What Makes a Great TEDx Talk: The Audience Perspective

by Chris Lee

TED is an exchange of ideas. The principle of “ideas worth spreading” demands that speakers leave a kernel of inspiration for their audience that they can discuss, share and influence change. But how can TEDx speakers captive audiences and inspire action? 


Public speaking is not easy. Every audience is different. I’ve delivered business keynotes in the UK and Europe where, while humour is subjective it’s generally an ice-breaker, to Singapore where everything is all about respect and face.

TEDx talks are limited to a maximum of 18 minutes to accommodate human concentration spans, and there are a whole host of videos already on how to deliver a great TED talk, but I want to look at the audience and what we want to hear, see and feel when we attend a TEDx talk.


According to TED Studio’s Chris Anderson, the number one task of the TED speaker is to transfer an idea to the audience. So how can they best get this across? Every TED and TEDx talk is unique and there is no single formula, but for me, a great TEDx talk boils down to a few communication basics.

If we dial back in time to one of the world’s earliest and greatest philosophers - Aristotle - there are three key elements to communication: 

  • Ethos: People relate to people like them. The speaker must build a natural connection with their audience. This is the most persuasive element of debate

  • Pathos: Audiences need to feel something. Nothing is worse that leaving an audience feeling ambivalent towards you, your subject and your performance

  • Logos The least persuasive element of argument is the use of cold, hard facts. You may have noticed this is particularly acute in contemporary Western politics - data is a blunt instrument against confirmation bias. Emotion wins

Like songs, certain topics will ‘speak’ to some people more than others. The hundreds attending TEDxRoyalTunbridgeWells in January will all come away with their own interpretation from the talks they see.

To get the message across and engage the audience, here are key things speakers need to focus on:

  • Bring the Energy: Speakers only need to turn it on for a quarter of an hour or so, so should put all their energy into their performance. Most TEDx speakers will have had previous on-stage experience and must step up to captivate the audience. If they don’t believe in their talk then neither will the audience.

  • Originality: The speaker needs to challenge the audience at TEDx and really take them out of their comfort zone either emotionally or mentally.

  • Take the Audience on a Journey: The speaker must take the audience on a journey for the short time they’re together. There must be an arc. What was the problem, who was involved, how was it solved and what challenges did they face? How did you all feel, what was the cost and the outcome and what comes next?

  • Illustrate the Story: As with any PowerPoint presentation in a work environment, pictures should support and enhance the story, and not distract the viewer from the spoken content. The human brain can recognise images in just 13 milliseconds, according to MIT research, so impactful visuals are essential.

  • Bring the Talk to Life: Great public speakers know when to pause, when to raise their voices, when to inspire by building to a great crescendo. Cadence and flow are everything. Public speaking is part talking, part acting. Speakers must remember to breathe and pause, and not to rush.

  • A Quick Win Always Helps: An early ice-breaker is a great way to win over the audience and create that all important first impression, be it a joke or a fascinating state.

  • Plant a Kernel: The speaker should leave the audience with a sense of curiosity and hopefully live long in the memory. I can remember the best TEDxRoyalTunbridgeWells speeches from the last two years that I’ve attended. They’ve left me inspired, motivated, ready to affect change in my own life, at least.

  • Be Yourself: Authenticity is such a valuable trait in our offline and online lives. Speakers should be honest, human, disarming. 

People come to TEDxRoyalTunbridgeWells to be engaged, entertained, inspired and educated. There’s no one single “winning formula” to a great TEDx talk, but by focussing on what the audience will see, hear, feel and take away will go a long way to making that speech memorable, impactful, and achieve the key task – spreading the idea.


Experience some incredible ideas worth spreading at TEDxRoyalTunbridgeWells on Saturday 26 January 2019. Book your tickets here and we look forward to seeing you at the Assembly Hall.


And hey, while we have you, if you or someone you know would like to apply to speak, you can do that right here. The speaker application deadline is the 28th of October.

Early Bird Discount

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Whilst we’re busy confirming speakers and working to pull together all our big ideas for January’s TEDxRoyalTunbridgeWells event, we’re asking all of you to borrow from a previous year’s theme and take a leap of faith by taking advantage of our early bird ticket off and buying your tickets now, before this next event’s speaker line-up is announced. Use the the code TEDxRTW at checkout to get £10 off all adult tickets when you place your order before Monday the 15th of October. See you there!

We have more exciting news and announcements coming soon, so be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook and to check back regularly for more.


Encourage them to apply to speak! Our application deadline is Sunday the 28th of October.