The TED Commandments: 10 Rules for a Great Speech

What makes for a great speech?

These days, one need only log onto to see examples of the leading lights in our culture speaking with passion on everything from art to business to science to you name it!   In fact, in my class, I assigned my students to watch Ben Zander’s TED Talk on Music and Passion to show them the excitement that music can generate to tap into new possibilities, new experiences and new connections.

TED talks are wildly popular.  According to TED’s own records, TEDTalks have been viewed more than 500 million times by people around the world (as of July 2011).

Is it merely an accident that these speeches are so good?  Or is there some method to guide these talented people?

It turns out that TED’s organizer’s indeed issue guidelines, called the TED Commandments, which are apparently engraved on a stone tablet and sent to their invited speakers!  I am indebted to Tim Longhurst for transcribing the engraved  commandments from a photograph and typing then up.  Here they are:

The TED Commandments

1. Thou Shalt Not Simply Trot Out thy Usual Shtick.
2. Thou Shalt Dream a Great Dream, or Show Forth a Wondrous New Thing, Or Share Something Thou Hast Never Shared Before.
3. Thou Shalt Reveal thy Curiosity and Thy Passion.
4.  Thou Shalt Tell a Story.
5.  Thou Shalt Freely Comment on the Utterances of Other Speakers for the Sake of Blessed Connection and Exquisite Controversy.
6. Thou Shalt Not Flaunt thine Ego. Be Thou Vulnerable. Speak of thy Failure as well as thy Success.
7. Thou Shalt Not Sell from the Stage: Neither thy Company, thy Goods, thy Writings, nor thy Desperate need for Funding; Lest Thou be Cast Aside into Outer Darkness.
8. Thou Shalt Remember all the while: Laughter is Good.
9. Thou Shalt Not Read thy Speech.
10.  Thou Shalt Not Steal the Time of Them.

Here is what musicians might want to keep in mind when speaking about music:

Do something different and unusual!  After all, you are creative in your life work so bring that spirit of creativity when you speak about music.

Tap into your vision, share your passion, tell us something personal.  It’s okay to share a challenge that you have overcome and what the lesson might be for the rest of us.

Don’t sell and don’t sound desperate.


Speak from the heart and don’t read your notes.

Be respectful of time.

Without the benefit of the TED Commandments, my students did very well in our final class when they spoke about their semester-long projects.  Next semester, I will be sure to pass along these pearls to my next groups of music entrepreneurs!