TED Talks: Review and Critical Reception

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "TED Talks" by Chris Anderson. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is Chris Anderson’s TED Talks about? What is the key message to take away from the book?

Published in 2016, TED Talks is a nuts-and-bolts guide to public speaking that takes you from the initial idea to your final bow. The book became a New York Times bestseller, and Publisher’s Weekly dubbed it an “invaluable guide.”

Read the Shortform review of TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson.

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking

A great speech has the power to inspire and change the world, but most people believe that public speaking is an innate talent. As curator for TED, Chris Anderson knows better—he has seen hundreds of speeches succeed and fail, and he has figured out the secret formula. Published in 2016, TED Talks is a nuts-and-bolts guide to public speaking that takes you from the initial idea to your final bow. 

In this guide, we go through Anderson’s advice piece by piece, explaining what works in public speaking and what doesn’t. From scripting to wardrobe, and everything in between, we compare his advice to that of other public speaking experts and supplement his ideas with actionable methods.

About the Author

Anderson has been the TED Conference curator since 2002. One of his primary responsibilities in this role is to select speakers for the nonprofit’s premier medium: TED Talks. Anderson was born in a remote village in Pakistan in 1957 and traveled throughout his childhood with his missionary parents. He grew up in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and England, before attending Oxford University and obtaining a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics. 

He began his career as a magazine editor and went on to found two publishing companies and a media nonprofit—the Sapling Foundation. In 2001, Sapling acquired the struggling TED Conference, and Anderson turned the nonprofit around and helped make it an international success. 

Anderson has authored two books: TED Talks and its teen version: Thank You for Coming to My TED Talk.

Connect with Chris Anderson:

The Book’s Publication

TED Talks was published in 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. The eBook version of TED Talks is available here

TED provides a list of websites where you can purchase paperback and hardcover versions of TED Talks. They note that all proceeds are donated to TED’s nonprofit mission.

Historical Context

TED is a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading knowledge, innovation, and ways of thinking. Its primary medium is TED Talks, which are short talks (18 minutes or less) that pack a punch with insightful ideas and engaging deliveries. TED was founded in 1984 as a conference focused on technology, entertainment, and design (hence the acronym), but it has expanded since then to include all topics worth exploring. 

Anderson took over TED in 2002 and began sharing the talks online in 2006—when YouTube was still a young company and video streaming wasn’t quick or easy. Despite the uphill battle, TED Talks were so captivating that they reached one million views in less than three months. In 2012, they surpassed one billion views. Today, TED Talks are considered the gold standard of public speaking.

In this book, Anderson describes in-person speaking, but because TED Talks are recorded and put online, he frequently touches on how his advice translates to video format. At the time this guide is being published (2022), his advice is more relevant than ever, as more presentations are happening via teleconferencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Intellectual Context

In 2014, two years before TED Talks was published, Talk Like TED was released. The author of this book is Carmine Gallo, a communications coach who is not affiliated with TED but who watched hundreds of TED Talks and interviewed TED speakers. His book claims to have identified the nine secrets that all great TED Talks share. Other books also discuss the secrets to a great TED Talk, but Anderson’s is the only one to date written by someone affiliated with the nonprofit. 

Critical Reception

TED Talks reviews were highly positive, with many praising it for advice that’s easy to understand and apply. Common praise mentions the abundance of practical tips, the organized structure, and the easy-to-read format. Many online reviewers state that they read the book in anticipation of giving a speech, and they found it to be a valuable tool in their preparation.

Critics of TED Talks are few and far between, but a common complaint among detractors is that the book is too heavy on anecdotes and too light on principles. Some felt that it was difficult to find the messages among all of the stories.

Commentary on the Book’s Approach and Organization

TED Talks is made up of 21 short chapters that cover all the aspects of public speaking: idea development, connection with your audience, the physical setup of your stage, visual aids, wardrobe, voice and body language, and so on. Anderson uses personal anecdotes from his work as a curator and examples from previous TED speeches to illustrate his principles. 

TED Talks: Review and Critical Reception

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Chris Anderson's "TED Talks" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full TED Talks summary :

  • A nuts-and-bolts guide to public speaking that takes you from the initial idea to your final bow
  • TED curator Chris Anderson's public speaking advice on everything from scripting to wardrobe
  • A comparison of Anderson's advice to that of other public speaking experts

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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