How to Make Your Speech TED Talk Material (The 4 Unmistakable Elements of a TED talk)

Hello speakers! Did you ever wonder what makes a TED talk so powerful?

I’ve analyzed many TED talks and want to share four unmistakable elements you’ll find in everyone, along with the steps you can take to infuse the power of TED into your own talks.


Number One: 1 TED talks bring a big idea to life.


Have you ever seen Brené Brown’s TEDx-talk “The power of vulnerability”?

See it here.

Her big idea is this:

“Vulnerability is something to be treasured, not to be afraid of.”

The big idea of your talk is called your “core message”.

It’s the one sentence you want your audience to remember.

The core message becomes the North Star of your talk and guides all the other information you share with your audience.

If you have trouble identifying your core message, ask yourself, “What experiences have I had in my life that changed me or my perspective about the topic of my talk?” With these experiences in mind, crystallize a powerful idea for your audience.

From there, you want to include stories and data to bring your core message to life, to make it feel tangible and alive.

Brené teaches us about those who lived with the absence of shame, those who were able to express themselves with vulnerability, by sharing stories about their willingness to do hard things:

  • To say “I love you first”
  • To do something that has no guarantees
  • To breathe through the discomfort as you wait for the mammogram results
  • To invest in a relationship that may or may not work out

She mixes heartbreak and laughter, facts and stories, and even personal insights to bring her core message to life.

If you want to create a transformational talk with all the power of TED, bring a big idea to life.


Number Two: A TED talk is 20 minutes or less.


Julian Treasure crafted a talk that encompasses the incredible depth and power of the spoken language.

In under 10 minutes, Julian covers:

  • the 7 habits we all need to stop doing, if we want to speak powerfully
  • the 4 elements of a powerful speaker
  • 6 vocal warmup exercises to prepare for a standing-o performance

(You have to watch the video!)

Julian delivers on the promise of his talk (how we can speak powerfully to make change in the world) in under 10 minutes by keeping his sentence structure short, compelling, and clear.

To craft a talk that takes less than 20 minutes, ask yourself, “What’s the minimum (NOT the maximum) that your audience needs to know to support your core message?” 

Edit without mercy.

You’ll know your talk includes the perfect amount of content when you feel as though you’ll leave your audience satisfied, not overstuffed. It’s similar to the sensation you feel after a fancy 3-course meal. You’re delightfully content, and although you could eat more, you’ve had all you need.

Keep your talk short to magnify its power.


Number Three: A TED talk takes us on an emotional journey.


In his landmark talk on loneliness, Guy Winch begins the heart-wrenching story of his journey on moving abroad and separating, for the first time ever, from his identical twin.

On his path to becoming a psychologist, he says, “I was in the grips of loneliness.”

A TED talk always takes the audience on an emotional journey - one of transformation.

To incorporate your journey into your TED talk, you need to select a structure for your talk.

There’s the Quest, which has a setup, conflict, resolution.

Or the Rebirth, which incorporates a personal transformation.

The Vision, which describes a new world order.

Or the Insight, which presents a series of ideas that bring the reader “home again.”


Graphic credit: RedOnion, Berlin

Whichever you choose, there’s a clear structure and transformation.

Decide on your audience’s initial emotional state (where you will take them when you begin your talk), and then decide where they will end up at the end of your talk.

At the end of his talk, Guy leaves us with a sense of hope and empowerment, providing us with the insights and strategies we need to combat loneliness and build emotional resilience.

We end with happiness, as he did. Watch it here.

To craft an unforgettable TED talk, take your audience on a journey.


Number Four: A TED talk speaks to an audience who wants change.


“The protagonists of my books are strong and passionate women. I don’t make them up. There’s no need for that.” says Isabel Allende in her TED talk..

Isabel speaks of feminism, a subject relevant to the whole world and directly referring to 51% of the population, which is female.

She speaks to the humanity within us and describes the changes she wants to see in the world:

“Although women do ⅔ of the world's labor, they own less than 1% of the world’s assets. They are paid less than men for the same work, if they are paid at all. They remain vulnerable because they have no economic independence, and they are constantly threatened by exploitation, violence, and abuse.”

Isabel urges the audience to see the beauty and the resourcefulness of women, rallying them together, at the end of her talk, to create momentous change.

“Women working together can bring peace to this forsaken planet… I think the time is right to make real change in our society. Let’s get off our fannies, roll up our sleeves, and get to work creating an almost-perfect world.”

Every great speech begins with audience analysis. Who is going to be there and what do they need to know?

Your talk should address everyone in the audience, and if you aspire to write a TED talk, you’ll be speaking to an audience who wants to see a different world. TED audiences want change and are curious about new ideas.


How can your TED talk address this desire?


First, consider your topic, the general focus of your talk. Mine would be public speaking.

Then, consider your core message, which is a specific, concrete idea you want your audience to remember. Mine would be “You cannot be a good leader without also being a powerful speaker.”

Then, paint a picture of the change that’s possible when you bring your core message to life, and be sure to incorporate that picture into your TED talk to move the audience and make an impact.

These 4 Unmistakable Elements are in every TED talk. And I know you can make them part of yours.

Which element will you infuse into your historic talk?


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