The TED Talk Formula

The 7 Hidden Hints Behind A Successful TED Talk

We analyzed the 25 most popular TED Talks, and this is what we found.
 

When you really pay attention, you start to see that success has a way of leaving behind hints at how it came to be. So we decided to closely analyze the 25 most popular TED Talks, because we knew there must be a hidden formula for their success.

Since the first TED Conference in 1984, TED Talks have set the standard for short format talks that share big ideas. The unique brand and style of presentations have become so mainstream that we actually have many of our clients come to us, not because they want to become speakers, but because they want to specifically give a TED Talk. 

TED Talks have set the standard for short-format
talks that share big ideas.

Did you know that many of today’s most recognized speakers got their big breaks on a TED or TEDx stage? Simon Sinek, Brené Brown, and Sir Ken Robbinson each shared their powerful story from a TED stage, and as a result went viral, and have since become household names… All because of the successful TED Talks they gave.

Like we shared earlier, we get so many requests from people who want to be able to add “TED Talk” to their resume, and so we started to get curious about what exactly goes into a great TED Talk. What makes the brand so powerful? And perhaps more importantly, what makes people want to watch a TED Talk?

After analyzing the 25 most watched TED Talks of all time, these were the common factors we found that made those talks so successful.

01

GRAB THEIR attention from the beginning

The most successful TED Talks all have strong, attention grabbing openers. This might seem obvious, but some people don’t realize that the audience actually begins forming opinions about a speaker before the speaker even steps on stage, so the longer it takes for that speaker to captivate the audience, the less chance they have to make a great first impression.

While watching the beginning of any popular TED Talk, you’ll notice that the speaker opens with something that will speak to the audience right off the bat. Sometimes it’s a thought provoking question, an interesting quote, a joke, or even a controversial statement–anything that gets the crowd listening and let’s them know that paying attention for the next 20 minutes is going to be worth their time.

At Speaker Nation, we compare it to an F-15 fighter jet. On a short flight, an F-15 fighter uses more than half its fuel just to get off the ground. Then once it’s successfully in the air, it’s able to maintain a steady flight using not nearly the same amount of effort. Now think about a great TED Talk. If the speaker can grab the audience’s attention effectively right from the beginning, then it can be easily maintained for the remainder of their talk.

If the talk grabs the audience’s attention effectively right
from the beginning, then the speaker can easily maintain
their focus for the remainder of their talk.

So the next time you watch a TED Talk, really analyze what you’re hearing in the beginning. Chances are you will notice that the speaker is using their most impactful material right from the moment they open their mouths. What would your F-15 fighter jet material be?

02

BE Deeply passionate about YOUR content

When a speaker is passionate about their presentation, it’s immediately obvious. These aren’t people delivering a random concept they don’t fully believe in. The successful TED speakers are people who live and breathe their message. They have experienced firsthand the power of the ideas they are spreading and they truly believe that their talk will change anyone who listens to it, and even the world.

The successful TED talk speakers are real people
who live and breathe their message.

At Speaker Nation, we know that if you want the audience to feel, you have to feel. This is a method that successful TED speakers seem to embrace. They feel their message deeply, and that passion then trickles down into their audiences, allowing them to feel it too. This is why it’s not uncommon to see raw emotions displayed on the TED stage; that’s the level of passion the speakers bring to their talks.

If you want the audience to feel, you have to feel.

And get this… The best TED speakers are usually not even professional speakers, they are just passionate people with a story to share and a message to spread. It’s not their world-class speaking talents that capture the audience’s hearts and minds, instead it’s their passion and enthusiasm for what they have to say that captivates

03

Turn YOUR points into well crafted stories

Unlike your typical boring presentation, TED Talks aren’t designed as a series of facts and statistics. Instead, the speakers weave those facts and statistics into the captivating stories they share.

 

Long before written language was invented, stories were the primary way humans passed information from person to person and generation to generation.  Because of this long standing evolutionary link, stories remain one of the most effective methods for human communication. 

 

Stories remain one of the most effective
methods for human communication.

Stories have the ability to make you truly feel some type of emotion, and emotion is the glue that helps memories stick. Audiences cling to the TED Talks with memorable stories far better than they do the ones composed of pure facts. It gives them something to relate to, something to reflect upon, and a story to tell their friends about. (That’s where the viralocity takes off!)

Given the huge number of TED and TEDx Talks out there to compete with, if a talk isn’t memorable, it won’t be successful, it won’t go viral, and it won’t change the game for you.

04

Add in some humor to bring the laughs

When you hear an audience laughing in the background, it’s quite contagious. In nearly any successful TED Talk you can hear giggles and snickers throughout the funny moments a speaker shares. Of course, that’s not to say that the best TED Talks are comedic, or funny from start to finish, but they definitely all incorporate humor at some point or another throughout their speech.  feel some type of emotion, and emotion is the glue that helps memories stick. Audiences cling to the TED Talks with memorable stories far better than they do the ones composed of pure facts. It gives them something to relate to, something to reflect upon, and a story to tell their friends about. (That’s where the viralocity takes off!)

Given the huge number of TED and TEDx Talks out there to compete with, if a talk isn’t memorable, it won’t be successful, it won’t go viral, and it won’t change the game for you.

