Ep #60: 5 Things that Make a TED Talk Different

by | Podcast

If you're like most of the speakers and thought leaders I get to talk with who haven't yet delivered a TEDx talk, you likely have “deliver an awesome TED talk” at the top of your speaking bucket list. 

This makes sense. TED talks are highly respected and having delivered one does bring an element of credibility and panache to your speaking resumé. 

Because these talks have such a cool reputation, crafting a TED Talk can seem very mysterious. Today, I want to demystify that process so you can feel prepared to craft a powerful and impactful talk. On this episode, I share five things that you should keep in mind when writing and practicing and revising your talk.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • The guidelines for a TED talk and TED event (this is what keeps TED and TEDx events so special).
  • What goes into crafting an impactful TED-style talk.
  • How to be concise and engaging in your preparation and delivery.
  • 5 ways that you can make your TED Talk standout from others out there.
  • Strategies for building audience connection to create powerful moments.
  • A few great examples of TED Talks that can give you new insights into crafting your talk.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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The vast majority of people that I talk to who know that they're meant to serve as speakers and thought leaders. They see themselves on a ted or a tedx stage at some point, and this makes sense because the ted stage is highly respected. Most events, ted and tedx events are carefully curated, so the talks really are awesome. You get an excellent video as so you have that as an asset and maybe most important, you're able to reach a much broader audience that way. It's a great credibility move as well as you know, a way to make a bigger difference in the world. What people don't know is that Ted talks are usually quite different than other kinds of talks. They take a different kind of preparation, so let's talk about what I mean

Welcome to the Thought Leadership School Podcast. If you're on a mission to make a difference in the world with your message, you are in the right place. I'm Michelle Barry Franco and I'm thrilled that you're here.

Hello my thought leader friends. We just sent two of our daughters off to camp, a camp that has a two night overnight and our oldest daughter who's 15 went on her first solo flight to Alaska to stay with her auntie. So Jim and I are heading to Stinson beach for a couple of nights, so I can hardly believe we get to get away for a couple of nights. But before I head out, I really want to help you start crafting your tedx talk because I think there's a really good chance that it's on your mind. And these talks, they're different than other kinds of talks. So first let's talk about Ted talks overall. What do we love about them? Why do they feel like such a big deal? I remember watching Brene Brown's Ted talk on vulnerability, I think it was 2011 and like so many people, she had me at the first story about how she went back and forth with the conference leader who wanted to call her a storyteller and you know, she says, Oh, why not call me a magic pixie if you're going to call me a storyteller?

And I just, that struggle we have with who we are and how we want to be seen. I felt it right there from the start as she starts this talk and then as it was for so many, my jaw just dropped open more and more as she described her struggle with being vulnerable and this realization that she was going to need to be more vulnerable if she wanted to live a wholehearted life and how hard that felt, how much she hadn't been, and how much she was going to need to learn to let go and trust and all of that. I just identified on so many levels as I know so many of us did. That talk is such a gorgeous example of intimate connection with your audience. Before crafting the talk, she did a lot of pre listening, I call it, and whether Bernay Brown did that intentionally as part of her talk, crafting or not, I don't know, but that is another topic that we're going to dive deeply on because that kind of intimate connection with your audience.

It really does change everything, but today we're going to talk more about Ted talks specifically. I'm not sure I knew that when I watched that talk by Bernay Brown that it was like a Ted talk. I think that's right. When I started to really pay attention to these speeches, we really started calling speeches talks. I think a lot more after ted talks became mainstream. Of course I watched hundreds of talks since then as you may have, and I'm continually amazed by the variety of topics, speakers and the incredibly brilliant people we get to see and hear so easily now, just like go to your keyboard, type in any topic you want plus tedtalk and something's going to come up or you can go to ted.com and they've got it curated in all different kinds of ways for you to find so many different topics. With the expansion of the Ted Conference to the licensed local TEDX events.

There are thousands of Tedx events around the world and this means of course thousands and thousands of videos that get shared online for us to find, learn, be inspired by all of that, but not just anyone can start a tedx event. You have to apply for a license and then there are a bunch of guidelines to follow their agreements you have to adhere to. If you want to put on a tedx event, you can find a lot more about this. If you just searched tedx events guidelines, you'll find you know things that are put out by the official Ted Conference and we'll put a link in the show notes as well to the guidelines for a tedx event. Essentially the Ted format, so some of the elements that are specific to a ted event is the format. It's a a set of short, really well prepared talks. There are also performances and different kinds of demos, but the primary sort of theme is that they are idea focused and that there is a wide range of subjects and the idea is to inspire learning and wonder and really conversations between people at the event and beyond.

