How to Use the TED Talk Formula to Write Powerful Articles

TED Talks have been viewed over two billion times, and it shows no sign of slowing down. The world will always need great ideas, and TED’s motto, “ideas worth spreading”, certainly showcases their dedication to the cause.


Alexander Boswell

a year ago | 5 min read

Tips from Chris Anderson, Head of TED

At this point, TED Talks have become a household name. After taking over and making it a nonprofit in 2001, Chris Anderson managed to turn TED into the juggernaut it is today.

TED Talks have been viewed over two billion times, and it shows no sign of slowing down. The world will always need great ideas, and TED’s motto, “ideas worth spreading”, certainly showcases their dedication to the cause.

The Talks are famous for being able to concisely take us through an idea in a way most people understand and help us come away feeling enlightened. But what if you’re not much of a public speaker? What if you prefer to spread ideas through the written word?

Chris Anderson gave an intimate talk about how to get better at public speaking. However, the tips he provides can easily be translated into writing influential articles that resonate with your reader long after they finish it.

Better yet, there are only four steps.

Step 1: Focus on one major idea

As an editor, there have been plenty of times where I’ve seen writers move from one point to the next without taking into consideration their central idea. It’s understandable, you start off with a seed of an image in your mind, but then when you’ve finished, it’s taken on a few new leaves.

Thus, ideas themselves are quite complex structures. Your job as the presenter (in this case, writer) is to only present one idea at a time — especially if you’re looking to make a more significant impact with that idea.

To do this in practice, you should think about how points you’re making in your piece weaves into the structure of your idea and regularly refer back to it. For example, the concept of this piece is ‘the way TED Talks are constructed can give us a clue into writing more powerful articles’.

By focusing on that alone, and not about the finer details of public speaking (a different but obviously related topic) I can be sure I’m bringing my point across.

Step 2: Give people a reason to care

This step is the foundation of any kind of persuasive language, written or otherwise. You have to give people a reason to care about what it is you’re telling them.

One of the most popular TED talks is by Cameron Russell, “Looks Aren’t Everything. Believe Me, I’m a Model.” Immediately, the title of the talk draws many of us in because it prompts us into questioning our beliefs of beauty privilege.

After making a costume change in the first minute of her talk, she immediately gives us a reason to care about what she’s about to say by stating her motivation for the change, “image is powerful”. The rest of the talk is an insightful look into what life as a tall, slender, pretty white woman is really like.

People also need to welcome the idea into their minds, that’s how it takes root and spreads throughout their thoughts — you can’t force that to happen.

The key to giving people a reason to care is curiosity. Most of the time, people can’t stand not knowing something they came tantalisingly close to understanding.

In your writing, use provocative questions. Point out gaps in your audience’s knowledge or worldview and then let them know you’re about to provide an answer for those questions.

Step 3: Build your idea with familiar concepts

One of the other significant ways of getting more power through your work is to communicate in the language of your audience to get your idea across. If it’s something completely new and transformative, you might struggle to get your audience on board at first.

One way to combat this is to use metaphors your audience will likely be familiar with. This whole article is essentially a metaphor of “TED Talks, but for writing” since most people are familiar with TED.

But take a look at another title in the top ten talks, “The Orchestra in My Mouth” by Tom Thum. You don’t need to look any further from the headline to see the metaphor Tom gives us to convey his beatboxing in a way laypeople would better understand.

As writers, we’re at an advantage because we tend to use metaphors quite a bit in our trade — just make sure to put that advantage to good use. When you draw a clear and relatable analogy, your article is much more likely to give a lasting impression.

Step 4: Make your idea worth sharing

Chris Anderson leaves us with this last tip by prompting us to consider the following question:

“Who does this idea benefit?”

There are plenty of times I’ve been instructed by writing mentors in the importance of writing for the reader. If you write for yourself, or even an organisation you’re trying to sell for, the audience will see right through you and skip away faster than you can say “nope”.

You’ll also find this point among many of the publication submission guidelines here on Medium. Your articles generally have to provide some kind of tangible benefit for the reader.

I’m sorry to say unless you’re super famous no one is going to be interested in your journal entries. Writing for yourself is excellent for your own wellbeing, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that it will give others the same feeling you had writing it.

Take this article, for example. I have little personal benefit from sharing the idea that the way speakers construct TED Talks could be used in writing awesome articles. But I have a belief this idea could benefit other writers who might be at the beginning of their journey and could use a guide for structure.

I’m not digging at personal essays by the way. A good personal essay usually has a way of teaching us about something we either didn’t know before or knew, but never understood.

In the end, as you toy with an idea for an article, be sure to ask yourself, “who does this idea [article] benefit?”

Write your idea worth spreading

I’ve been a massive fan of TED Talks for quite a few years, and there are definitely some that have had a lasting impact on the way I think about myself and the world. It’s an organisation I hold to being one of the most genuinely influential in our current time.

You too have the power to influence the world around you with your words, whether you communicate them through speech or writing.

If you take into consideration the four tips Chris has provided for what makes a great Ted Talk and use that formula for your writing, you’ll be well on your way towards inspiring your audience with your words.


Created by

Alexander Boswell

Alexander Boswell is a Business Ph.D candidate specialising in Consumer Behaviour and uses this knowledge as a freelance writer in the Content Marketing and B2B SaaS space. Find him on Twitter @alexbboswell or his website







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