TED’s secrets to a great presentation

Insider tips for making PowerPoints and Keynotes shine.

Ever wondered why TED Talks are so consistently excellent? Especially since the majority of slideshow presentations you sit through are deadly dull?

Cloe Shasha, director of speaker development at TED, plays a big role in that. For close to a decade she’s helped usher speakers all the way through the TED Talk process, from the initial invitation to the stage.

She knows all the tricks. And she’s happy to share. Use these pointers to make your own Keynote or PowerPoint presentations sharp, snappy, and maybe even TED-worthy.

Don’t read. Present.

Your teachers were right: Slides, like note cards, are not script pages to be narrated verbatim. 

“Many people use slides like a security blanket or as an anchor to know what to say next,” Shasha says. “Especially in the first draft, people will put in a bunch.” 

Avoid that. 

Bullet points can work, as long as they help the audience navigate your narrative. But the real key is to have the material mastered before you even enter the room.

Use humour appropriately

Shasha says that TED embraces funny presentations – in fact, comedian James Veitch’s hilarious “This Is What Happens When You Reply to Spam Email” has nearly 50 million views. (No joke – tap below to see for yourself.)

But if you’re trying to be funny, make sure your material supports it. Your big presentation on improving workplace efficiency may not be the place to test your one-liners.

Play photo editor

Whether you’ve made a presentation for a meeting or are speaking in front of thousands, here’s an elemental truth: Content should drive the visuals, not the other way around. 

Shasha says TED speakers don’t even begin to consider including photos until they’ve firmly established a narrative and the script feels about 75 percent of the way there. 

“If a photograph adds light to the story, great,” says Shasha. “But if the visuals distract, even for just a moment, they should go.” 

If you’re telling a personal story, that may mean making some very tough choices. “In some cases, we’ll even say, ‘That’s a very sweet photo of your child, but we don’t need to see it.’”

Look around

Make regular eye contact, and not just with those lucky enough to snag a front-row seat, suggests Shasha. 

TED has a neat way to help speakers practice this. “We’ll put the speaker on a mini-platform and have three audience members spread out as far as possible: one on the left, center, and right of the room.” The idea is for the speaker to learn to address the entire scope of the audience.

“We don’t want it to turn into a mechanical process,” Shasha says. “But it’s important to learn as a means of connection.”


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