There's a diversity of topics. So the events always, even when they have, you know, they'll have Ted Men or Ted women, you know there are, there's Tedx events that focus on youth, there's Ted Youth, all of that. So they do narrow it at times. But even within those narrowings there is a of voices from a lot of different areas of expertise because that variety is a part of a great ted event. They are community driven and they really work to keep politics, religion, commercial and business interests out of the event. The goal really is to spark conversation and connection and community at Tedx event isn't a marketing conference. And as I said earlier, they're really careful and I know this as someone who coaches tedx events at a specific event and I have a lot of clients who speak at a variety of events. There's a real care taken to make sure that we're not going down political avenues or religious or self promotion by the speaker.

Something that we really watch for when you're on the inside of a tedx event. They're not used for charity or to raise money and really they're not supposed to be co-branded with any other business interests. There are some university events and sometimes corporations and organizations will put on internal events, but there are specific ways that those are done. So there's kind of a broad overview based on what you'll find when you, if you decide to go dive into what makes the format special or what makes a tedx event different. I've noticed that many non Ted events are saying things like, you know, we're going to have our speakers do a ted style talk, but that's not what they actually mean. That's not actually what's being delivered at those events. And that's why I just kinda wanted to give you that overview. When it is a ted event driven by the Ted larger conference and then these licensed local events, they do have those elements that I just described.

What they really mean. When a conference or an another event that calls their speaker talks, ted style talks, they often mean they're going to keep it to about 18 minutes. The speakers are working to make these talks captivating and engaging in a way that we often think of Ted talks doing. Our attention spans are so small now with the exciting technology that's coming at us all the time that it is good to plan for these smaller, you know, kind of nuggets of information that people need to be concise and engaging and captivating so that you know, people stay engaged at these larger fast moving conference kind of events. Incidentally, I'm not so sure it's the best way to help people have the kind of insights that allow for real, lasting change, but that's for another conversation that we'll have at a future time. What a great ted talk does do, or a Ted style talk is it lights up the brains and hearts of the audience.

It draws them into the conversation and it inspires further exploration. That's what a real ted style talk does. Sometimes it inspires action too, but this is not the usual goal of a Ted talk. Funny, right? Because great talks do have a call to action. Ted Talks have a call to action too, but it's slightly different and I'll talk a little bit more about why. In fact, let's talk about five ways that Ted talks are different than other talks you might deliver in your thought leadership. Before we dive in, let's get this out in the open. This won't apply to all Ted talks of course. So I know someone's probably going to be like, wait, what about this ted talk and send me links. I'd love to see the links. I'd love to see anything you have to share. So let's talk about five things that make a ted x talk different than other talks that you may be, or speeches that you may be delivering.

First, your Tedx talk is not built for client conversion. This is a tricky one for people who are used to crafting talks in a way that gracefully encourages conversions. This is how I often help clients craft their talks. No, not icky selling from the stage. You know, invisible close kind of stuff. I don't do that. I don't believe in that. But there is a way to design a talk, a speech, a workshop, whatever, to show that what your ideal client desires, what they want, those ideal clients that are sitting in your audience, what they're wanting is possible and that working with you as an amazing solution. So you do this by telling great stories about people that you've helped get, you know, helped move from a difficult struggle to the other side, realizing what they most wanted in their lives. That's very inspiring. And it's a natural way to create conversion and attack instead in a Ted talk, the focus is on credibility, which by the way, is an awesome client attractor.

So these are not mutually exclusive. Of course, people do get clients from, you know, that are inspired from watching a person's Tedx talk. It's just that this isn't your goal. And when you're crafting this tedx talk, it's just the truth. So if you watch Vanessa van Edwards talk called, you are contagious. You'll see a great example of wonderful thought leadership speaking. It's a great ted talk that I'm sure attracted many new people to her business. The science of people. Okay, so that's the first thing. The second thing is it's less about buttoning everything up. So this, this Tedx talk is less about buttoning everything up for the audience and more about inviting them into the conversation. There's no question that ted talks are often persuasive and many of them take a powerful stand, but even as they do this, there's a more expansive invitation into the conversation that leads in the talk.

