Let's Talk TED

As long as I have worked in the live event production space, clients have sought new ways to drive audience engagement, be it through the use of creative theming, entertainment, technology, and/or environment.

Today, meeting planners and event marketers are abuzz with talk of TED Talks and how they can model their next corporate event or presentation after the pioneering conference and widely-popular online speaker series. Before we examine the allure of TED, let’s first look at what makes TED, well TED.

The TED Talks Format

• Presentations must be no longer than 18 minutes
• Speakers must tell a story or argue for an idea; and are encouraged to present their field in a new light
• Speakers may not use a TED Talk to sell products or promote themselves or businesses; or include industry jargon or sales pitches
• Speakers are not allowed to read their notes or use podiums

Of all the elements of a TED Talk, clients tend to focus primarily on presentation length.  No surprise, since format is often within their control and it’s an easy sell to executives and audiences alike.  When it comes to presentations, after all, most would agree shorter is better.  But does that mean that every presentation on your program should be no longer than 18 minutes?  Or that the sheer act of shortening a presentation to 18 minutes will make it more engaging to your audience?  Of course not.  Content dictates length.  Deciding what content is best suited for the TED model and then supporting each speaker in preparing material for the new format is a must.

TED Takeaways

An influential speaker with a unique and exciting story about an idea that will change the world can spark real emotion in viewers.  If you ask me, that’s what makes TED so appealing:  the focus on inspiring, informing and even surprising content.  But there is also a parallel focus on intense speaker preparation.  While they appear effortless (and podium and notes-free), TED Talks are the result of a lot of hard work behind the scenes.

Let’s face it: a true TED Talk is not realistic for most clients.  Not all corporate executives are great speakers – nor are they always willing or able to commit the time it takes to get there.  Most corporate content, no matter how professionally packaged, would hardly be considered inspiring.  Last but not least, there is a place for product marketing and self-promotion in corporate meetings and events.  Why else would brands continue to foot the bill for them all these years?

Practicality aside, event planners and producers can learn some important lessons from TED:

  1. Asking the question “what’s in it for the audience” is the mere price of admission these days.  We should challenge ourselves to think bigger. What are the “ideas worth spreading” in our own industries, markets and companies?
  2. Look beyond the “it” luminary speaker or even your high-profile execs for your next event.  Consider less obvious choices like up-and-coming professional speakers or employees or customers, with a winning story and a talent and passion for live storytelling.
  3. There’s no substitute for hard work and preparation.  Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!

As industry veterans, we at Impact Productions, love that TED has inspired a new way of thinking about corporate meetings and events, but we also know there is no simple formula for driving audience engagement.

Know and respect your audience, create relevant content that taps into emotions, employ good-old fashioned storytelling techniques, and deliver just the right amount of production value.  Succeed at that, and you will cultivate a connection with your audience that’s sure to last more than 18 minutes.