How to Deliver a TED Talk — Book Review

Secrets of the World’s Most Inspiring Presentations

How to Deliver a TED Talk Author

The How to Deliver a TED Talk author, Jeremy Donovan is an experienced Toastmaster which the ability to applies a deep understanding of the dynamics of public speaking to the format of the renowned TED presentations. He adopts a straightforward, everyman tone to remind the readers that anyone, no matter how inexperienced can address a TED audience successfully.

Donovan’s advice makes a lot of sense in this easy-to-follow TED Talk template from his studies of many TED presentations to break down their structure, flow, strengths and weaknesses.

What the book is about?

  1. What TED is,
  2. How to prepare for a TED presentation and
  3. How to deliver it.

Honestly, I dreamed of having a TED talk of my own, maybe that’s the reason why I bought the book in the 1st place.

How to Deliver a TED Talk — Key Points

  • Plan your ending 1st before thinking about the beginning. And if I wasn’t mistaken, it’s the reason why Hagrid was still alive at the end of Harry Potter series, since J.K. Rowling actually planned/wrote the ending 1st, the scene where Hagrid carrying Harry Potter back to Howard after Voldermort has ‘killed’ him.
  • Your talk must at least ‘sow a single seed of inspiration’.
  • Present your ‘single unifying message’ in an unforgettable way.
  • Start your talk with a unique personal story.
  • “Tell the audience what you’re going to tell them; tell them, and then tell them what you’ve told them.”
  • Your story must trigger the listener’s right-and-left brain cognition.
  • Remember to combine statistics and dry facts with “emotional stories”
  • In summary, master storytelling.

What is TED?

I’ve been watching TED talks since my high school years, and I just found out what it meant.

TED: “Technology, Entertainment and Design”, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing forward-thinking concepts and practices from the arenas of technology, entertainment and design, organizes “exclusive conferences” and posts presentations from those conferences online for free viewing. 

Usually given by the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, most brilliant scientists and most famous pop stars have all given TED Talks, as have thousands of lesser-known, hardworking people.

How to Deliver a TED Talk — The “Ten Commandments”

TED provides a list of do’s and don’ts – its Ten Commandments of content and delivery.

This set of “best practices” says:

  1. Avoid clichéd “shtick”;
  2. Share a big vision or a new idea;
  3. “tell a story”;
  4. Don’t sell;
  5. Welcome laughter;
  6. Share your “curiosity” and “passion”;
  7. Refer to other speakers to generate “connection” or “controversy”;
  8. Be “vulnerable” and not egotistical;
  9. Don’t “read your speech”; and
  10. Finish on time.

“If you survived into adulthood, then you have countless stories of perseverance in the face of failure.”


How to Deliver a TED Talk — On Getting Started

The best opening is a “really personal” story that relates precisely to your basic message and uses someone else as the hero. A shocking statement opens well only if you back it up in your subsequent remarks. To provoke emotional responses, ask a potent or unsettling question instead of giving startling statistics.

Asking “why” gains more attention than asking “how.” Never open with a quote or a joke. Never open with anything remotely offensive, sexist, racist or taken from the comic strip “Dilbert.” Never say: “Before I begin”, since you have already begun.

After your opening, create an ideal bridge to the main body of your talk, such as ask your audience members to picture themselves in a certain set of circumstances. 

Describing the benefits of your speech will make people excited about learning from you. Tell your listeners what they’ll know by the time you finish.

Basically, this the ‘hook’ to keep your an audience interested as well as the part where you told them what you’re going to tell them before telling them.

Get it?

Make a Content That Inspires

As mentioned in the key reading points, plan your ending before drafting the beginning.

Ask yourself, “What is the most amazing story I can tell?” What was your happiest or saddest moment? What is the most significant lesson you ever learned? When you’ve chosen your theme, build your story. Include the person who taught you your greatest lesson because “the most inspiring stories position someone else as the hero.”


Here, you need to compose your talk to fulfil or express everyone’s four crucial needs:

  1. “Love and belonging,
  2. desire and self-interest,
  3. learning and growing,” and
  4. “hope and change.”

In order to present these concepts properly, choose a single, powerful unifying idea. Never describe multiple experiences that added up to create a life change. Pick one event or idea to maintain as a touchstone throughout your talk.

Other than stories, catchphrase and slogan could also work wonders, but it also sums up your point. A perfect coda includes a “call to action” that either rhyme – think of attorney Johnny Cochran’s legendary “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” or uses a musical rhythm, like TED speaker Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why,” which is also the name of his book. Your catchphrase provides the perfect context for you and your speech. Usually, an introduction provides that context, but that won’t happen at TED.

