For all the attention we pay to getting clients’ slides right for a talk, it’s worth noting that many of the most memorable talks at TED this week (so far) have come from people who have either used no slides (Zak Ebrahim, Jim Holt) or the most rudimentary accompaniment (Edward Snowden showed up inside a telepresence robot but it was curator/interviewer Chris Anderson who produced the slides). It was a vivid reminder that what matters most in a talk is the quality and resonance of your story. No one is going to remember that the text in your bullet points was rendered in a particularly apropos font; no one is going to take away from your talk that your clip art rhymed so well with what you were saying. What remains after all the decoration is stripped away is whether your story moves your audience. There are ways to share a better story, but it’s also worth emphasizing that you should feel free to break almost any convention if doing so might improve the story you’re telling.
While watching the Vancouver talks today, I thought of a talk we hosted at TEDxBoston back in 2010. Designer Eric Mongeon shared a talk on what illustrating a new edition of Edgar Allen Poe stories taught him about fear, and his talk broke plenty of the conventional rules. He paced. He paced in circles. He paced in circles outside camera range. He pointed at the words on the screen behind him. Sometimes he turned away from the audience. But he grabs you with his first sentence and doesn’t let go for 10 minutes, forcing us to ride alongside him on his difficult journey through what he calls “the vortex” from fear to success. Anyone who has ever tried to create something will see something of himself or herself in the talk, because he shares his personal, idiosyncratic story in a way that welcomes others in. It’s a story about him, but he makes it a story about anyone aiming to make art. If you want to be inspired to be more creative today, give this 10 minutes. It might just inspire you to break some rules not only in your work, but in the talk you may one day give about your work.