk about the story of your family, your company, or your tribe solving a problem. There are many examples here that come to mind:
    1. Amazon started by just selling books online and have evolved to impact the world in so many aspects.
    2. Airbnb and how the founder changed hospitality by trying to solve his own problem when he could not find accommodations.
    3. Netflix, two guys have changed entertainment by starting out sending CDs through the mail.
  3. The Story of an Idea
    Talk about an idea that changed something—a product or service that changes lives. Things that come to mind here: flight, electricity, industrialization.

  4. Why These Results
    Talk about the reasons something is important and significant. Think climate change, human rights, global diseases, etc.

The story type is then incorporated into one of several story archetypes. The following are the most adaptable and will work with many situations:

  • Coming of Age
    Character growing up and becoming an individual.
  • Hero’s Journey
    Overcoming a hurdle or obstacle. Being faced with a problem that must be overcome, against all odds they prevail.
  • Constant Evolution or Rebirth
    The character ever adapting, evolving to handle whatever life throws your way.
  • True as it Ever Was
    The character keeps true to their values regardless of time and external forces.
  • Quest or Journey
    The character searches for something or someone while facing challenges they must overcome and eventually triumph.

Tailor Your Visual Aids To Your Audience, Story, And Brand

Visuals are a fundamental part of preparing your talk. They are also your most important asset to convey meaning and highlight your most important points to your audience.

Preparing your visual aids to be relevant to the people you are presenting to, the narrative of your topic, and your brand is a lot to balance. Nonetheless, achievable with the right tools and strategies.

Here is what we recommend:

Audience And Visuals

In a TED Talk, your audience will be fairly broad in terms of demographics, social and economic factors. Choose visuals that have a wide appeal.

Here are some examples:

  1. If a scientist talking about their latest research showed a close-up of a really cool microbe they discovered, it will be meaningless to most people. But a visual of the results or benefits of that discovery will add impact to what they’re saying.
  2. Someone presenting on the impact of a pandemic on sales in different countries. Using colorful charts and graphs will make it considerably easier to remember the information than using numbers only.

Story And Visuals

The best way to drive a story into the audience’s mind is through memorable visual aids. Use the right images, fonts, and colors to appeal to your audience’s emotions.

 

(Check out our Presentation Design Ultimate Guide for in-depth tips and techniques!)

 

How? And how do you do this? What’s the “right” image? How do you know a font is right? How do colors affect emotions?

For example:

  1. If a journalist talking about the effects of a regime change in a country showed general images of the situation, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as impactful than if they showed images directly related to what they were talking about in each moment.
  2. One more example

Brand And Visuals

Representing your brand is not necessarily about showing off your company logo. After all, one of the cardinal rules of TED is “No selling from the stage.”

What we are referring to is the “brand of YOU.“ You have a persona that is made up of several elements:

  • Your story
  • Personality
  • Choice of clothes
  • Possessions
  • Etc.

All these elements of you have a cohesive theme. The visuals of your talk should also reflect who you are and what’s important to you.

Said another way, your audience will make assumptions about you based on how your visually present yourself and how your presentation looks.

If you saw a presenter with dirty clothes and unkept hair with messy slides full of bad animations and lame clip art images, would you think they were credible and listen to them?

Your Big Idea Deserves To Be Heard—Invest In It!

You will spend a lot of time writing your TED Talk, and you should. The content and structure must be… well, worthy of a TED Talk! Once you use our tips to write your TED Talk you’ll be ready to begin the next most important step—practice and preparation!

If you want expert guidance to give a life-changing performance then you may be interested in our Give A TED Style Talk coaching, training, or public live online class. Of course, if you want to guarantee your success, our professional speaker service will write, design, and coach you through an entire speech!

Whatever you do, if you write with passion and authenticity you’ll create a speech that is sure to inspire others!

TAKE THE FIRST STEP TO MASTER POWERFUL NEW SKILLS

Schedule an easy 30-minute call using our using our calendar. We’re here to help!

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