5 Commandments to Pull Off a Successful Presentation

Several months ago, I worked with a colleague to help prepare her for a TEDTalk. She already was a good speaker, but TED requires taking one’s speaking and presentation skills to the next level.

Here are some of the things we did to help get her ready, many of which were included in the speaker tool kit that TED provided.

The first thing to remember is that when you watch a TEDTalk on YouTube it may look effortless, but there are “hours of thinking, preparing, practicing, slide revising and memorizing involved behind each spectacular talk,” according to the tool kit.

It’s true.

We reworked the slides at least three times. Too often in the business world slides are dense with copy and images. For a TEDTalk, less is more. We worked to find a single, strong graphic. The visuals exist to develop the ideas presented in the talk, not to distract from it.

The talk underwent at least five formal revisions, not to mention lots of tweaking. The first version was too much like a formal speech. That version, though, allowed up to pull the strong themes out and rework it into a conversational style. Knowing how to begin a talk can be a challenge. Read “The Most Powerful Ways to Start a Presentation” for more tips.

Personal examples were included to advance the story and set the tone. The ones we included were powerful and succinct, and not experiences that others in the audience would have had. They set the path to explore the topic more deeply.

Practice also was critical since speeches needed to be memorized and needed to stay within the allotted time. We recruited colleagues to serve as audiences on several occasions. During the final practice run when one person was moved to tears, we knew my colleague had nailed it.

When it comes to giving a TEDTalk, or any presentation for that matter, it’s important to follow the commandments:

  1. Do dream big. You want this talk to be the best you have ever given.
  2. Don’t read your talk. Use the visuals as prompts and have a few notes to guide you. Be flexible in case you lose your path.
  3. Do make the complex simple. Don’t dazzle the audience with busy slides, too many statistics and pompous words. Instead, strive to connect with the audience.
  4. Do end your talk on time. It’s rude to steal time from the people that follow you.
  5. Do rehearse. This allows you to practice for timing, for clarity and for impact.


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