'Ted talk' books: read them with much scepticism

(In this email, you see a Ted talk that breaks so many of the 'Ted talk' rules - and you see how this emboldens us.) 

Ted talks have amassed hundreds of millions of YouTube views. We can buy dozens of books on how to ‘Talk Like Ted’. Some schools cruelly force-feed their kids one Ted talk a week. The talks even change our vocabulary. “Recently when presenting at work,” someone told me, “I tried something new – I did a ‘Ted-type’ talk… no slides!” “Wow,” I replied breathlessly, “we used to call that ‘talking’." It’s what we did before PowerPoint. And what we do with mates (do you show slides when chatting in the pub...?). 

Then again, after 25 years of mind-numbingly dull PowerPoint slides, Ted talks seem like a breath of fresh air. According to experts, they epitomise the great ‘new’ way forward, e.g. avoid bullets, etc, etc. Really…? Let’s analyse one.

What made Milwaukee famous: try this one on civic flags(!) by someone called Roman Mars. Over 3m views. Laugh-out-loud funny. It just keeps building until it reaches wonderful conclusions - hold your head high, Amsterdam; hang your heads low, Milwaukee and Pocatello (this last one appears near the end... don't miss it).

Notice the talk has many slides... but that’s fair game. Roman shows flags. However, as we see, his talk embodies the opposite of most Ted talks – and below, “items in quotes" are ‘rules’ for Ted talks, and numbers are the talk's timings in minutes and seconds.

“Avoid bullets” Really? Study 8.35 to 8.42. Bullets. Achingly ugly ones too - just black and white. Plus they unnecessarily word-wrap over two rows.

“Avoid small fonts” Yet 4.01 to 4.22 has fonts that are surely illegible to those at the talk.

“Involve people – early on, maybe ask for a show of hands… or ask for two shows to highlight contrasting results!!!” Roman never does this.

“Don’t read a speech or stare at a script” Roman does.

“Tell a Story" One with good guys and bad guys. Roadblocks. A hero that emerges transformed, blah, blah. Nah.... they're all absent from Roman’s talk. In fact, he doesn't even tell 'normal' stories (“I met this person last week etc, etc”).

“Use pace, posture, gesture” Odd… Roman stays rooted to his chair throughout.

There’s more. He uses racy phrases - see 1.36 to 1.55 (I couldn’t say that on a training day). Also, he eschews the Ted trick of 'deep' numbers ("3.5bn - think about that"...)

Finally he somewhat bizarrely dices with disaster. His talk is more tightly orchestrated than a West End show, with multiple voiceovers, plus weird rinky-dink background music (16.25 on – would you include that in your lunch-and-learn?!). The talk is so tightly orchestrated, it’s an IT malfunction waiting to happen.

OK. It does follow one Ted ‘rule’. It's 18 minutes long.

We both know that it's wrong, but it's much too strong: Roman ignores so much perceived wisdom for talks - and for Ted talks. No worries though, for it works. It's wonderful.

So, to conclude: do a Ted-type talk and yes, it might be great – but don’t do a Ted-type talk, and it can still be great. (My last email looked at Venn diagrams, so here is a Venn of that last sentence - and its sizes are figurative, not literal...).

All of which, I believe, is huge progress. It emboldens us. We no longer need to agonise over our on-stage body language (“Is my posture and pace OK?”). Or feel we must contrive Stories (“In my HR report, how can I find a roadblock? A hero transformed?”). Or fret about fancy slides (“Light or dark blue…?).

As I said, huge progress. On what not to do. But what to do? That’s in the next email update. Until then, enjoy this wonderful 6-minute YouTube clip that mocks Ted talks.


The rest of this update is nothing to do with Ted talks, but it was in the original email I sent out in early 2018. I include it all again here, simply because you see a great pie chart and hear a great version of the Animals' song. Enjoy.

House of the rising sun: here's a pie chart that works - the pyramid pie on the right. Wonderful.

Talking of which (cue contrived link, gratuitous video clip), here's a fabulously bizarre version of The House of the Rising Sun by the lesser-known UK singer, John Otway... and 900 of his fans, all of whom were mentioned by name on the single's sleeve when it came out. Do stay with it for at least 50 seconds... And if you like the clip, you may also enjoy John's Biography on Wikipedia (it gets rather surreal from paragraph 4).

Clarity and Impact Ltd | +44 20 8840 4507 | jon@jmoon.co.uk | www.jmoon.co.uk

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