Simple steps to creating an effective talk
One of the most valuable things you can do as a speaker to improve your skills is to watch other speakers talk (a lot of other speakers). Not just for enjoyment, but to get critical about their techniques and methods—determining whether they’re effective or not. The more TED talks you watch, the more you will start to notice that there are quite a few distinct aspects that differentiate a good TED talk from a bad TED talk.
As you can imagine, our team watches a LOT of TED talks—more than the average person—so we thought we would save you some time and compile a list of what we believe separates good talks from bad ones, in our experience.
Here are 5 things to look out for when differentiating a good TED talk from a bad TED talk:
Good TED talks stem from personal experience.
Bad TED talks lack connection.
We all know those speakers who get on stage to blab on about a topic they clearly don’t practice in their own lives. The business speakers who still need a 9-to-5 job to survive, the investment speaker who is broke, the out-of-shape fitness speaker, the unhealthy nutrition speaker… The list goes on. It goes without saying there is nothing wrong with being any of those speakers, but whether or not you’re honest about where you’re at on your journey and your overall experience is what’s key here.
When speakers claim to be someone they’re not, that’s when the problem starts. All too often, speakers talk about things they clearly learned from someone else, but don’t actually practice in their own lives. They might not even believe in what they’re presenting! That false persona shines through the speaker’s stage presence, in how they present their information, in the way they tell their stories, and makes it extremely difficult for an audience to create any connection.
If you want to ensure your talk is an effective one, all you have to do is speak about your real life. Be genuine. Be real. Don’t exaggerate or make things up—that’s not serving anyone. It’s simple: if you’re not an expert, don’t pretend to be one. When you are genuinely being yourself and excited about your topic, your audience will sense your energy and be able to create a connection with you in a way being inauthentic wouldn’t allow.
Good TED talks tell stories.
Bad TED talks spew facts.
Have you ever had to sit through a one-hour keynote that felt like three hours? Or have you been lucky enough to listen to a presentation that was so engaging it made time stop?
The speaker who magically made one hour turn into three was more than likely throwing a bunch of statistics and facts at you. With little to no emotion involved, it’s a challenge to truly engage with the presentation. Unfortunately, speakers make this mistake all of the time. They think the best way to present is by relaying as much information as humanly possible in a limited amount of time. Since when has that been an effective approach? As you can imagine, this makes for a very bad talk.
Human brains aren’t typically wired to enjoy pure facts. This would require a lot more effort and energy in order to really pay attention and remember what the speaker is saying, making the talk a lot less enjoyable.
Now, the speaker who made it seem like time flew by was most likely a storyteller. Something the human brain is wired to enjoy is stories. Listening to stories engages our emotions and our senses in a way that pure facts simply can’t. Stories ignite the imagination and, if told properly, they can make an audience forget they are even listening to a talk at all. If you can tell stories that make your points for you, your audience is far more likely to remember them, and they’re more likely to actually enjoy your presentation while you are giving it. The best part for you as a speaker? Stories are way easier to remember than a list of 32 facts!
When you are planning your next talk, remember to maximize the use of storytelling and minimize the use of lecture. By attaching some emotion to the points you are making through sharing stories, there’s a better chance of your audience not only connecting with you and your talk, but also remembering it.
Good TED talks create intrigue.
Bad TED talks are forceful.
There’s a very slight difference between telling something to someone and sharing something with someone. Though subtle, it’s crucial to how your audience perceives your talk. Nobody likes to be told what to do, but if you can intrigue them enough with your presentation, you can make them want to learn from you, and that is far more effective.
Remember: as a speaker, your number one job is to earn the interest of your audience, not to force information upon them. Share ideas and information that excites you. Let your enthusiasm prove to the audience that what you are saying is worth listening to. If you are trying to teach a new concept or idea, share with them how that concept or idea changed your own life so they can see for themselves how it can change theirs too.
When you are giving a talk, don’t approach it with the intention of teaching, or forcing information upon your audience in any way. Instead, think of yourself as sharing your experiences and giving your audience an opportunity to learn from them. It’s your opportunity to create intrigue, so they want to learn more from you and your talk.
The difference here is extremely subtle, but it just might be one of the most important things that differentiates good talks from bad ones.
Good TED talks spark inspiration.
Bad TED talks ignite fear.
There are a ton of topics floating around the world that we’re often too scared to talk about because they’re flat-out scary themselves. Regardless, they still need to be talked about. When it comes to good talks and bad talks, the way a speaker handles talking about those scarier—often seen as taboo—subjects is pivotal to how the topic is received by an audience.
Bad speakers tend to use the fear and uncertainty surrounding the issues they are discussing as a crutch. They point out everything that is wrong, they paint bleak pictures of the future, they try to frighten the audience into listening to what they have to say, they use scare tactics to edge them into taking action. In very few cases, this is effective… But the vast majority of the time, it is executed wrong and ends up just making for a bad (and scary) talk.
In a good talk, the speaker genuinely acknowledges the uncertainty and fear the audience might be feeling. Rather than maintaining a focus on that, the speaker of a good talk will counter it by talking about the topic in an empowering way. They focus on solutions, they talk about what humanity might have to gain, they offer perspectives that leave the audience feeling like even though there are challenges, there is hope. This is crucial when it comes to giving a good talk on a not-so-good topic.
Good TED talks want to get some laughs.
Bad TED talks won’t crack a joke.
Even if the topic is heavy and the TED talk is of the utmost importance, sitting through the seriousness of it all can be absolutely draining. Good speakers know that.
A speaker who is taking their talk (and themselves) too seriously often comes across as very stiff. Whether they’re reading from scripts or slides because they don’t want to make a mistake, ignoring comical situations that come up during the presentation, or getting angry when things go wrong, none of these traits are something you want to carry with you through any presentation.
So yes, there are a number of traits that show up when a speaker takes their talk too seriously, but one thing they all have in common is that they make the audience uncomfortable. An uncomfortable audience is not a receptive audience.
On the other hand, when a speaker takes a light-hearted approach to their talk, the audience is instantly more relaxed. Using humor and telling jokes, laughing at your own mistakes, being totally comfortable with your talk no matter what happens; these aspects all give a speaker a level of confidence that is unmatched. Having the ability to bring a warm and light approach to even the darkest subjects gives your talks power and value beyond anything else you can do.
It’s clear that there are quite a few factors that go into crafting a good talk, but it’s up to you to pick and choose which you want to incorporate into your own. One beneficial tip is to pay attention to what YOU like and dislike in other people’s talks and apply that information to your own.
Remember that as a speaker it is your job to make the talk as enjoyable as possible for your audience so you earn the right to have them listen to you, talk about you, and follow you. Watching and learning from other speakers whose work you listen to, talk about and follow is one of the easiest ways to find opportunities to improve your own work and make sure your talks are more good than bad.
Understanding what makes a good presentation gives you one one half of a formula we call The Stage Effect. The Stage Effect is one of the most powerful tools you can use as a speaker. Click here to download our free guide that will not only teach you what The Stage Effect is, but also how to use it to your advantage.