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Get to the Point!

Why a TED Talk Is Like a Chicago Hot Dog

By Theda C. Snyder

These days it seems like everybody wants to claim, “I gave a TED talk.” The reason? These talks are famous for being fresh and interesting. TED talks are no longer than 18 minutes — ever. Official TED talks take place at TED or TED-licensed conferences and deal with Technology, Entertainment or Design, though TED talkers interpret those labels pretty broadly.

So probably you are not going to be giving a TED talk, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the hallmark ingredients of TED talks in your presentations.

  • Use lots of visuals. Engage your audience with images, photos, graphs, freehand drawings or videos, not words. You want your audience listening, not reading.
  • One thing per slide. To the extent you feel compelled to use text, don’t use more than one idea per PowerPoint slide or flip chart page — no bullet point lists. (If this column were a TED talk, each idea would be shown by a picture on a separate PowerPoint slide.)
  • Use a sans serif font. Use something like Arial, not Times New Roman. TED recommends a font size of at least 42 points, which doesn’t leave room for a lot of words on a projection screen.
  • Provide new information to your audience. If you are telling them what they already know, you are wasting their time.
  • Don’t use notes. You should be familiar enough with your topic that the visuals prompt you to remember what to say. Rehearse!

Like a TED talk, a Chicago hot dog has specific ingredients:

  • Kosher beef hot dog
  • Steamed poppy seed bun
  • Bright yellow mustard
  • Sweet pickle relish
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Dill pickle spear
  • Celery salt
  • Sport peppers

Where I live, several hot dog emporia claim to sell Chicago hot dogs, but only one has the necessary poppy seed bun. Without the bun, it’s just not a Chicago dog. Yes, you can choose to omit an ingredient you don’t like, or substitute one for another. Purists will say that may be a good hot dog sandwich, but it is not a true Chicago hot dog.

Similarly, without the specific ingredients required by TED, your presentation is not properly a TED talk. Chances are, you wouldn’t really want to be doing an 18-minute TED talk about technology, entertainment or design anyway. But that doesn’t mean you can’t concentrate on making your talk concise, fresh and interesting — even funny.

Take a lesson from the TED speakers and use lots of visuals. Engage your audience. Humor and surprise them. Keep text projection to a minimum, and don’t load slides with a series of headings.

And the next time you’re in Chi-town have a hot dog for me. Get it with the works.

Categories: Communications Skills, Daily Dispatch, Get to the Point
Originally published April 3, 2014
Last updated May 1, 2019
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Teddy Snyder Theda C. Snyder

Theda “Teddy” Snyder mediates civil disputes, workers’ compensation and insurance coverage cases, including COVID-19 related coverage disputes, in person or by video. Teddy has practiced in a variety of settings and frequently speaks and writes about settlements and the business of law. She was a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and is the author of four ABA books, including “Women Rainmakers’ Best Marketing Tips, 4th Edition” as well as “Personal Injury Case Evaluation” available on Based in Los Angeles, Teddy can be found at and on Twitter @SnyderMediation.

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