The arc, or rather petals of a TED talk

Every car has four wheels, a radiator and glove compartment.

It is not those things that make a car fancy, fast or memorable.

But without those things it would not be a car.

After attending my second TED conference and beginning to preparing our 5th TEDx event, I thought it was time to take a stab at my interpretation of what’s under the hood of a TED talk.  As in, what does the engine look like?

I have blogged here and many expert TED staff have explained what a TED talk should do or say.  Do inspire, explain and challenge.  Don’t sell or preach.

But since I get asked weekly how do you shape a TED talk or how do you coach a TEDxspeaker, it is time to propose a TED story shape.

Nancy Duarte expertly has analyzed the “visionary” story structure, sort of a sideways staircase. But TED talks are more explanatory, sharing discoveries and research or interpreting trends and design.  I and others share our appreciation for Duarte’s insight but I argue it’s not applicable here.

So here’s a draft of the TED flower.

Metaphorically, it shares a few key characteristics with a TED talk:

The stem of the flower is singular and rooted in the ground, like a solid governing idea that every TED talk embraces.

The heart of the flower is generally a circle, that begins and ends with the stem, or the governing idea. The outline of that circle carries the idea through every point, example and transition in the talk.

The petals on the flower can be many or few (fewer is better but I don’t want to be any more prescriptive). I see the heart and petals segmented into four quadrants: the opening and idea statement, the context and so what?, the proposition of the answer or key supporting points- illuminated with visual transport stories, and a call to action and conclusion. The petals are interspersed with transitions and pathways, that help the audience to follow the story from one side of the stem to the other.

The scents that come from the flower are only achieved through emotive stories.  From there, we end up with the good, bad, strong, sweet, sour and other smells or feelings that then cause us to ignore, applaud, repeat, or resonate with the idea. I may  go so far to suggest audience members use the scents to determine if the idea is worthy of planting that idea in their own “action” garden of beliefs and causes.

A live flower unto itself does not last forever and neither does a live TED talk.  But the pollen, seeds, images and remembrances of scents last well beyond it’s life.

I’ll stop there with the edging-on-cheesy  metaphors and simple reinforce my proposal that the stem, heart and petals of a flower make up a shape synonymous with a TED (or TEDx) talk.  See my first sketch below.

I welcome your feedback.