The TED Commandments

The founder of TED, Richard Saul Wurman spoke at an event hosted by Smart Design last night. In his presentation he mentioned the 10 TED commandments. Attending a lot of conferences, as speaker or press and also organizing conference-type events myself (CreativeMornings) I am extremely interested in what makes a talk successful.

Amy Tan in her TED Talk described the arrival of the TED Commandments as “something that creates a near-death experience; but near-death is good for creativity…”.

The TED Commandments

Thou Shalt Not Simply Trot Out thy Usual Shtick
Pressure yourself to keep learning about a topic. I have an Information Overload talk I gave a few years ago, and wouldn’t dream of presenting it again without catching up on the latest theories and contributions to the debate.

Thou Shalt Dream a Great Dream, or Show Forth a Wondrous New Thing, Or Share Something Thou Hast Never Shared Before
Don’t be afraid to experiment with what you’ve already learned. Share not only what you know, but what you’d like it to be. Look at your processes, at what you do every day. If it works for you, it’s quite possible the process is a good one and could be shared, inviting discussion to make it even better.

Thou Shalt Reveal thy Curiosity and Thy Passion
It’s your topic, your audience. Own them. Your talk may be at a monthly department meeting or national conference, but most likely you’ve got a keen interest in the subject. Show it!

Perhaps you actually are passionate about the topic, even better. Share your excitement as well as your progress.

Thou Shalt Tell a Story
Involve your audience by giving them someone to empathize with and to make them care. The story might be about yourself or someone else, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s a good tell.

Thou Shalt Freely Comment on the Utterances of Other Speakers for the Sake of Blessed Connection and Exquisite Controversy
As you catch up, read and get involved on blogs by those you admire within the topic. Commenting on posts is a great way to become engaged with those who care about the same things you do. Also explore dissenting opinions, adding your own if you have them.

Thou Shalt Not Flaunt thine Ego. Be Thou Vulnerable. Speak of thy Failure as well as thy Success.
No one wants to hear about how wonderful you are because you figured this out, but the different methods you used to get the conclusion. If you’ve learned from your mistakes, someone else will, too.

Thou Shalt Not Sell from the Stage: Neither thy Company, thy Goods, thy Writings, nor thy Desparate need for Funding; Lest Thou be Cast Aside into Outer Darkness.
While I agree that I don’t usually want to hear a sales pitch, I’d take exception to this when appealing for library funding or for my job.

Thou Shalt Remember all the while: Laughter is Good.
I’ve heard different opinions on humor during talks, but I gave this advice to a staff member just the other day: If you’re going to use humor point it towards yourself. I use self-deprecating humor quite a bit, it seems to somehow relax the audience, especially when teaching technology. Also be careful of humor that may offend someone: I thought about writing this post as if I were Moses and God Himself had delivered the tablets and burning bushes were involved. I reconsidered…probably very wisely.

Thou Shalt Not Read thy Speech.
Worse yet, never turn your back to your audience to read slides. Then again, don’t put so much text on a slide that you’d have to read it at all! Text is for handouts.

Thou Shalt Not Steal the Time of Them that Follow Thee
Make your talk worthwhile with your passion and your knowledge. Give them one big thing to remember a week later, your chance of retention is better the less you try to put in their heads. Even though some training is repetitive in nature, get them excited, fired up and ready to go use what you’ve taught them!

(Image by Rives, transcribed by Tim Longhurst. via alalearning)

10 Comments leave a comment below

  1. Schadenfreude = joy in someone else’s misfortune

    I think this is a common feeling not often expressed in English.

  2. An excellent set of tips for any public speech/presentation that one might do – tailored, of course, towards TED.

    Still, these are applicable in a broad variety of contexts and very useful indeed! Thanks.

  3. Thank you for leading me to TED. I can hardly wait to be in the middle of this epic unfolding of our story.

  4. Brilliant. And applicable, I think, to just about any creative endeavor. This one goes up on the wall by my desk.

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