Brand Building

Talk Like TED: The Three Keys To Transforming Your Content

In his recent book, Talk Like TED, Carmine Gallo explores the common aspects of exceptional TED talks. According to Gallo, after analyzing more than 500 TED talks, he has discovered that the most engaging TED presentations have three key characteristics:

  • Emotional
  • Novel
  • Memorable

Emotional: Touch Their Hearts
Gallo says, “The most popular TED speakers share something in common with the most engaging communicators in any field – a passion, an obsession they must share with others.” It’s no surprise that passion is a key ingredient to a successful presentation. If you can connect with your audience on an emotional level, they will be more open to your ideas. Not only that, Gallo points out that the presence of passion can actually be contagious, lifting the mood of listeners. If you want to electrify an audience, your passion needs to be contagious.

Aimee Mullins, a record breaker at the Paralympic Games in 1996, gave one of the most moving TED talks as she spoke about her 12 pairs of legs. Gallo notes that “Mullins’s determination made her a world-class athlete; her passion won the hearts of the TED audience.”

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Human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson is another TED speaker who used the power of a passionate story to emotionally connect with his audience. In fact, 65% of his TED Talk involved telling stories – and it wasn’t until 5 minutes into the presentation that he mentioned any statistics about U.S. incarceration rates. This approach not only helped him get one of the longest standing ovations in the history of TED, but also inspired the audience to donate more than one million dollars to his organization.

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Novel: Teach Them Something New
Our brains are wired to watch for the novel and unexpected. If a presentation is about something we already know, we unconsciously go into autopilot. However, when the topic is new, unfamiliar, and intriguing, we are instantly on full alert. The best TED speakers understand this and bring new topics to light, challenging the audience to see the world in a new way.

An important step to framing your presentation in a novel way is to create a Twitter-friendly headline. Ask yourself, “What is the one thing I want the audience to come away with?” Then compress that idea into a short, novel, and engaging headline.

Deep-sea explorer Robert Ballard used his TED talk to transform the way people think about our oceans, delivering unique and novel data that most people have never considered – such as the fact that 50 percent of the United States of America lies beneath the sea and that the greatest mountain range on Earth lies in ocean waters.

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Memorable: Present in a Way They Will Never Forget
Making your presentation memorable is the third pillar of giving a great TED talk. Gallo recommends planning to deliver a “jaw-dropping moment” – something the audience will remember long after the presentation is over. One such famous TED moment occurred when Bill Gates let mosquitoes loose onstage during his talk about malaria. “Malaria is, of course, transmitted by mosquitoes,” Gates told his audience. “I brought some here, just so you could experience this. We’ll let them roam around the auditorium a little bit. There’s no reason only poor people should have the experience.” The audience laughed and applauded this very dramatic jaw-dropping moment. Not only was it memorable, but Gates’s onstage theatrics helped the video of his presentation go viral.

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Gallo concludes by reminding readers about the rule of three. “The rule of three simply means that people can remember three pieces of information really well; add more items and retention falls off considerably.”

In this light, one of the TED talks that Gallo concludes with is “The 3 A’s of Awesome” – by Neil Pasricha – creator of, who focuses on Attitude, Awareness, and Authenticity. These characteristics are the foundation for delivering an Emotional, Novel, and Memorable TED talk.

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Jim Walker

Jim Walker

Jim Walker is Director, Marketing Strategy at Cadient, a Cognizant Company. Jim provides innovative marketing insights for a wide range of clients, as well as leading Cadient’s content marketing strategy. He is particularly interested in helping brand teams effectively leverage their digital content. He can be reached at
Jim Walker

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