TED Commandments I & II : Be Original

Orientation Guide

One of the best things about TED talks is that there’s always something fresh and interesting on deck. There is always something new. In this first installment of our discussion of the TED commandments, we’ll talk about how a demand for originality is key to engaging an audience.

TED Commandments I & II read as follows:

  • 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

Commandment the First: Thou Shalt Not Simply Trot Out thy Usual Shtick

Comedian George Burns toured the country for decades, making people laugh. According to reporter Margy Rochlin, who joined Burns on tour ten years ago, he would spend hours each day agonizing over minor changes to his routine. He was hugely committed to keeping his material fresh and engaging for his audience, and for himself.

I had the chance to see Bill Cosby perform live several years ago. He was extraordinary. His whole set was fresh new material that none of us had heard before. The only time when the performance wasn’t perfect was when he was begged by the audience to trot out his classic “Dentist” sketch. While it was still funny, it wasn’t nearly as funny as his freshest new material.

It’s dreadfully dull to hear the same thing again and again. If your audience is familiar with you, they’ll tune out. They’ve heard it before. Some of them may even know what you’re going to say before you say it.

It’s important that you avoid your usual shtick. Create new, original material. Come up with something different. If you keep things fresh in your mind, you’re less likely to go on autopilot, you’re less likely to disengage from your performance, and your audience is less likely to disengage from you.

Commandment the Second: Thou Shalt Dream a Great Dream, or Show Forth a Wondrous New Thing, Or Share Something Thou Hast Never Shared Before

TED is all about creativity. The expo brings together artists, educators, designers, entertainers, engineers, technologists, and others who are interested in the generation of new ideas. Obviously, the audience at a TED talk is made of the sort of people who want to experience something novel.

The second TED commandment speaks to this need. It asks us to think big; to play a bigger game. It is deeply important that we do so. Very few people in the world get the opportunity to speak in front of others, and even fewer of those people take that opportunity when it is available. We, therefore, have a unique responsibility to say something valuable with the time we have.

If we think big, dream big, and make big requests of our audience, we get them engaged by appealing to the marvelous human capacity for imagination. Remarkable things have been accomplished in the last couple of decades alone. Just think about what is out there for us on the horizon. Part of being original is playing the game as big as we can play it.

What new ideas do you have to offer? What do you bring to the table that nobody else does? Why should people listen to you if you don’t have anything new or exciting? Why should they listen to you if you don’t get them to explore what they are capable of? It is your job to fulfill your audience’s needs. Having good ideas presented to them is a need that every audience deserves to have filled.

Both of these commandments speak to the concept of originality. We have to be original if we are to ever offer our audiences a memorable experience.

Next Up: Commandments III & IV – Keep It Real

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