The Best of TED 2014: Lessons for Your Next Presentation
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
The famous TED conference celebrated its 30th anniversary in March with its usual schedule of famous and not-so-famous speakers who delivered the presentation of their lives in 18 minutes or less.
Here are examples from five of the best TED 2014 presentations along with public speaking and presentation tips that will surely help you impress your audience:
1. Use more pictures than words. Astronaut Chris Hadfield received a rare standing ovation at TED 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia. In this riveting presentation on facing one’s fears, Hadfield’s deck contained 35 slides, 34 of which were photographs and short videos. The average PowerPoint slide has 40 words. There were a total of five words in Hadfield’s entire presentation. This is a technique called picture superiority. Images are far more compelling than text on slides. In fact, pictures aid recall. Researchers have found that if you hear information, you’ll likely recall about 10 percent of the content. If you hear the information and see a picture that complements the content, it’s likely that you’ll retain 65 percent of it. Start adding more pictures to your presentation while reducing the text.
2. Make it personal. Bill and Melinda Gates appeared together at TED to explain why giving away their wealth has been the most satisfying thing they’ve ever done. TED conference curator Chris Anderson had asked Melinda for a photo that best explains her "story." She chose photos of herself and Bill visiting Africa for the first time and walking on the beach on Tanzania, because it was the first time they had discussed how they would use their wealth to make the world a better place. Later in the presentation, the Gates' showed pictures of themselves and their children who, until now, had been largely shielded from the public. Find ways to personalize your presentation, perhaps by telling a story that influenced your idea or product. If someone else can deliver your presentation exactly the same as you -- word for word -- then it’s not personal enough.
3. Lose the slides from time to time. Hugh Herr builds the next generation of bionic limbs at the MIT Media Labs. Herr lost his legs as a result of a mountain climbing accident. Like the other engaging presentations at TED 2014, most of Herr’s slides contained photos and very little text. But it’s what happened outside the slides that was the memorable part of the presentation. “Humans are not disabled; they cannot be broken,” Herr said as he introduced Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a ballroom dancer who lost her left leg in the Boston Marathon bombing. Thanks to bionic prosthetics and the MIT Media Labs, she can dance again. Haslet-Davis, accompanied by a partner, gave her first performance since losing her leg. Herr’s slides were impressive, but the presentation’s conclusion was magical and had nothing to do with the slides. Visually impressive slides are important, but don’t be afraid to leave out the deck from time to time.
4. One stat, one slide. Del Harvey, the VP of trust and safety at Twitter, gave the TED 2014 audience a window into how she keeps Twitter’s 240 million users safe. Harvey’s slides were remarkably simple and free from clutter. She used a technique I call one theme per slide. For example, Harvey opened her presentation by announcing, “Back in January 2009, we saw more than two million new tweets each day on the platform. January 2014, more than 500 million. We were seeing two million tweets in less than six minutes. That's a 24,900-percent increase.” Her slide read: “That’s a 24,900% increase.” Most presenters would have put each of the three statistics on one slide. Since Harvey wanted her audience to focus on one number, why clutter the slide with too much data? Stick to one key statistic on one slide.
5. Deliver the unexpected. The human brain craves novelty. It looks for something out of the ordinary, unexpected and surprising. At TED 2014, Chris Anderson delivered the unexpected and introduced Edward Snowden, the man who released thousands of pages of classified NSA documents. The audience was momentarily stunned, trying to figure out how Anderson got Snowden to make an appearance, as the former NSA contractor would surely be arrested if he was in the U.S. As it turns out, Anderson had a twist. Snowden did make an appearance, via a screen mounted on a robot. He could see the audience and the audience could see him. Snowden’s appearance became the sensation of the conference, as you would expect, and prompted a response by NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett, who spoke via video the day after Snowden’s surprise appearance. As you build your next presentation, think about creating one surprise that your audience will be talking about the next day.