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Book Summary – TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking

Ted Talks - Book summary

Great talks can spread powerful ideas, allowing you to inspire people, share knowledge/insights and spread your vision. When you combine public speaking skills with the power of the internet, you can multiply your reach and impact large numbers of people. In his book, the head of TED, Chris Anderson, presents various insights and tips that anyone can use to improve your public speaking skills. In this free TED Talks summary, we’ll outline some of the key ideas in 4 parts: building the right foundations, developing your ideas, preparation and delivery.

TED Talks: An Overview

Public speaking makes everyone nervous to some extent. The good news is, presentation literacy can be learned. Many famous personalities like Eleanor Roosevelt, Warren Buffett and Princess Diana all started out being terrified of public speaking, but managed to overcome their fears or even harness it to improve themselves.

Anderson recommends that you treat the tips in this book as tools (not rules) to develop your own unique style of public speaking.

Part 1: Start with the Right Foundations

The most crucial thing in a great talk is to have an idea you care about that’s worth sharing. It can be anything that changes how someone sees the world, from a how-to tip to a reminder of what truly matters. When you share an idea that changes others’ mental models, you’re giving them a lasting gift. And the truth is, every one of us has worthy insights based on our unique experiences. Anderson urges each of us to take the time to reflect on our personal journey, our unique insights and what we truly care about.

Build your Throughline

A key idea is to build a throughline, i.e. a core theme that connects all the components of your talk into a coherent overall picture. All great movies, plays or novels have a throughline. It’s like having a rope where you can hang each new element that you present, or having a path upon which the audience can follow you to a specific destination. It gives people something to think about and should be captured in no more than 15 words, e.g. “More choice actually makes us less happy”. Find your throughline, then build your talk around it

At the end, a great talk is about sharing with authenticity. Don’t try to be someone you’re not or to impress the audience with a fake show. In our full 16-page version of TED Talks summary, we go into more details on (a) how to build a throughline, (b) adopt the right approach and (c) 4 common mistakes to avoid at all cost.

Part 2: Build your Idea

Once you have a throughline, you can start to build the elements to hang on it. Here’s an overview of the 5 core tools you can use to develop your idea.

TED Talks Summary_develop idea 5 tools


Before you can build an idea in someone’s mind, you need their trust and permission. Seek to build a bond asap with the audience so they’d be open to what you have to say.  In the full TED Talks summary, you can get tips on exactly how to do so (including tips on how to make eye contact, show vulnerability, inject laughter etc.)


Since the days of our cavemen ancestors, stories have been used to bring people together, help people to dream, imagine, connect and understand one another. In the 16-page version of TED Talks summary, we touch on the 4 components to build into your story to make it compelling.


If you need to explain something complex or technical, always start with what people already know and build from there. In the complete summary, we elaborate on what it means to build understanding like a hierarchy, with each layer constructed on a previous one.


Sometimes, before you can explain a new idea, you need to first demolish existing concepts that are wrong. Persuasion is about getting the audience to realize that their current view of the world isn’t quite right, so they’re open to an alternative viewpoint. We look at some tools (e.g. priming and reasoning) that you can use in our complete version of TED Talks summary.


The most direct way to convey an idea is to simply show it. In our full summary, we explain 3 approaches (a wonder walk, demo or dreamscape) that you can mix and match to lead up to a sensational revelation.

Part 3: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Great talks don’t just happen. They come with loads of prior preparation. We’ll take a detailed look at one of these areas (how to use visuals effectively).

TED Talks Summary_prepare for talk

Using Visuals Effectively

• Visuals (photos, illustrations, graphs etc.) are not always essential. In fact, bad slides can actually hurt your talk. Use visuals only if they’re truly necessary and will make your talk more effective.

• Generally, there are 3 ways to add value with visuals: (a) Reveal something that’s hard to describe in words, (b) explain or enhance your show-and-tell (limit each slide to 1 core idea with only a short phrase, question or an image + switch to a blank screen when you’re not referring to your slides) and (c) delight your audience by adding aesthetic appeal.

