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Learn Better Presentation Skills with TED Talks

See also: How to Give a Speech

TED talks stand for 20-minute presentations on technology, entertainment and design, and everything in between.

The origin of these talks came from Richard Wurman, an American architect fascinated by the interconnections and impact of the tech, entertainment and design worlds.

The first TED talks were posted in 2006, and these fascinating presentations by gifted orators continue to inspire and engage millions over 10 years later.

Veteran TED speakers of all backgrounds and expertise have something impactful to share — from the process of the Titanic discovery to how silence can be dangerous. Whether you're a keynote speaker or are sharing statistics, turn to these TED Talks to gather strategies to empower your presentation.


Here are 10 presentation skills you can learn from TED talks:

1. Self-Disclosure Communicates on Multiple Levels

Kevin Robinson's “How Schools Kill Creativity” presentation was one of the first TED talks posted and still is at the top because of his ability to communicate emotion through self-disclosure. A speaker who reaches their audience emotionally shows their relatability through universally human experiences. Robinson tells stories about his family to support his argument that all children are creative and need an outlet for expression.

2. Eliminate Filler Words

Tony Robbins use pauses effectively in his “Why We Do What We Do” talk, allowing him to speak mindfully about this topic without filler words. Though it's common practice in conversation to use filler words, such as um, they take up valuable time and space in a brief presentation and reduce your impact and authority on a subject. When you feel tempted to say um, pause for a moment before moving on to your next point.

3. Foster an Engaged and Active Audience

Your audience becomes engaged with a subject when you pose questions and present problems that need solving. Bruce Aylward fosters this environment with his audience in “How We'll Stop Polio for Good” when he asks them to close their eyes for two seconds and consider how science or technology changed the world.

4. Hook the Audience

In written or spoken communication, you have anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes to hook your audience. Instead of starting with a knock, knock joke, try something similar to Chef Jamie Oliver's hook in his talk “Teach Every Child About Food.”

Oliver opens with: “Sadly, in the next 18 minutes when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead from the food that they eat.” It's like a powerful hook in a novel, but the statement also communicates the gravity of the talk and how quickly death can strike in the everyday moments you sit down to eat.

5. Cue the Audience into the Close

You don't want your audience to leave thinking, “Is that it?” Just as you want to start strongly, you want to end strongly — not abruptly. In Benjamin Zander's “The Transformative Power of Classical Music,” he discusses the link between power and music and gives a verbal cue that the presentation is about to end. This spoken courtesy allows the audience to pause reflectively and brace themselves for his final thought.

6. Speak With Empathy and Elegance

Have you struggled with speaking up only to feel unheard? Sound expert Julian Treasure shares his wisdom and speaking exercises in his talk “How to Speak So That People Want to Listen.” Use H.A.I.L. to speak with empathy: Honesty (clear with meaning), authenticity (be true to yourself), integrity (practice what you preach) and love (mean well).

When it comes to speaking, be careful with your tone and volume. For example, use volume wisely and speak more softly when conveying a point that evokes a similar feeling. Also, a higher pitch indicates excitement in a speaker. Vocal exercises used by actors and singers help tone your speaking voice.

7. Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Your body language affects how others see you, but it also impacts how you see yourself. Psychologist Amy Cuddy shares that power posing is an effective tool to positively communicate your identity and message in her talk “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are.” Striking your power pose helps you feel confident even when you feel doubt.

8. Let Your Inner Nerd Shine, But Speak Plainly

In “Talk Nerdy to Me,” Melissa Marshall reassures scientists that non-scientists are eager to hear their data points and research, but the key is to speak plainly and with passion. Share your knowledge but don't talk down to the audience — make it accessible. In only four minutes, Marshall demonstrates ways and strategies scientists can be clear and inspirational.

9. Be Courageous: Silence Can Be Deadly

Teacher and poet Clint Smith encourages people to have courage and speak up in his talk “The Danger of Silence.” As a presenter, you may not only feel shy about what you have to say, but also fearful of angering others or making a situation worse. Silence is dangerous, too.

How often do you listen to the content of what someone says without listening for what is unsaid? Your silences in content and in speaking are powerful. Use them wisely.

10. Feel Confident About Public Speaking

Though Megan Washington grew up with a speech impediment, she used a major talent to transform it into a powerful force that helped her feel more confident about public speaking. She shares what she discovered in her talk “Why I Live in Dread of Public Speaking.” A highly talented and recognized songwriter and singer in Australia, Washington uses her voice to turn stutters into yes as she sings points she struggles with loudly and proudly.


What talents do you have that will allow you to face your fear of public speaking and shine?

From psychologists to singers, the most accomplished of individuals face doubts about their skills with public speaking, but these TED talks go to show that your voice and what you have to say are powerful. Vocal exercises help a shaky and shy voice find strength and clarity.

Sharing data and statistics doesn't have to feel boring — let your authenticity and passion shine through as you speak conversationally. People will find inspiration and feel informed.

Use these TED talks to bolster your presentation arsenal and get pumped about sharing your wisdom. Be courageous, and speak up. Your talk will be worth sharing, too.


About the Author


Kayla Matthews is a productivity writer and self-improvement blogger. You can read more work from Kayla on MakeUseOf, VentureBeat, TinyBuddha and Inc.com. To support Kayla further, subscribe to her productivity newsletter.

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