As part of our ConnecTED Speaking Series, TED-style speaking specialist Beverley Glick looks at examples of TED talks to see what we can learn from this powerful short-talk format.
Talk title: The tiny balls of fat that could revolutionise medicine
Speaker: Kathryn A. Whitehead
Venue and date: TEDMonterey, August 2021
Synopsis: What if you were holding life-saving medicine – but had no way to administer it? Zoom down to the nano level with engineer Kathryn A. Whitehead as she gives a breakdown of the little fatty balls (called lipid nanoparticles) perfectly designed to ferry cutting-edge medicines into your body’s cells. Learn how her work is already powering mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines and forging the path for future therapies that could treat Ebola, HIV and even cancer.
What we love about this talk:
- She jumps in with a rhetorical question that grabs our attention: “What if I told you that the pandemic will save the lives of millions of people?”
- She uses a simple, relatable comparison to help us understand the nature of mRNA: “You can think of mRNA like a glass vase that you’d like to send in the mail without a box and bubble wrap. It’ll break long before it has been delivered. And without an address on the box, your postal delivery service will have no idea where to take it.”
- She clearly establishes her personal stake – why this topic is so important to her, and what part she plays in it.
- She continues with the metaphor of packing and delivering the glass vase all the way through, to great effect.
- She shares simple explanations of potentially complex ideas, supported by equally simple illustrations, and never gets bogged down in jargon.
- She has a very calm, grounded presence with pacing to match. Great intonation too.
- She addresses a hot-button issue – how the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines actually work, and why they were developed so quickly.
Idea worth spreading: We are on the cusp of a revolution: mRNA is about to change the world forever, and it’s all thanks to these fatty little balls that take this miracle medicine to exactly where it’s needed.
What we would do to improve this talk: She tends to sway from side to side, which can undermine her authority, so we’d suggest that she might like to try some intentional movement – even within the confines of TED’s red dot. And while her calm presence enhances her gravitas, a variation in energy (voice and body language) would have added to her impact and memorability.
Top marks for: Making the complex plain, relatable examples, effective metaphor, reassuring presence, calm authority, a message of hope.
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An award-winning public speaker and storytelling expert, Beverley is an experienced lead trainer who specialises in TED-style speaker coaching and training.