TED Speaking Guide

Now that TEDGlobal 2009 has drawn to a close and the videos are slowly making their way online, the latest Nature has an editorial on the TED phenomenon, suggesting that “those wishing to reveal scientific ideas should learn from the engaging style of TED conference talks”.

TED succeeds in part because participants are encouraged to talk about the unexpected. […] But perhaps the most critical key to success is the style of the talks. […]

The talks have a strict time limit of 18 minutes — no interaction with the audience, and no questions except the informal ones asked in the extended conversation breaks. […] For a general audience, 18 minutes is plenty for getting across context and key issues, while still forcing each speaker to focus on a message — whether it be advocacy or the celebration of new knowledge.

There is also a welcome absence of PowerPoint presentations. Instead there are plenty of images — but precious few professional scientific diagrams, which can quickly lose the audience’s attention. This forces speakers to craft talks that can engage sophisticated but scientifically untutored listeners at their level. And it also encourages speakers to try for a freely flowing, relaxed presentation style, without notes. […]

Scientists wishing to inspire non-scientists should look at a few of these talks online and learn a thing or two.

I would go one further: non-scientists wishing to inspire others should look to TED to learn a thing or two.