How to Deliver a TED Talk — How “Building Your Speech” Works

“Tell the audience what you are going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them.” Your opening is your “what” section: the “tell them” section is the body of your speech.

You can assemble your talk into those three sections. Pick and stick to one of three narrative frameworks:

  • “Situation-complication-resolution” – Describe your situation. “Hook” your crowd with why your situation and by implication, the broader universe in which it takes place and whether it is dangerous or complicated. Finish by offering a solution that settles the issue and makes use of the opportunities you cited at the outset.
  • “Chronological”– Begin with the start of a historical period, your childhood or the moment that launched your learning journey. Work through the time frame to your conclusion. This structure may be easiest and most comfortable for first-time speakers.
  • “Ideas-concepts” – The best example of this framework is David Letterman’s “Top Ten List.” For example, Richard St. John shared “eight secrets of success.” Once your audience knows that your talk follows this structure, they will assume that you’re building to a climax with the last item on your list.

On Your Narrative

Structure your speech so each section triggers each listener’s right or left brain. Narratives and action appeal to the “emotional right brain,” while “facts, strategies, tips and techniques” stir up the left. Thus, try to combine both facts and tales for an effective narrative. In order to do this, you must lead them on an “emotional journey.” Cite facts to convince them of your credibility and to convince the sceptical left brain. Combine facts with tales of true emotion to engage the right brain. 

The tales at best must be of your own with engaging and vivid character and plotline.

On Your Delivery

Strive for a low-key, conversational tone. Don’t preach; don’t shout; don’t whisper; don’t hurry. Avoid slang or jargon. Speak in simple, complete sentences. Most TED presenters use language on the “sixth-grade level.” Shed any filler speech habits, such as “uh, well, you know” or “like.” Speak in “bursts” of words or sentences spaced out by pauses. This will heighten the suspense and make your audience pay attention. Vary the speed and volume of your speech. Be aware of your breathing. Nervous people draw shallow breaths, so breathe deeply. Speak slower than feels right. Many people assume they are speaking more slowly than they are. Say “you” as often as possible to engage your audience. Don’t say “you all” or “you guys” or “y’all.” Say “you.”


On slides, make sure that they are professionally designed. Rule of thumbs on the slide,

  • Less is always more
  • the fewer the fonts, the fewer the colours and the fewer the slide is always better.

Body Language / Positioning

Be aware of your body position. Unless you’re acting out a character, rest your hands comfortably at your sides. Stand “symmetrically,” with your weight equally balanced on both feet.

Avoid these common mistakes:

  • Fig leaf” – Clasping your hands before your body makes you look shy and powerless.
  • Pockets” – Take your hands out of your pockets, or you’ll look too casual.
  • Parade rest” – Don’t cross your hands behind your back. You’ll look rigid.
  • “Hips” – Don’t stand with your hands on your hips; you’ll look angry or scolding.
  • “Crossed arms” – This stances makes you look domineering as if you’re daring someone to challenge you.
  • “Touching” – If you touch your face, head or hair, you’ll look nervous.

And remember to smile at your audience, but don’t overdo it.

And make eye contact with as many people as you can, so pick the audience you want to make eye contact with but don’t hold them too long, it would be off-putting and awkward. The best duration is 3-5 seconds.

Be well dressed and well-groomed and please stay in one place.

Wrapping it all up

Never say: “and in conclusion.” Say: “Now we come to the end of our journey.” Speak in shorter sentences near the end. You could finish by exhorting your audience with “a powerful call to action” or by asking a shocking or potent question. Some people think you should always end by saying “thank you.” Others think that it weakens the impact of your final moment onstage. Regardless, almost everyone finishes a TED Talk by thanking the members of the audience.


On Handling Stage Fright

Most people fear public speaking and even I used to fear it. So, in order to deflect nervousness, we need to be prepared. Arrive early and re-verify that your slides are in order. Examine your stage. Visualize how and where you will move. Your audience wants you to do well. No one is rooting for you to fail. You are among friends.

And on a more personal note, if you’re a Muslim and you’re nervous before your talk, do this.

  1. Say bismillah
  2. Sent salutation to Muhammad SAW 3 times (minimum)
  3. And finish it with a supplication (rabbi yassir wala tu’assir) so that Allah would ease our task for us.


Transliteration: Rabbi yassir wala tu’assir wa tammim bil khair.

Translation: Oh Allah, make this task easy and do not make it difficult. Oh Allah! Make it end well.


  • shtick : a gimmick, comic routine, style of performance, etc. associated with a particular person.

Read How to Deliver a TED Talk



Author: Muhamad Aarif

A notorious book addict by night and an oil and gas executive by day. As Mark Twain said, "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." So, read, read, and read some more.

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