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Why a TED Talk Is Like a Chicago Hot Dog

By | Apr.03.14 | Communicating, Daily Dispatch, Get to the Point

Man with index finger pointed up Get to the Point

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.

Theda C. “Teddy” Snyder mediates workers’ compensation cases throughout California. An attorney since 1977, she has practiced in a variety of settings and is a frequent speaker and author on topics impacting settlement and the business of law. She is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. A former Chicagoan, Teddy is based in Los Angeles and can be found at www.WCMediator.com.

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