Newsletter #517 – How to Deliver a TED Talk

Ted TalkAre you familiar with TED talks? Founded in 1984 they emerged into a series of annual conferences in which attendees hear extremely competent speakers talk about issues and ideas that “change attitudes, lives and ultimately the world.” At the beginning the focus was on technology, entertainment and design (hence the name TED) but the conference mission expanded to become “a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers” committed to disseminating “ideas worth spreading.” Speakers are given a maximum of 18 minutes to present their ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways that they can. In 2006 TED talks were offered for free viewing online and in November 2012 TED talks passed a record after being watched one billion times worldwide. Consistently interesting and often entertaining, you can find them at

 If you are a speaker, an aspiring public communicator or someone who appreciates hearing good talks you can benefit from watching. If you are like me, constantly striving to be a better speaker, probably you will appreciate Jeremy Donovan’s new (2012) book How to Deliver A TED Talk: Secrets of The World’s Most Inspiring Presentations. Like the talks themselves, the book is short (112 pages) and to the point. You can order a Kindle edition for only three bucks.

The book starts with ten commandments for TED-type speakers, including:

  • Thou shalt dream a great dream, or show forth a wondrous new thing, or share something thou hast never shared before.
  • Thou shalt tell a story
  • Thou shalt not sell from the stage: neither thy company, thy goods, thy writings, nor thy desperate need for funding.
  • Thou shalt reveal thy curiosity and thy passion.
  • Thou shalt not flaunt thy ego. Be thou vulnerable. Speak of thy failure as well as thy success.
  • Thou shalt not read thy speech.
  • Thou shalt not steal the time of them that follow thee.

Fourteen practical chapters discuss the basics such as how to select a topic, open and close your talk, build the speech’s body and transitions, master your verbal delivery, use humor effectively, create inspiring visuals, and overcome your fear.

Has anybody watched a TED talk or read this book? Please comment on what you learned from this.


  1. One of the best TED talks I’ve seen: “How to Tie Your Shoes.” I’ve been doing it wrong for years. The five or six minute talk was so impactful, I now virtually NEVER tie my shoes without thinking about how I’m doing it. (Not sure that’s good or bad … But it is the truth.)


    1. Ken, with your wonderful sense of humor I am not surprised that this was the first response to this week’s post. I looked it up and watched it. It took me longer to find the talk than it did to watch it. It goes to show that short talks (in this case three minutes) can sometimes carry a strong influence. But I am not sure that this will impact me for the rest of my life. BTW, I wear loafers all the time and never tie shoe laces. There must be some profound lesson there. Maybe you should turn it into a TED-type talk. You are a pastor: your people would love a three minute sermon. Period!


  2. Brene Brown has a very powerful TED talk on “The Power of Vulnerability. I highly suggest watching it on YouTube.


    1. Thanks Vernelle. As you probably know, the talk by Brene Brown is one of the most popular and most watched TED talks ever given. I have a friend who loves it. I watched it three times and still don’t like it. It turned me off. Have you ever noticed how some talks excite and impact one group of people and not others? I think of this when I listen to the Willow Creek Leadership Summit talks. Most are excellent; some bomb despite what surely is a lot of prior screening by the conference organizers.


  3. I subscribe to TEDtalks on YouTube, so I see all of their newly posted talks. Unfortunately, several of their talks now simply espouse liberal propaganda. A recent one by a lesbian artist was so blatantly biased that I downloaded it to use as an example of bias for my Sunday School college kids.

    My favorite TED talk was by Jonathon Haidt, an NYU social psychologist. He is a self-described Jewish atheist evolutionist, who has gone from being a radical leftist to a left-of-center guy who now studies morality and the differences between liberals and conservatives. He tries hard to give both sides a fair hearing. That is rare and refreshing.

    Keeping talks to 15 minutes is a great discipline for keeping a tight focus on what is important. And of course, people like stories.


  4. Duane you mention subscribing to TED talks. I did not mention in my post that it is possible to get a new TED talk sent to your email account every day. Thanks for pointing this out. I set up this subscription through the TED website.
    Of course you will agree that with a series of talks like this, some are biased (in oppositioin or in support of our perspectives), in contrast to what some listeners believe or just not good. Even then, as you demonstrate, we can learn from how the talk is presented as well as what is presented.


  5. I am still not seeing ten, but I will recount or get the book. This list will go into our guidelines for speakers who present their reports after going out on a summer impact trip!


    1. What a great idea for your speakers. Some reports like this are pretty boring. To make them more captivating would be great.

      Regarding the ten commandments I wrote in the news letter that the ten included the seven I posted.

      Here are the ones I did not include:

      * Thou shalt not simply trot out they usual shtick.

      * Thou shalt remember all the while that laughter is good.

      * Thou shalt freely comment on the utterances of other speakers for the sake of blessed connection and exquisite controversy


  6. Thanks for your steadfast labour of love in sharing gems from your learning pilgrimage, Gary!! I’m subscribed to TEDTalks as a result…and have benefitted from Tyler DeWitt’s passionate call to make SCIENCE fun through STORYTELLING!!! Rightly so. Shouldn’t it be done for THEOLOGY then?!! You should show the way, my friend! : ))


    1. Hey Edmund. Yesterday I was in the restaurant where we met for so many breakfast meetings. I was with a young counselor who listened to me sing your praises and asked what was the most valuable thing I learned from you at that time. The answer is in tomorrow’s newsletter – you helped me see the reality of adjusting to a change in my leadership roles.

      I completely agree with your comments about storytelling. Do you remember our conversations about the possibilities of teaching sound doctrine using games rather than long sermons and theology lectures?


  7. Oh my goodness, the platform is yours as short minutes, and your wisdom of a lifetime of trimesters! You are my favorite at both Gary!


  8. HI Gary: So thrilled that you enjoyed my book! Happy to answer follow up questions for you or your subscribers. One of my more recent favorites is Karen Thompson Walker on how we perceive risk. Her weave of storytelling and insight is exceptional. Check it out!


    1. Thanks Jeremy. I have been writing these weekly posts for roughly 11 years and this is the first time that I have ever heard from the author of a book I’ve reviewed.

      I am sure your book is helping a lot of speakers and wannabe speakers including the students in one (probably more) of my graduate classes. I have written a lot myself and I know how hard it is to write clearly and concisely. Without distracting from what you say about speaking, you have demonstrated a superior ability to write concisely. Keep it up. And let’s keep in touch.

      I will check out the Karen Thompson Walker talk on risk.


  9. Indeed i have listened to great speeches on TED but never knew such laws as enumerated this book ever existed. this is a wonderful eye opener.

    Ronald King


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s