For entrepreneurs, content creators, and marketers, TED Talks are a go-to resource for information about nearly any topic. The non-profit has thousands of videos that cover an array of fresh ideas and concepts, each presented by a subject matter expert or thought leader in their respective industry. By far, it's some of the most engaging content on the web, and people use TED Talks all the time to foster personal and professional development.
However, in addition to the topics that TED Talks cover, there is a lot to learn from the execution of the TED talks themselves. The speakers at TED are some of the most charismatic speakers and talented story-tellers in the world and can teach you a lot about content creation. If you look aside from the subject matter, you can examine any TED Talk and find tactics that the speakers are using to intrigue and hold the focus of their viewer.
What Every TED Talk Content Creator Knows
TED Talks are excellent because they discuss interesting ideas and help make complicated subject matter digestible. However, the reason that TED is so successful with conferences and content creation is that their speakers understand how to tell a story and grab the attention of their audience. It's a difficult skill, but an area where most of the TED speakers excel.
In this article, I'll break down the formula of a few TED Talks, and explain the story-telling tactics every speaker uses to craft a better story.
Adam Grant, "Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers"
In Adam Grant's TED Talk for TEDxVancouver, "Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers," Grant talks about how to recognize what he calls "originals," based on his experience with top-recognized eyewear brand Warby Parker. Parker was slow to launch their website, and Grant was put off by the delays, so he opted not to invest in the company. Now, Parker is worth nearly $1.75 billion.
With that experience under his belt, Grant now describes originals as free-thinkers that procrastinate, but have flexibility and better ideas because they don't rush to finish.
"Originals are nonconformists, people who not only have new ideas but take action to champion them. They are people who stand out and speak up. Originals drive creativity and change in the world. They're the people you want to bet on. And they look nothing like I expected." - Adam Grant, New York Times Best Selling Author, Organizational Psychologist
Whether you're writing a blog post or a video, there are a few tactics that Grant used to strengthen his message that you can apply to your content.
- By admitting failure and sharing the personal anecdote about Warby Parker, Grant seems more relatable to his audience. You can use a similar tactic in a blog post or social media post to stand out from other content.
- At the beginning of the video, Grant says he's going to share three things he's learned about original thinkers. Since he doesn't give them all away at once, the viewer continues to watch and invest in the story.
- Grant uses a surprising statistic that Chrome and Firefox users stay in their jobs 15% longer than Safari and Internet Explorer users, to back up his point. If you prioritize finding eye-catching statistics, you can use them throughout your content to hold your reader's focus.
Grant uses all of these elements to put together a compelling story that delivers on the promise of his title.
Shawn Achor, "The Happy Secret to Better Work"
Many of us believe that if you work harder, you'll be happier. Right? According to Shawn Achor, a speaker for TEDxBloomington, not necessarily. The idea that hard work leads to happiness is a concept that Achor calls "scientifically broken and backwards."
"If happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there," says Achor. "If you can raise somebody's level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than at negative, neutral or stressed." - Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think, Inc.
Shawn's talk is incredibly useful for a few reasons, including:
- Similar to Grant, Achor starts with a personal introduction. He shares a humorous story about his childhood, which makes the audience laugh and provides a natural lead into the subject matter.
- Achor uses authentic statistics and facts in his talk, such as the science about what determines 90 percent of long-term happiness to add legitimacy to his overall point. In marketing, using reliable statistics in content is critical to building trust with your reader.
- When Achor talks about his work with Harvard students, he confronts a common belief that Harvard students have anything to be unhappy about, then shows why that isn't true. Content that challenges a popular idea or concept can be much more compelling than content that takes a neutral stance.
By the end of his TED Talk, Achor comes off like a real subject matter expert and communicates a challenging concept to his audience.
Tim Ferriss, "Define Your Fears Instead of Your Goals"
In his TED2017 Talk, Tim Ferriss talks about how to overcome fear and depression to achieve your goals. The talk goes into detail about how he works through the paralysis that fear can cause using a practice called "fear-setting."
