Over the last few years, there has been a single high-profile destination for leading thinkers and experts to share their ideas: the TED Conference, a four-day festival of ideas and the arts, devoted to solving the largest problems our society faces. Featuring the career-altering opportunity to talk in front of today’s thought-leaders, speaking at TED is a dream-come-true for idea leaders, and one of the most coveted slots in professional speaking. Not only that, but it has become a prime opportunity for authors to promote their books and brand. Authors are already incredibly adept at turning their ideas into a narrative. At TED, the people who tell stories the best are often rewarded with attention and the chance to make a huge impression on the movers and shakers of our changing world. Through TED, excellent authors are able to establish themselves as leaders in their field, as well as bring a huge amount of attention to topics that have a great impact on the way we live.
The format is simple: presenters are given 18 minutes to share their expertise. Presenters range from the high-profile, like Bono, to young and rising thinkers like music blogger Amanda Palmer. Experts can discuss topics of all sorts, from the design of community gardens to the proliferation of cheap technology across Africa. The main requirement for participants is that it has to be something that can change our world for the better, usually by solving a problem with innovative thinking.
TED, and idea-based conferences like it, believe in unconventional ways of solving problems. That means looking for inspiration in different places, bringing smart people into the room together, as well as letting experts have their say in the plainest way possible — no jargon here, basically. The TED Talk within you is one that will make your highly complicated expertise seem simple to a general audience. The TED Talk within you will inspire other smart people with ideas and leave with their own “aha!” moment — as in, why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?
Cloe Shasha, who works at TED, has found that in her own opinion, “The best speakers’ talks are the ones whose content is driven by what they do. The theme emerges out of one’s experience, work and goals in a way that tells a story.”
In that spirit, here is a step-by-step guide to developing your own TED-caliber talk:
• Small problem, global scale: When thinking about how your expertise can change the world, think about how your knowledge can solve a huge problem with a simple solution. For example, Tristram Stuart turned his expertise into a book, Waste, about food waste across the globe, and then into a popular presentation on how we can eliminate food waste across the globe. His hypothesis was that if we make clear just how much food is being wasted, people would demand that we no longer waste as much. By simply showing people how much food was wasted (a small act), he has been able to work against a global problem, and has become a successful TED presenter in the process.
• Build your argument. Set the scene for your presentation: state what the problem is, what the solution is, and how your idea can achieve it. Often, if you work backwards from your great idea, you’ll lose the momentum of your presentation, and the audience won’t be as well acquainted with the problem you’re solving. By building to it, you make your solution seem inevitable.
• Keep it simple. Your visual presentation should be simple, and only act to help highlight what you’re saying. “Nothing distracting you from the true message. Crazy effects on PowerPoint? I’m not a big fan. Something that gets your point across visually and verbally and through sound and movement can be very powerful,” Shasha says.
• Practice, Practice, Practice. Who should you give your presentation to? Everyone. “Use your friends! Your colleagues! Your family! Practice a version of a talk in the form of a story at The Moth, as long as you think it would fit the theme! Maybe even try an Open Mic Night and tell a story,” Sasha recommends.
Try to keep in mind however, that the presentation is still going to be a massive simplification of your expertise and what you’ve spent so much time writing about. Make sure people see how complex your field is, enough so that, of course, they’ll want to read your books. As Salon’s Alex Pareene reminds us, TED specializes in “drastically oversimplified explanations of complex problems.” So don’t think you have to solve everything in one PowerPoint. Just get the audience excited enough to look into your field, and see an old problem in a new way.