In Ken Robbinson’s talk about creativity and schools, he uses a joke right at the beginning to break the ice with the audience. This is an effective move because it relaxes the audience and lets them know that even if they might find the topic of education boring, they are going to have some fun in the next 20 minutes while they hear about it. 

Think about any learning experience you’ve had, doesn’t humor tend to make it easier?

This is because laughter in fact relaxes the brain and allows the information you are trying to share sink in more easily. When a speaker is discussing particularly heavy subjects, they’ll often use humor as a tool to make sure the audience doesn’t get uncomfortable to the point where they stop listening.

Laughter relaxes the brain and allows the information
you are trying to share to sink in more easily.

Laughing is a pleasurable experience, and if a TED Talk speaker uses humor in their talk, it’s almost guaranteed the audience will remember having a good time as they listened.

While watching the beginning of any popular TED Talk, you’ll notice that the speaker opens with something that will speak to the audience right off the bat. Sometimes it’s a thought provoking question, an interesting quote, a joke, or even a controversial statement–anything that gets the crowd listening and let’s them know that paying attention for the next 20 minutes is going to be worth their time.

At Speaker Nation, we compare it to an F-15 fighter jet. On a short flight, an F-15 fighter uses more than half its fuel just to get off the ground. Then once it’s successfully in the air, it’s able to maintain a steady flight using not nearly the same amount of effort. Now think about a great TED Talk. If the speaker can grab the audience’s attention effectively right from the beginning, then it can be easily maintained for the remainder of their talk.

05

Just be yourself

Stepping on a stage can be intimidating. But the best thing to be, is yourself. Sometimes a speaker gets on stage only to take on a different persona and act like someone they think the audience might like. This can come across as insincere, or even more concerning, fake. Your audience will immediately pick up on this and disconnect before you even get to the good stuff.

All of the most successful TED Talks and TEDx Talks showcase speakers remaining true to themselves, making them much easier to connect with.

The fact of the matter is, audiences sit down prepared to judge. They have their finely tuned senses engaged, ready to tell them when a speaker is being ingenuine or insincere. The audience will pick up on the fact that the speaker isn’t who they portray themselves to be, and just like that they’re no longer open to (or interested in) what they have to say.

People have finely tuned senses that tell them when a
speaker is not telling the truth… a speaker who is not being totally
authentic to who they are will surely trigger those senses.

It comes as no surprise that the most successful TED speakers are 100% authentic. Something the audience can also sense. This is how they create real connections with the speakers, it allows them to feel like they’ve had a personal conversation from their seat right to the stage. That’s something every speaker wants to not only give to their audience, but also get out of their talk.

06

Remember to incorporate a strong call to action

A TED Talk that doesn’t inspire action is just infotainment, whereas a TED Talk that inspires change is a true masterpiece. It promotes action. Something that the best TED Talks have in common are powerful calls to action that leave the audience knowing how to implement the ideas they have just learned. This sparks true inspiration and ultimately leads to a genuine commitment to change.

Have you picked up on the way TED speakers tell their audience exactly what they want them to do next? It often comes in the form of a question, or a belief they want the audience to challenge. Sometimes it’s more direct where the speaker will give the audience specific instructions about the next steps to follow. Regardless of how they do it, the best TED speakers always tell their audience what action to take as soon as they leave the room.

If it’s been an inspiring, knowledgeable and an all around fantastic talk, why wouldn’t they?

07

FINISH STRONG

Finally, let’s go back to our Speaker Nation F-15 fighter jet analogy. Just as important as a good takeoff is for a successful flight, one might argue that a good landing is even more crucial. Afterall, if the plane doesn’t make it safely to the ground, the whole mission is a bust, isn’t it? The same goes for a TED Talk.

The ending of a talk determines how the audience will leave feeling. It’s not what a speaker says that the audience will remember, it’s how the speaker makes them feel. Even the best TED Talk ever would be worthless if the ending left the audience feeling confused, alienated, or too uncomfortable.

It’s not what the speaker says that the audience will
remember, it’s how the speaker makes them feel.

If you watch some of the most popular TED Talks and TEDx Talks, you will notice that they all end on a powerful note. Speakers will often share their most inspiring thought, inspirational message, or thought provoking question as a powerful way to end their talk. These strong endings are delivered with the intent to give the audience goosebumps or other emotional reactions that anchor in the message of the entire talk, and it works.

In Conclusion

When crafting a world-class TED Talk or TEDx Talk you’ll need to take many factors into account. Each talk is extremely unique, so to say they all follow a specific formula of any type would be unfair. But as you binge your way through the most successful TED Talks, you will notice that while they are all unique, they actually share many of the same characteristics we’ve broken down for you in this list.

Ultimately, the success of a TED Talk, or any talk for that matter, has less to do with the presenter’s speaking talent, and more to do with the message they bring to the stage and the way they deliver it. 

So the next time you are crafting your talk, consider these 7 hidden hints that make up some of the most popular TED Talks of all time, and challenge yourself to see if you can incorporate at least 3 of them into your own presentation to make it even more successful. And watch what happens…

The ability to speak on a stage is one of the most powerful forms of influence you can master. Just look at the incredible results the most popular TED Talks provided for the speakers. They got exposed to millions of curious minded people and their career surged upward as a result of what we call The Stage Effect”.

The Stage Effect is what occurs as a result of presenting in front of an audience. The bigger your audience and the better your presentation, the more influence you can have on your audience.

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