"I can trace all of my biggest wins and all of my biggest disasters averted back to doing fear-setting at least once a quarter. It's not a panacea. You'll find that some of your fears are very well-founded. But you shouldn't conclude that without first putting them under a microscope. And it doesn't make all the hard times, the hard choices, easy, but it can make a lot of them easier." - Tim Ferriss, The Four-Hour Work Week
Ferriss makes his fear-setting concept seem attainable, using a few tactics:
- Ferriss incorporates philosophy into his talk because people still trust insights from ancient philosophers. That's why we see motivational quotes from Plato or Socrates. Ferriss quotes Seneca the Younger in his discussion, which helps reinforce his beliefs about fear.
- Ferriss builds a sense of urgency about overcoming fear with a personal anecdote about his struggles with depression. By proxy, the viewer feels that overcoming their fear should be a priority as well. If you can create urgency in sales and marketing content, you can help customers take action.
- Ferriss uses a three-page toolkit to capture and break apart his fears, which gives the viewer a definite action to take. If there were an option to download the template, I would have. The toolkit and worksheet he references make the practice sound less intimidating, which can be great for marketing offers.
One of the most successful aspects of the Ferriss TED Talk is how achievable he makes fear-setting seem. He grabs the attention of the viewer because he's helping them move forward through their day-to-day challenges.
James Veitch, "The Agony Of Unsubscribe"
Comedian and British writer James Veitch taps into the frustration of trying to unsubscribe from email marketing at TEDSummit, describing an experience he had with a local grocery store. When the store did not remove him from their list, Veitch proceeded to set up an elaborate prank to reply to each of their automated emails, resulting in a nearly 21,439 back-and-forth.
"If ever you feel weighed down by the bureaucracy and often mundanity of modern life, don't fight the frustration. Let it be the catalyst for whimsy." - James Veitch
There are a few key takeaways to use for your next blog post or web video, based on Veitch's discussion:
- Veitch's TED Talk is fun and lighthearted while pointing out flaws in the email marketing strategy the grocery store brand took.
- Everyone hates getting spam and promotion after promotion, and Veitch uses this pain point to make his content relatable. You can use pain points to add color to your story and attract potential customers to your content.
- Veitch's talk wasn't very long, but it was memorable. As we point out in a lot of our articles, content, and offers do not always have to be long-form to be effective.
Overall, Veitch's distinct personality is what makes this talk so compelling. Even if you struggle with humor, you can leverage what makes your brand unique and special and adopt that tone to stand out with your content.
Patrick Chappatte, "The Power of Cartoons"
In a recording of his talk at TEDGlobal2010, cartoonist Patrick Chappatte explains how illustrations and cartoons can help address global issues and bring people together. Within a short amount of time, Chappatte covers the history of comics in media and touches on their role in the future of journalism.
"This is more serious than maybe editorial cartooning. I went to places like Gaza during the war in 2009. So this is really journalism in cartoons. You'll hear more and more about it. This is the future of journalism, I think."- Patrick Chappatte, Global Cartoonist
The TED Talk covers a lot of ground but breaks down complex ideas by:
- The TED Talk is about cartoons, so it's not a surprise that Chapette uses illustrations frequently throughout the presentation. However, the comics also help the viewer visualize the concepts that the cartoonist is discussing, which can be a useful tactic for marketing content.
- Chapette moves through his talk quickly but uses quips and anecdotes about his wife and his time overseas to help the viewer follow the narrative.
- Every idea or point that Chappette introduces in his talk comes to life using incredible detail, such as exact dates, locations, and people that he encounters during his travels. Using more detail can help improve longer and educational content, such as offers and guides.
There are a lot of things to unpack from this TED Talk, and it's a great lesson about creating in-depth, descriptive content without losing your viewer.
How To Create TED Talk Quality Content
If you can speak directly to your audience and learn how to tell a compelling story, it will be easier to craft better content. Despite being under the TED brand, a lot of speakers are relying on their personality and experience to connect with the viewers. As a result, the content that TED produces is more relatable, engaging, and memorable. That's the kind of material that goes viral, builds communities, and brings back an audience again and again.
However, many of the TED speakers make it look so easy, and we know that it's not. Aside from the actual story each speaker is telling, there's a lot of branding, expertise, and positioning that goes into developing such a strong voice and level of authority in your space. If you're looking to establish a stronger brand and master this type of content creation, we can help.
With our Game Plan offer, we collaborate with brands to discuss developing more effective strategies and how to build the strong foundational elements that lead to long-term growth and success.