Oratorical Secrets of TED: How ASEAN Entrepreneurs Can Watch and Learn

5 tips for the next time you are asked to speak in public

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BY Marishka M. Cabrera - 31 Mar 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

You know a TED Talk stage when you see one: a dark, minimalist background and the spotlight only on the speaker, of course, and the letters T-E-D in striking red.

The brand has spawned fans all over the globe, with more and more localized versions known as TEDx being held in universities and institutions in different locations.

“Not to sound like a hipster, but I was a fan of the early TED Talks featuring truly groundbreaking content from the most renowned thought-leaders of our time,” says Neal Moore, co-founder and content director of Singapore-based content marketing firm Click2View.

Jared Polites, a PR and marketing consultant for start-ups, says that he is also a fan, but has become more “picky” in which ones he watches these days. “I do think in the past few years they have opened the floodgates with speakers who are really just giving a personal branding pitch. What I do like are those few unconventional ones that can catch you by surprise and really make an impact personally.”

For Moore, “It's been a bit watered down of late, I guess there are only so many renowned thought leaders in the world!”

So what makes the original TED Talks so successful? Polites cites “speaking style and message, authenticity, humility, and overall out-of-the-box thinking.” He adds, “If someone is just spewing their personal success, that becomes old quick.”

And in deconstructing the TED Talk, here are five elements that make it so effective in captivating audiences:


1. Talks turn into discourse

From augmented reality to climate change to cancer to activism, TED touches on groundbreaking content. “It's thought-provoking. It makes you think. Or it invites you to see things differently,” says another TED Talks fan Patch Dulay, founder and CEO of Philippine-based crowdfunding platform The Spark Project.

For Arvi Lopez, head of branding and public relations at ALTUS Digital Capital, TED covers topics that are “often overlooked and not discussed openly on many media platforms.”


2. Great storytelling

“When I was nine years old, I went off to summer camp for the first time. And my mother packed me a suitcase full of books, which to me seemed like a perfectly natural thing to do,” Susan Cain begins her talk on the power of introverts.

Starting with a story is pretty much standard in any TED Talk. It keeps people glued to the talk to find out what happens next.

Speaker and author Carmine Gallo, in his piece in Inc., cites findings of data firm Quantified Communications, which shows messages that included well-crafted stories were 35% more persuasive than the average communication in the company’s database. Moreover, presentations that scored high for storytelling were more likely to influence the audience’s beliefs or actions.


3. Speakers are credible and engaging

Speakers are superstars in their respective fields. Lopez says, “You will see that they take into account the credibility of its speakers…without sacrificing the engagement and entertainment value of the entire 18-minute segment.” He adds that the speakers’ mastery of the subject makes it easier for the audience to follow their train of thought over the course of the talk.

They are also well-prepared. Moore says, “[E]very speaker is rigorously rehearsed, which is more than I can say for most presenters I see on the conference circuit.”


4. Production value

Moore says the talks are “beautifully staged and shot, which makes them a pleasure to watch online as well as in person.” He adds that the production value is as important in establishing the credibility of the talk itself as the person doing the talking.

He reiterates that talks are not presentations and “very few people use the dreaded PowerPoint slides and those that do use them sparingly as illustrations.”

Lopez adds, “Another factor is that the talks are less dependent on visual support, which makes the speaker and the topic the cornerstones of the entire talk.”


5. Length is no longer than 18 minutes

In another Inc. article, Gallo quotes TED Talks curator Chris Anderson in saying that 18 minutes is “short enough to hold people’s attention” and “precise enough to be taken seriously.”

Keeping the talk at a reasonable length not only ensures that the audience stays engaged, but it forces the speaker to stick to the necessary points of his or her talk.

Moore says, “If Allan Jones can explain the map of the brain in 15m 21s, you don't deserve longer for your talk on Snapchat strategy!”