• The book includes many presentation tips on software, fonts, legibility, to-dos and not-to-dos, such as:
(i) Be original. Avoid standard presentation templates.
(ii) Use high-res images on black background for the best effect.
(iii) Use 1 simple, easy-to-read typeface per presentation, with ≤3 font sizes and at least 24pt-size for all fonts. Avoid using italics or underline as they’re hard to read (bold fonts are ok).
(iv) Build up the content on each slide by adding words and images progressively.
(v) Use videos only if essential and keep them to <30s each.
(vi) Don’t use flashy transitions or animations that draw attention away from the talk/content.
(vii) Send your presentation in advance and save a backup copy of the presentation, fonts, videos etc. in a zipped folder in a USB drive.

Presentation Literacy

In the full version of TED Talks summary, we also elaborate on other important areas of preparation including:

ScriptingOne of the key decisions you must make is whether to use a script (here, we’ll look at the pros and cons of scripted vs unscripted talks and tips/strategies on how to make the most of either approach).

Rehearsing. Regardless of whether you choose a scripted or unscripted approach, you must rehearse repeatedly. Your goal is to know your talk so well that you can focus fully on the meaning you wish to convey.

Opening and Closing. Even if you’re not using a script, it’s a good practice to memorize the opening and closing lines for your talk to create the most impact. [Here, we’ll look at 4 ways to start strong and 7 ways to end powerfully]

Part 4: Delivering your  Talk

Now that you have a great idea (with a concise throughline and coherent parts) which you have prepared in detail, you’re now ready to deliver an amazing talk. The 16-page version of our TED Talks summary includes numerous tips on what to wear, how to prepare your setup and your physical/mental space, how to use your voice/presence to deliver your message most effectively and creative formats you can consider to make your talk stand out even more.TED Talks Summary_deliver talk

Getting the Most from “TED Talks

Anderson believes that public-speaking skills will become even more important in the future as people and knowledge become increasingly interconnected. And, as you pursue greater purpose and meaning in your life, you’ll inevitably discover something worth saying. When you share such ideas with passion, conviction and authenticity in a connected world, there’s no limit to the amount of impact you can make.

Anderson also shares how TED is nurturing the talk renaissance, and urges every one of us to find and share our unique ideas to positively shape our world. To deep dive into the various tips and insights above, do check out our full book summary bundle which includes an infographic, a 16-page text summary, and a 23-minute audio summary.Ted Talks summary - Book summary

Besides the key ideas and tips outlined in our TED Talks summary, the book also includes other tips and details, such as:
• Quotes, examples and snippets from various talks and speakers; and
• Anderson’s personal observations, beliefs and hopes for the future.

You can purchase the book here for the full details, or check out more details at

Keen to improve your communication skills? You might also like the summaries for The Charisma Myth and Storytelling with Data.

About the Author of TED Talks

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking is written by Chris Andersonthe owner, president and head curator of TED, a nonprofit organization that provides idea-based talks. After graduating from Oxford University, he published more than 100 successful magazines and websites. The TED Conference was acquired by Anderson’s non-profit Sapling Foundation in 2001.

TED Talks Quotes

“The future is not yet written. We are all, collectively, in the process of writing it.”

“Presentation literacy isn’t an optional extra for the few. It’s a core skill for the twenty-first century.”

“The only thing that truly matters in public speaking is… having something worth saying.”

“The secret of successful talks often lies in what is left out. Less can be more.”

“Knowledge can’t be pushed into a brain. It has to be pulled in.”

“Curiosity is the magnet that pulls your audience along with you.”

“Let’s embrace the spirit of innovation…But let’s also never forget that substance matters more than style.”

“Humor is a skilled art, and not everyone can do it. Ineffective humor is worse than no humor at all.”

“To make an impact, there has to be a human connection.”

Click here to download TED Talks book summary and infographic

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