Ideas Worth Spreading: An Insider’s Guide to Delivering a Powerful Presentation

Tips from TED Talk President and Head Curator, Chris Anderson


For some, the art of delivering an impactful and powerful presentation comes naturally.  For others, the act of public speaking can be a terrifying feat.

I recently had the opportunity to hear Chris Anderson, President and Head Curator for TED Talks, give a speech at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management on how to deliver a powerful presentation. What struck me right away was how natural Chris was on stage—a born presenter, or so I thought. I was surprised to learn that the man in charge of curating some of the most inspirational talks of our time, had once suffered from stage fright himself. In fact, he recounts the first time he stepped onto the TED stage in 2002 to deliver a speech as a “terrifying, uncomfortable experience.”

So how did he make the transition from timid talker to sensational speaker?  According to Chris, there is no magic formula. No secret sauce. Just hard work, practise and some important tools that can empower any speaker to greatness.

Here is a recap of some of Chris Anderson’s top tips for delivering a powerful presentation:

  1. It’s all about the idea. According to Chris, the only thing that truly matters in public speaking is not confidence, stage presence, or smooth talking—it’s having something worth saying.  As a speaker, our number one goal is not to promote products or businesses, but rather, “to offer our audience a gift in the shape of an idea. A mental construct that they can hold on to, walk away with, value, and in some sense, be changed by.”
  2. Start strong. In a world of growing technology and fleeting attention spans, a powerful presentation needs to start strong and capture the audience immediately. Within the first minute of a presentation, you should give the audience a sense of what idea you’d like to build, and why you should be allowed to build it.
  3. Win the audience’s trust. “One of the best ways to disarm an audience is to first reveal your own vulnerability.” People are more likely to respond positively and let you in, if they feel a connection with you. Tell an anecdote, share a personal story or use humour in your opening. By showing the audience a little bit of who you are, you are more likely to earn their trust and connect with them from the start.
  4. Explain the idea. This sounds like an obvious point, but it’s actually where many speakers miss the mark. When explaining an idea, use jargon and concepts familiar to your audience, not to your business or industry. The goal is to make it relatable on their level using language and ideas already familiar to them.  Use metaphors and examples—both are powerful tools that can help your audience better visualize your concept.
  5. Persuade.  Chris refers to the metaphor of “treating your talk as a journey,” which I love. He speaks to two things you need to persuade your audience to come with you on your journey: “You’ve got to start where they are, and give them a reason to come with you.” What I think he means by this is in order to persuade an audience, you must first understand and acknowledge your audience’s point of view. By demonstrating that understanding, you will be able to tap into the emotional core of your audience and maximize your chance of influencing or persuading them to a different viewpoint.
  6. Have a throughline. Much like the key messages we develop for our clients, a throughline is the connecting theme that ties together each narrative element, and according to Chris, every good speech should have one. He uses the metaphor of the throughline as “a strong cord or rope, onto which you will attach all the elements that are part of the idea you’re building.” A good exercise is to try to encapsulate your throughline in no more than fifteen words—an elevator pitch of the key takeaway you’d like your audience to leave with. Throughlines from popular TED Talks include: ‘More choice actually makes us less happy’ and ‘Education’s potential is transformed if you focus on the amazing creativity of kids.’
  7. Rehearse. There is a fine line between being prepared and coming across as scripted. The best presenters rehearse beyond the point of thought—meaning, they no longer have to think about what they are saying or what comes next. They know the material so well that it’s as natural as having a conversation with someone. Chris suggests rehearsing in front of someone who knows nothing about your work, as those are the best people to provide feedback on the gaps in your narrative, or where you may be making assumptions.
  8. Use visuals strategically. We’ve all grown to rely on visuals to support our presentations, however according to Chris, visuals should only be used if they add importance to your speech, like illustrating something difficult to describe. The danger with over-using visuals in a speech is that your audience will focus more on the slides and less on what you’re saying. In some cases, your audience will read ahead and thereby be out of sync with your talk altogether. If you choose to use visuals, limit each slide to a single core idea and try using slides to showcase images, not concepts.

View a snippet of Chris Anderson’s presentation The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking at Rotman School of Management and watch view his 2013 TED Talk on What Makes a Great Talk, Great.

Posted on: August 25th, 2016 by

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