The say, see this thing that's so worth looking at or consideration. Here's what I'm thinking. What do you think? Sometimes it comes in the form of one small action they invite you to take to start moving the needle on something that's important. A great example, I loved Catherine Center's Tedx Bend talk called, we need to teach boys to read stories about girls. She closes with that invitation that we just like help the boys in your life read more stories with girls, especially as a primary character, as a lead character in the book. It's simple and you can feel that there's a much larger conversation she's inviting us into, but her talk has that simple thing that a person can move forward with. She's not asking us to become lobbyists or to give money, which are both not part of the TEDX ethos. She's inviting us to move in the direction of something meaningful.

Katherine Center is an author of fabulous fiction books. I became a fan after hearing her speak, so she absolutely right. You can see how creating a message and sharing a message in this way absolutely brings new fans and clients into your world, but it's not the primary focus. Back to the first point that I was making. So number three, your expertise may or may not be the most important thing in your tedx talk. Many ted talks are given by deep experts, Nadine Burke Harris, his talk, how childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime is an extraordinary talk built on her deep expertise as a pediatrician working in an underserved neighborhood in San Francisco with kids who experienced very large amounts of childhood trauma. Her talk will move you to action for sure. Of course there are many talks where deep expertise is at the center and that's the topic of the talk, but to p to p what to way, way, I hope I'm saying that right, who is a computer engineer delivered an excellent talk based on something that simply lit up his heart, which is kind of Meta for this example because it's called, you don't have to be an expert to solve big problems, and he spoke about solving an environmental problem by caring enough to learn more.

When he saw the problem, he just was moved to action and he was bold enough to try to make a difference. I don't want to minimize the importance of expertise. I just want to point out that this is one of the ways in which Ted talks show that the primary goal is exploring ideas worth spreading, not let's learn from the experts. That's just not what tedx talks or Ted talks are for. People often ask me why I haven't done a Tedx talk myself, and the reason is until recently I genuinely didn't. I just didn't know what I would want to say from a Ted stage. It doesn't mean I don't have important meaningful things to say about thought leadership and speaking. I get to talk about that regularly and I really feel like I get to serve in that way, but I knew there was something else that I wanted to share as my idea worth spreading.

I know that message now and I can't wait to share it, but I've been doing this for a long time. I've known about Ted stages for a long time and I just didn't have that spark in me till now. I know that it won't matter that this topic isn't about public speaking because I'm willing to do the work to craft this, this message, this idea worth spreading into a compelling talk and I know that it's a world changing conversation that we need to have. So I wonder what topic would you describe similarly for yourself, whatever that is for you, whether it's in the center of your expertise or not. Follow that one to see what lights you up for the possibility of a tedx stage. Okay. Number four of the five things that make a tedx talk different. You're going to plan for two different audiences, but deliver to one audience, and this is pretty unique to a ted stage.

Here's the thing, audience intimacy. Connection with your audience is a pillar of extraordinary speaking. It's the magic secret fairy dust, and most speakers don't get it deeply enough. I'm like telling you a really important, meaningful secret here. It's not a secret, but I want you to know it. People just don't know this. Connection and rapport create the kind of trust that allows you to have real impact with an audience, so you want to understand that audience in the room where you are speaking. Who is this? If you're thinking about the tedx event, who is this Tedx audience? What do they care about? What are the unique experiences they share as a collective? Often these are locally focused events and you want to connect with that. It helps them connect with the people in the room with you. It helps them feel understood, but your talk is being recorded and there's a good chance.

It's one of the very best recordings of you speaking that you'll ever get because production quality at Tedx events tends to be very high. You want this talk to translate to the larger online stage, a global stage even, and then there's that sweet tiny possibility that your talk will be one of the small number of Tedx talks that gets showcased on the big Ted website, in which case many, many more people will be watching it. So you really want to think you want it, you don't want to get caught up in it, but you want to think really broadly in that way. As you're crafting this talk, you're going to start by asking yourself good audience analysis questions about the local in the room audience. How can you create the of connection that is palpable in that room that creates that magic inside that room?

