Published: May 31, 2016

What’s the secret behind the greatest TED talks? Who better to ask than Chris Anderson, head of TED. He’s got a new book out, TED Talks, and recently he came to Toronto’s Rotman School of Management to talk about it.

His advice is heartening for all of those (like yours truly) who are tired of the celebrity junk that claims so much of the head space these days.

“It’s all about the idea,” Chris told his audience.

“Offer your audience a gift, an idea that can impact their behaviour years in the future.”


“An idea infused with passion can spread around the world.”

Now here’s the challenge: “How do you break through boring?” How do you tell a story in a way that transfers your idea to your audience?

“Start strong,” Chris advises. You have a minute to capture your audience’s attention, so don’t waste time on thank you’s and prelims. Focus on what you want to say, and why your audience should care about it.

You might start with the problem you’re trying to solve, or a story about yourself that illustrates the problem in a vivid way. Your idea could be a simple human insight, or a story that connects us together around the global campfire.

There are no rules.“Only one thing matters — you have something worthwhile to say.”

Still, Chris does have a few tips for TED talkers:

  • Be human. Look at individual people in the audience. Everyone can see the connection between you and a human being.
  • Rehearse, and rehearse again.
  • Beware of “the curse of knowledge. We forget what it’s like not to know.” Look at your talk, and ask yourself: Where’s the missing piece? What bit of explanation did you leave out?
  • Don’t brag. Take people on a “curiosity journey.” Show the attempts that failed, and then how you discovered the winning formula.

Everyone has a story and can learn how to tell it. Public story telling should be taught in school, Chris said. He calls it “presentation literacy — public speaking for the Internet.”

For those of you who are writing a book to boost your speaking career or get onto the speaking circuit, check out Chris’ new guide to public speaking. Some of his tips might be helpful as you write your book.

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