Is presenting like TED for you?

Anything that is adored by some, will be dismissed by others. We saw this with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and today just as well with persons like Donald Trump or events such as TED conferences.

I often hear researchers say they especially do not want to present like TED.

If you have never heard of TED, let me give you a quick summary: TED conferences give influential individuals up to 18 minutes to ‘present the talk of their lifetime’ to a broad audience. The recordings of those TED presentations have become a huge online success.

But why does TED provoke so much emotion? And should you follow in the lines of TED, or not?

The lovers: clear and inspiring

To the fans of TED, these presentations are a breath of fresh air in a world of dull and complicated presentations given at conferences, workshops and meetings. The sacred 18-minute time limit keeps the presenters from endlessly droning on. TED hand-picks speakers who are good storytellers, and the dress rehearsal beforehand ensures that they appear well-prepared on stage.

The haters: too much fanfare

Is there too much focus on entertainment and not enough on content? Some would argue so. You shouldn’t have to dumb down your scientific research, simply to engage a broad audience. Or present from a toilet, or donning only underwear to draw people’s attention. Right?

For a person like Simon Sinek this is easy: he is able to summarize his idea in three words: start with ‘why’. Begin by saying why you do something, before explaining what you do exactly. His talk has been viewed over forty million times on

Now I can hear you thinking: ‘It’s impossible for any scientist to simplify their story to that extent’.

Whose side are you on: the lovers or the haters?

Let me first ask you this: who do you want to impact with your presentation? The experts in your subject area, who are already familiar with your research topic? In that case, you may not need to go above and beyond to grab their attention. Unless you are the umpteenth presenter at a colon cancer meeting, with yet another talk outlining a research approach.

Do you want your story to resonate, not just with subject matter experts, but also with persons from other disciplines, companies, and potential financial backers? In that case, the TED approach is ideal. The more attention you attract and the clearer your story, the likelier they will be to continue talking about you, provide interesting feedback or suggest collaborating with you.

Why VIB opted for the TED approach

VIB, a life sciences research institute in Flanders, hosts an annual VIB Seminar, where employees present their research to an audience of around 800 attendees.

The VIB presenters did a great job. They received a score of 4.5/5 from the audience!


Science events manager Evy Vierstraete recounts how this would go in the past: ”The presenters who were selected based on their abstract received absolutely no training. Many of them would attempt to squeeze their research story into a presentation containing too much technical detail. This resulted in low attendance of those sessions and the talks not being very accessible to administrative or technical personnel.”

In 2018 VIB decided to introduce the TED approach to their Seminar. They approached The Floor is Yours to train the presenters in public speaking.

Evy Vierstraete: “The TED approach made the presentations more accessible for a broad audience and held people‘s attention better. ‘VIB Scientists on Stage’ was the highest-rated session with a score of 4.5/5.”

This encouraged VIB to apply the same formula again in 2019. Evy Vierstraete: “Everyone agreed that the format had to be repeated.”

The golden mean?

Not a big fan of the TED approach? Then skip the fanfare. I mean it! But in return, do make your presentation crystal-clear. This means:

Because being opposed to TED is not an excuse to present an improvised talk that no-one will understand.

In our book ‘The Floor is Yours’ we guide you along step by step, from brainstorm to standing ovation, making sure you too will inspire your next audience. Or let us come to you, just as we did at the VIB, to present a public speaking workshop.


Pictures used:

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