Carmine Gallo, author of "Talk Like TED"

Why It’s Impossible To Ignore TED Talks

They’re inspiring, informational — and they’re impacting how others judge your next presentation. Learn from writer, speaker and communication coach Carmine Gallo how you can talk like TED.

Carmine Gallo, author of "Talk Like TED"
Carmine Gallo, author of “Talk Like TED”

Ideas are the currency of the 21st century. You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t persuade others to act, those ideas don’t matter. Today, thanks to the world-famous TED conference, independently organized TEDx community events, and new research into the science of persuasion, we’ve learned more about what inspires people than we’ve ever known. Using fMRI brain scans to look at blood flow in the brain, we can see which parts of the brain are engaged and when that engagement occurs.
TED (technology/entertainment/design) brings together world leaders, thinkers and innovators to deliver 18-minute TED “talks.” The presentations are informative, educational and inspiring. TED talks have been viewed online more than one billion times. TED videos are viewed at the rate of two million times per day. TEDx events are organized eight times a day and have been held in 145 countries. Like it or not, your next presentation is being compared to TED.
After analyzing more than 500 TED presentations and speaking directly to successful TED speakers and leading neuroscientists, I’ve discovered that the most popular TED presentations share three basic principles, or what I call “unbreakable laws.”

Emotion: Ideas that spread touch our hearts.

In order for persuasion to occur, you must touch a person’s heart before reaching their head. The most popular TED speakers connect with audiences on a deeply emotional level primarily because they’re storytellers. The best storytellers also use humor, exude commanding body language and incorporate animated verbal delivery. Above all, they are passionate about their topic; passionate to the point of obsession.
Dr. Larry Smith, an economics professor at the University of Waterloo, gave a popular TEDx talk titled, Why You Will Fail To Have a Great Career. He said the formula for success is simple – follow your passion and you’ll have a great career; don’t follow it and you won’t. Smith doesn’t use any slides. He commands the attention of his audience through passionate delivery.
Scientists have discovered that passion is, indeed, contagious. Researchers call it “mood contagion.” In one series of studies, leaders who were more “positive” in their communication (passionate, enthusiastic, and optimistic) were perceived to be more effective and, as a result, more likely to persuade their audiences to take a desired action.

Novelty: Ideas that spread teach something new

YouTube trends manager Kevin Allocca told a TEDx audience that, in a world where two days of videos get uploaded every minute, “only that which is truly unique and unexpected can stand out.” According to Dr. A. K. Pradeep, “Our brains are trained to look for something brilliant and new, something that stands out, something that looks delicious.”
Ideas stick when they are packaged as new, surprising and unexpected. At a 2009 TED talk, Bill Gates released mosquitoes during a presentation on the topic of malaria in Third World countries. It was completely unexpected.
When the brain detects something unexpected or surprising, it immediately says, “Oh, here’s something new. I’d better pay attention.” The chemical dopamine is released, which acts as your brain’s natural “save button.” Dopamine is so important to retention and learning that when it’s present, we tend to remember an experience or a message. When it’s absent, nothing seems to stick.
Novelty is the single most effective way to capture a person’s attention.

Memorable: Ideas that spread are easy to recall.

A memorable moment gets shared, spreading the message much farther than its immediate audience. The best TED speakers make their presentations memorable by doing the following:
Use pictures instead of text on their slides.
Rely on the rule of three to deliver content (three stories, three parts, etc.)
Focus on the “one thing” they want the audience to know.
Above all, TED talks are memorable because no speaker is allowed to talk for more than 18 minutes. It doesn’t matter if your name is Bill Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, Bono or Tony Robbins.
The 18-minute rule works because the brain is an energy hog. The average adult human brain only weighs about three pounds, but it consumes an inordinate amount of glucose, oxygen and blood flow. As the brain takes in new information and is forced to process it, millions of neurons are firing at once, burning energy and leading to fatigue and exhaustion.
I can already hear the pushback – How can I possibly be expected to say everything I need to say in 18 minutes? A lot can happen in 18 minutes. John Kennedy inspired a nation to look to the stars in 15 minutes. It took Dr. Martin Luther King a bit longer to share his dream of racial equality – he did it in 17 minutes. If these leaders can inspire their audiences in 18 minutes or less, it’s plenty of time for you to pitch your idea!
TED represents a bold, fresh, contemporary and persuasive style that will help you win over any audience.
Carmine Gallo is a keynote speaker, internationally recognized communication coach and author of Talk Like TED: The 9-Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds. Learn more at