How to Share an Idea

Chris Anderson

Our minds are filled with ideas. Most of our ideas are linked together —they form our personal worldview, our brain's operating system (OS). It is the network of our ideas that helps us navigate the world. Talks have secret lives —they can travel from our own neural networks to those of our listeners via the connection we make through sharing an idea.

Journalist and publisher Chris Anderson has been curating the TED conferences since 2002. From his experience as host and curator he has distilled four guidelines in TED Talks to help build connections between the ideas in our minds and those in the minds of our audience:

(1.) Limit the talk to just one major idea

Ideas are complex things; you need to slash back your content so that you can focus on the single idea you're most passionate about, and give yourself a chance to explain that one thing properly.

You have to give context, share examples, make it vivid. So pick one idea, and make it the through-line running through your entire talk, so that everything you say links back to it in some way.

(2.) Give your listeners a reason to care

Before you can start building things inside the minds of your audience, you have to get their permission to welcome you in. And the main tool to achieve that? Curiosity. Stir your audience's curiosity.

Use intriguing, provocative questions to identify why something doesn't make sense and needs explaining. If you can reveal a disconnection in someone's worldview, they'll feel the need to bridge that knowledge gap.

Once you've sparked that desire, it will be so much easier to start building your idea.

(3.) Build the idea, piece by piece, out of concepts the audience already understands

Use the power of language to weave together concepts that already exist in your listeners' minds —but not your language, their language. Start where they are.

Speakers often forget that many of the terms and concepts they live with are completely unfamiliar to their audiences.

Metaphors can play a crucial role in showing how the pieces fit together, because they reveal the desired shape of the pattern, based on an idea that the listener already understands.

(4.) Make your idea worth sharing

“Who does this idea benefit?” We should be honest with the answer. If the idea only serves us or our organization it's probably not worth sharing. Says Andersen:

The audience will see right through you. But if you believe that the idea has the potential to brighten up someone else's day or 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.

Zak Ebrahim's talk has a strong start. He says, “I am the son of a terrorist. Here's how I chose peace.” A strong opening grabs attention and involves the audience. Says Ebrahim:

On November 5th, 1990, a man named El-Sayyid Nosair walked into a hotel in Manhattan and assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane, the leader of the Jewish Defense League. Nosair was initially found not guilty of the murder, but while serving time on lesser charges, he and other men began planning attacks on a dozen New York City landmarks, including tunnels, synagogues and the United Nations headquarters. Thankfully, those plans were foiled by an FBI informant.

Sadly, the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was not. Nosair would eventually be convicted for his involvement in the plot. El-Sayyid Nosair is my father.

View Chris Anderson’s video about TED Talks below.


In TED Talks Anderson shares more useful tips:

  • The speaker’s job is to give to the audience, not to take. Which means no sales pitch.
  • Sometimes it takes a little demolition before changing minds. For example, modern media plays up violence because it sells. We can and should demonstrate how we've changed. Then, after crushing their stereotypes, we can make our point.
  • We should take the audience to a path of self discovery. Asking people to join the process helps them get more involved.
  • Words and images should work in concert.
  • Each slide has its moment, once we make the point, we should move on to the next one. Better to have a blank screen if we don't have a slide for the next point than to create distraction.
  • Transitions between slides should be kept simple, indicate when we are shifting to a new idea and dissolve when they are related. Too much dazzle distracts.
  • When a talk looks easy it's because a lot of preparation and rehearsals when into making it happen. Most TED speakers memorize and practice so much to make it sounds spontaneous.
  • To signal we care, we should dress appropriately. For example, wrinkled clothing telegraph we're not trying.
  • We should learn to breathe deeply, take our power pose because body language affects how others see us as well as how we see ourselves.
  • We should hydrate often and keep our notes by the water. That way when we grab a drink, we can glance at where we are in the talk.

The first impression is usually long lasting. We all want to make it a good impression.