Stuff Your Conference Speakers Need To Know: The TED Speaker Commandments

I love these ten TED speaker commandments. If you’ve not seen them before, make them part of your conference speaker packet!

The TED Speaker Commandments


  • Thou shalt not simply trot out thy usual shtick.
  • Thou shalt dream a great dream, or show forth a wondrous new thing, or share something thou hast never shared before.
  • Thou shalt reveal thy curiosity and thy passion.
  • Thou shalt tell a story.
  • Thou shalt freely comment on the utterances of other speakers for the sake of blessed connection and exquisite controversy.
  • Thou shalt not flaunt thine ego. Be thou vulnerable. Speak of thy failure as well as thy success.
  • Thou shalt not sell from the stage: Neither thy company, thy goods, thy writings, nor thy desperate need for funding; lest thou be cast aside into outer darkness.
  • Thou shalt remember all the while: Laughter is good.
  • Thou shalt not read thy speech.
  • Thou shalt not steal the time of them that follow thee. 



Here are the TED Speaker Commandments in today’s vernacular.

Hitting A Raw Nerve

For me, TED commandment number five hits a nerve. TED welcomes and encourages comments and controversy. What, they encourage controversy?

I think we could all use a good dose of communication skills. We need to learn how to stop pointing fingers and blame and have adult conversations about issues of disagreement. Open discussion is a good thing. Calling people names and trying to shut down opposing views is childish. Just sayin…

Behold, I Give You New Speaker Commandments

I’d like to add speaker commandments number 11 and 12.

11. Thou shalt put thine audience before thy message. Thou shalt remember that thy message is for thy audience. Thou shalt make the audience thy hero. Thou shalt be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.

12. Thou shalt not only listen to thine own voice. Thou shalt also include time for thine audience to talk with each other about thine topic. Thou shalt make them participants with thine content and thine presentations.

Which TED commandment resonates with you? What new speaker commandments would you add to this list?

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  1. Sandra G. says:

    A few years ago when she was at CalSAE, Shelly Alcorn (@shellyalcorn) did a homage to the TED commandments when she drafted the CalSAE “Things potential presenters should know.”

    Has it helped elevate the level of presentations at CalSAE events? I’ll leave that to others who have a longer experience with CalSAE’s session content. But, at the barest of minimums, they are a fun read.

    Do not trot out your usual shtick (If it’s canned it’s Spam, not the gourmet experience we are looking for…)

    Dream a great dream, challenge the association community, share something you have never shared before (Words like “paradigm” were cutting edge ten years ago…)

    Reveal your curiosity and passion (Be authentic, be interesting, be yourself…)

    Be interactive (Use this as a terrific opportunity to learn from your audience while they learn from each other…)

    Do not flaunt your ego; be vulnerable, speak of failure as well as success (There are people in the room who know more than you do…no really…)

    Do not sell from the stage (Not your company, goods, writings, nor your “fabulosity” as a consultant or your risk annoying your audience and undermining your credibility)

    Laughter and humor are encouraged (Just keep it clean and remember, don’t try to be funny if you aren’t…you know who you are)

    Do not use PowerPoint for PowerPoint’s sake (If you read from your slides…well…we really shouldn’t even have to finish this sentence…)

    Do not depend on handouts (We post handouts online for participants to download but if you depend on and refer to handouts you will be disappointed and so will your audience…update your presentation style accordingly)

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      I love Shelly Alcorn’s homage to TED Speaker Commandments. Thanks for sharing those!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Hurt and suzannecarawan, Zerista Pro. Zerista Pro said: RT: Stuff Your Conference Speakers Need To Know: The TED Speaker Commandments: I love these … #eventprofs […]

  3. Awwww….shucks guys –

    Just my way of paying respects to the TED organizers who have created what I consider to be conference nirvana….


  4. TED staff also works behind-the-scenes with speakers to help them honor these and knock it out of the park, something next to no associations do.

    My fave is #3. I can tolerate a lot of bad teaching technique/learning formats when I know I am listening to passionate, curious presenters revealing themslves in real-time.

  5. Love these, and the #11 and #12 additions. It’s about thine audience, not thyself. Bookmarking this as gospel for presenters.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Conference nirvana…love that! And love your rewrites of the TED Commandments that Sandra shared. Thanks for commenting and for being so creative too!

      Associations that help their speakers succeed are a breath of fresh air for sure! I’m with you…I can tolerate bad presentation techniques when people are passionate about their topics.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I like how you named it: Gospel For Presenters. I’m going to borrow that one!

  6. I always enjoy #3 – the passion of the speaker. I was fortunate enough to run into one of the TEDxAustin speakers last night and it’s so obvious that she loves the stuff she talks about. She exudes passion from every pore when she talks about what she does.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Passion, or the lack thereof, can make or break a presentation for sure. I’m with you and Jeffrey Cufaude that a presenter’s passion is extremely important to their success.

  7. […] Hurt recounts The TED Commandments, which should be required reading for anyone who ever speaks or hires […]

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