Because that will translate into the video. Then you want to spend some time thinking about the larger global audience and how you can broaden and include them. So sometimes this translate into saying things like, here in our local community, this is happening, but we know it's not just us. It's happening all over the world, right? So we know that this is happening. And then you give a description of you know what matters in your talk, but we know it's not just us. This is you broadening that reach, reaching out to the larger audience. Whenever your message open your arms a bit wider at times throughout your talk so that your message translates to that broader audience. All right, number five of the five things that make a tedx talk different than most other talks you're going to deliver. Your really only have 18 minutes, so you're going to want to practice a lot.

Many conference talks are minimum 30 minutes and often longer. This is actually changing because you know a lot of conferences are saying you're going to do a ted style talk. So you know how you've historically been able to kind of wing it up there. Maybe you share your brilliance and captivate a room on the fly. I see you, I work with brilliant people like you a lot. It doesn't work on the Ted stage pretty much ever. I'm sure it's been done and I wouldn't be surprised if I get some emails from people with examples or telling me that they've done it that way. I would love to see those talks. I'm not saying it can never be done, but the vast majority of people, and I'm saying this because I've worked with some really brilliant speakers and the way that they prepared and practiced for their ted talks was different than all the other times.

So the vast majority of people need to spend some time really understanding the audience, like really do that deep dive, getting the ideas down, those first level ideas down, the ones that you might've gone up there and winged it with and then they need to revise the talk and then revise it again. Move things around, make sure that what you've got in there is what you really want to say because you don't want to be up there talking through your idea to help you land on the best way to share a concept. So many of us who are in thought leadership, we know what we think by saying it out loud, especially for speakers. That's how I am. I know that. I know what I think by saying it out loud and that's why having a sounding board, someone I can a coach or you know I have people in my life who I just talk things through with so that I can get to the nugget.

That's what a good speaking coach will do for you. Not to sell the whole speaking coaching thing or if you've got someone else in your life who's a great sounding board in that way, use them so that you can talk through and then get to the nugget, the gem. That's what you really want to say. You want to nail that idea the first time in the talk that you're delivering. Then get on to the next story. The next research reveal all of that magic mix of content that's gonna make your talk so captivating and keep moving it forward. Keeping their attention. My tedx clients who are universally brilliant. Tell me every time, what the hell, Michelle, I've never practiced this much ever in my life. I'm telling you, they always end up saying something very much like that. Jill Bolte Taylor who delivered her amazing stroke of insight, Ted talk, I think it's at like 10 million views.

It's one of the most watched talks of all time. She practiced 200 times to deliver her awesome talk. I just told this to a client recently and she was like, what? And then I tried to say some other things to her afterward and literally she was just like 200 times. So maybe you're not gonna practice your talk 200 times. Maybe you will, but you are going to practice it way more times than you probably ever have in. You're going to be so, so glad that you did. Watch Jill Bolte Taylor's talk notice the ease of her delivery that talk lives in her. Elizabeth Gilbert spent hours walking and practicing her ted talk. And I love the way that she described it. She said, I walked that talk into my bones. Something like that. Practice enough that it just lives in you so that when you're up there, you're sharing the very best of this idea that is so world changing.

Take the time. You don't have to love it. Then you will have what Tim Urban, a Ted Speaker now has. When ted called him and asked him to speak, he thought to himself, yeah, I've always wanted to have done a ted talk in the past. You'll be so glad that you prepared. Then you'll deliver and then you will have the beautiful gift of having delivered a Ted talk just as you dreamed. Ted Talks are a mystery for so many. They feel kind of unattainable. I hear it all the time like it's something to aspire to when you arrive at some unknown goal and your speaking and thought leadership career. The truth is, ted talks are created differently in most cases and they do take a different level of prep and practice, but you can do one. You can do one. If you're here listening to this, it's because you know that you're meant to change lives with your message. Now you know how to make that Ted talk. Awesome. You can see it. It's right there and I can't wait to see your ted talk, my friend. Send me the link and let me know if I can help. I know that you know that I'm over here cheering you and your beautiful impact on every single day. So get out there, make that difference. You know that you're meant to make on the Tedx stage and everywhere else, and I will be here with you next week doing everything I can to support you. Take good care.

Thanks so much for being here with me on the Thought Leadership School Podcast. If you want specific and actionable guidance on how to become a recognized leader in your industry, you can download a free copy of my book Beyond Applause: Make a meaningful difference through transformational speaking at speaksoitmatters.com/freebook.


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