I recently coached three High School teachers to help them deliver “TED-like” talks at a conference on education. The event was held by a very high-profile non-profit organization. These three were no strangers to public speaking—they had years of experience giving speeches, teaching large classes, and appearing on TV. But they needed guidance on how to “talk TED”, i.e. engage the audience for 7-15 minutes on the topic “Why Teaching is a Calling.”

So what makes a TED Talk different?

1. There’s no podium—just you and an open space.
2. It’s not merely a presentation of data or research; it’s your view of the world.
3. You give insight into your thought process, not just methodology or experience.
4. It’s vulnerable, intimate, and even, at times, unprofessional.
5. It’s all about an emotional takeaway for the audience.

Every company or organization seems to want a TED talk these days. And it’s understandable: when done well, talks like these can transform conferences and, if filmed and edited properly, can also translate into great online viewing. Videos of some TED talks, like Ken Robinson’s on how schools kill creativity, have been watched online over 15 million times.

But no one wants to be a cheap imitation. So avoid common traps like:

1. Attempting to recreate actual TED-talks, like using a real brain as a prop or taking long pauses after saying the word “creativity” or “inspiration.” In other words, own your individuality.

2. Wearing black. Almost always the backdrop at these Ted things is black. So don’t wear black. Even with a colorful scarf.

3. Deciding to use prompter (which is fine) but then not writing your “script” in conversational and colloquial language (see this post on How to Use Teleprompter).

4. Getting distracted by your body language. Everyone always asks me what to do with his/her hands.

In the process of breaking down TED talks for my clients, I developed a crash course that can be condensed even further and, if followed, will help you deliver a TED-like talk should your CEO suddenly discover that your company needs one too.

Week 1
Watch three TED Talks; decide on your topic and write the 3 things you hope the audience gets from your talk.

Week 2
Tell someone your “story,” consider use of possible extra media or props, draft your talk (bullet points, not written out).

Week 3
Record yourself giving your “talk” with notes to guide you. Make edits and additions. Decide whether to stick with notes or use a prompter.

Week 4
Give your talk to a friend (without worrying about movement or body language). Then practice giving your talk in an empty room with full movement and prop; check duration. Make edits and adjustments for length and lulls.

Week 5
Decide on your wardrobe/makeup/hair.
Give your talk 3 more times aloud.

Rehearsal Before Event
Do a full on-stage rehearsal with slides, props, and/or prompter. Relax (no rehearsing!) for at least 2 hours before the event.

If you want to dive deeper, check out How to Deliver a TED Talk by Jeremy Donovan, read this great New Yorker article on how TED is turning ideas into an industry, watch these two excellent TED-talks (Nancy Duarte’s “The Secret Structure of Great Talks” and Amy Cuddy’s “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”) and, of course, read my book on presentation Camera Ready.


Manoush Zomorodi is the host of WNYC’s New Tech City and the author of Camera Ready: How to Present Yourself and Ideas On Air or Online. Download the show on iTunes, get the book on Amazon or iBooks, and follow her on Twitter @manoushz. She also blogs at manoushz.com/blog and for The Huffington Post.