How to communicate ideas that will spread

Having been a TED Curator for over 15 years, Chris Anderson must know a thing or two about what makes a great talk. Under his supervision, TED has irrevocably changed our perception of presentations. There is currently a vast library of 2000+ talks available online, all of which have been viewed more than 2.5 billion times, with an increase of 2 million views per day.

Sharing TED’s secret
Mr. Anderson recently posted a special video titled “How to give a great TED talk”. It is the first talk to be filmed in a studio rather than being recorded onstage at a live TED event. In the video, Chris Anderson shares the secret recipe, the magic ingredient, the one thing that all great TED talks have in common. And it’s this:

It’s about an idea
Your number one task as a speaker is to transmit an extraordinary gift into your listeners’ minds, a beautiful object that we call an idea. Ideas are able to permanently change how we think about the world, shaping our actions, current and future. Ideas are the most powerful force shaping human culture.

Make it spread
But here’s the thing: you need to communicate your ideas properly if you want them to spread. Mr. Anderson has 4 powerful pieces of advice for us. Unsurprisingly, they apply as much to a TED talk as to your next business presentation, or any presentation for that matter:

  1. Limit your talk to just one major idea. It sounds intuitive, but reality shows that this is the most difficult step. What is the one idea you want to share? Are you willing to cut all the other good stuff that doesn’t belong to this idea?
  2. Give your audience a reason to care. With so many ideas out there, why should people listen to yours? Curiosity is key here, so stir your audience’s interest. Use intriguing, provocative questions to indicate why something doesn’t make sense and needs explaining. Reveal a disconnection in someone’s worldview.
  3. Build your idea out of concepts familiar to your public. Speak the audience’s language. Use concepts that your listeners already understand. Rely on metaphors to guide them gently into unknown territory.
  4. Make your idea worth sharing. Who does your idea really benefit? If the idea only serves you or your organization, then it’s probably not worth sharing. The audience will see right through you. But if you believe that the idea has the potential to brighten up someone else’s day, change someone else’s perspective for the better, or inspire someone to do something differently, then you have the core ingredient to a truly great talk, one that can be a gift to them and to all of us.



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The best PR advice you’ve never heard

Whether you are starting your freelance business, an independent unit within a larger company, or a brand new enterprise, the key to staying in the game after launch is having a strong, magnetic brand. 

Staying focussed is key but also very difficult, especially in the beginning. You have such limited resources and everyone is telling you that you have to do different things. How to figure out what to do and what not to do? What really belongs at the top of your list?”

Caryn Marooney, Head of Technology Communications for Facebook, has some incredibly valuable advice for us. 

Read more on Communications.


Present like Matt Damon

Most of us would agree that reading a written speech aloud is not the recommended way to give a presentation. Our eyes are on the page and not connecting with the audience. Our head is tipped down, inhibiting our vocal projection. And we get locked into the words, which prevents us from using a more conversational style. Nevertheless, some of best speeches in history were delivered by reading. Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama come to mind in this respect. 

Besides politicians, actors too can be powerful presenters. In 2012, Matt Damon gave a rendition of a 1970 speech on civil disobedience by the late historian and author Howard Zinn. Mr. Damon managed to read his written speech and yet to deliver a most convincing and moving presentation, IMHO one of his most compelling performances to date. 

Howard Zinn’s thoughts are just as painfully relevant today as they were 40 years ago. Kudos to Matt Damon for sharing these powerful ideas.

Read more on movies and presentations.


The best slide I ever made

This slide is the result of many years’ studying presentation design. It summarizes everything we know of oral communication, visual information and the cognitive capabilities of the human brain. It can be applied to all types of presentations: strategic, scientific, commemorative, apologetic, M&S, motivational, etc. 

Substitute just one slide in your presentation for my slide and you will notice a remarkable improvement in the audience’s attention level. Change two slides and you will significantly boost the effectiveness and impact of your message. Swap three or more slides and you will have the conference room hanging on your lips. Replace all the slides with this one  and they will call you a presentation guru.

Here it is, free for you to view, to share and especially to use. 

best slide

Read more on slides and presentations here.


Special thanks: Edward Rice/

What type of communications expert are you?

Whether they like it or not, communications specialists are no longer the only ones who can make radical contributions to the business and the world. True, formal training, higher degrees and decades of field experience are still very much appreciated and open many doors. However, our world is changing fast, particularly since social media and mobile devices have enabled everybody to broadcast their message to the universe.

New types of communications experts have emerged that are able to connect with our emotions in ways that trained specialists cannot dream of. Some of them are experts in other fields, and use their expertise and knowledge to create messages that resonate with the audience by helping understand things. One example: Hans Rosling and his beautiful stats. Tip: make sure you don’t miss the grand finale. 

Others became great communicators because they found a mission that requires them to speak up and change the world. Countless times I have watched Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on how schools kill creativity and I still get touched by the story of Gillian. 

Some have faced difficult situations, survived  terrible ordeals or emerged from suffering, and  want to share their experience with us. Their message has  a strength that only a life-changing experience can generate, and brings us to tears by showing what we are capable of if we just set our mind to it. Just listen to Nicholas James Vujicic’s incredible story, no further comment needed. 

Real communication experts do not need to show an impressive CV. What they show us is a world we never knew existed.

Are you making an impact or foie gras?

Foie gras is a food product made of the liver of a duck hat has been specially fattened by force feeding. A tube is put into the duck’s neck and up to 2 kilogram of food is forced down in a very short time. Does the duck enjoy it? I doubt it.

How much information are you going to put in your next presentation? Sure, we gave you a 30 minute slot. That’s a lot of slides you can squeeze in, say 40, or even 50; you are an experienced speaker, sure you can manage that? And hey, you really cannot skip the background info, it is key for us to understand how difficult your project was, right?

Problem is, it is not about you or your project, and we certainly are not here to be force fed by you, slide after slide. We gave you an opportunity to connect with us, to inspire us, to touch us with your ideas. How about you only talk for 20 minutes and spend the rest of the time involving us in a dialogue? How about you give us something truly remarkable, something memorable, something we’ll talk about at home tonight at the dinner table?

You don’t think you have anything remarkable to tell, I hear you say. Well, why are you wasting our time? Come back when you do have a remarkable story for us. And by the way, foie gras production has been banned in many nations.

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Sciences is part of Life

Science is so much more than its technical details. With careful attention to presentation, cutting-edge insights and discoveries can be clearly and faithfully communicated independent of those details; in fact, those insights and discoveries are precisely the ones that can drive us to want to learn the details.

We must embark on a cultural shift that places science in its rightful place alongside music, art and literature as an indispensable part of what makes life worth living.

Read more on the NY Times.


How about working 72 hours a week?

Art or Slide?

Corporate presentations have been around way longer than PowerPoint has. Italian frescos are a very inspiring source of such early presentations and were often used like corporate slide decks.

This organigram ante litteram comes from Siena and was painted by the hand of Ambrogio Lorenzetti in 1338. It took him almost 2 years for 6 “slides”, but hey, is your average presentation going to look so beautiful seven centuries later?

Read more on Art and Innovation


20th century deaths

The purpose of visual design is to help the end users benefit from the information. A good graph gets someone who is not inclined to look at complicated data, to actually spend time on it and learn something worthwhile. Look at this visualization of the major causes of death in the 20th Century. Did you know that tobacco killed 15 times more people than illegal drugs? Or that people were more inclined to commit suicide than to kill other people? And that 20% of all deaths in the world were self inflicted, through war, murder, and ideology?