Activity for Oral Presentation using TED Talks

shared by tjordans on December 11, 2015

Activity Summary:

This activity is designed to help students think critically about the different ways of delivering an oral presentation. The goal is to prepare them for their final presentations.


Many teachers use TED Talks to supplement their teaching about a certain topic. TED has become a popular way for students (and faculty!) to consume popularized versions of scholarly research (among other topics). TED Talks are delivered in a way that pretty clearly sets them apart. In fact, research has shown that the vocal characters of TED Talks are so recognizable, many students are able to tell the difference between a TED Talk and a recording of a university lecture after just five seconds of listening (see Tsai, 2015).

Students in all ISUComm courses are required to give some kind of an oral presentation. Often, student presentations follow a very similar format—one usually described as “professional”—where students stand in front of the class with a PowerPoint, notecards, or both, and talk for 5–10 minutes. Asking students to critically watch the way other speakers deliver a presentation can give them ideas of ways they can make their own presentations stand out. This assignment, then, asks students to focus not on TED Talks’ content, necessarily, but on their delivery. It’s designed to help students have a better understanding of the public-speaking genre and to help students think about different ways they might approach the oral presentations in their course to help them deliver a more engaging presentation.


  1. The day after introducing the requirements for the final oral presentation, ask the class what they think of when they think of “good” speeches. TED Talks may come up in the discussion, but if they don’t, bring them up toward the end of the discussion as an example of a really popular approach to public speaking that a lot of people find engaging.
  2. Select a TED Talk to watch in class. Any talk you like will do. Before starting the talk, ask students to write down three (or more) things related to the delivery of the talk. In essence, they’ll be noting the genre characteristics of the talk.
  3. Ask students to discuss their answers in small groups for a few minutes after the talk has ended, and then spend a few minutes discussing as a class.
  4. Next, ask students why they think TED Talks are so popular. This could lead into a discussion not just on the generic features of the talks, but how these talks respond to a recurring social situation (namely, people are interested in learning about scholarly research in a way that they can understand. That’s why TED speakers include stories, often jokes, the talks are always short, etc.).
  5. Optional: Assign students to watch one or two TED Talks from the list of the 20 most popular TED Talks (or perhaps a talk they’re interested in that’s not on the list). Ask students to compare the features they noticed in the talk you watched in class with the talks they watch at home.
  6. During the next class period, take the first 10 or 15 minutes of class discussing. Did the other speakers respond to the situation in a way that was similar to the speaker they watched in class? What was different? What was the same? Why do they think that’s the case?
  7. Finally, help students generate a list of three to five things they learned from analyzing the delivery of TED Talks and consider requiring some or all of these features in their oral presentations.