How to End a TED Talk Speech

The end of your TED Talk may be one of the only things anyone ever remembers about it.

Science backs this up.

We tend to more easily remember the beginnings of things (primacy) and the most recent thing we heard (recency), both of which combine to give us the serial position effect:

how to end a ted talk - serial position effect
The Serial Position Effect – The end and start of your TED Talk may be the only things anyone remembers.

So, any effort you put into your conclusion is time well spent!

What To Do Before You Write The Conclusion

If you’re a little unsure about whether your topic will land with a new, broad audience that’s never heard of you and isn’t coming to the event specifically to hear a message about your field…then you’ll always be uncertain about your ending.

If you’re already booked for a TEDx event and you are 100% confident your message will be received well, great!

But, if there’s a little bit of doubt, I’d recommend two steps BEFORE you start working on your ending:

  1. Identify (and properly validate) your topic
  2. Make sure you get on TEDx first

You don’t need to finalize your ending until after you’re booked, and if you can’t get booked, you may need to change your topic/angle (which of course affects your ending), so do those two things first.

Once you’ve done those things, crafting a great ending to your TED Talk will be much easier.

How to Conclude a TED Talk

What do you say at the end of TED Talks? After analyzing hundreds of the most popular TED Talks, there are common techniques used by the top speakers.

Technique 1: Raise Their Heart Rate

In his book Contagious, Jonah Berger described a study in which he found that content is more readily shared if it causes “high arousal” states in the audience.

“High arousal” can be created with emotions like awe or even anger, but emotions like pity or sadness actually reduce sharing!

You don’t need an emotional state to create high arousal (and sharing), Berger even found that simply having people walk on a treadmill while reading an article increased sharing!

So, in your conclusion, you can create this desire to share things with:

  • High-arousal emotions (like an inspiring call to action vs. one that focuses on how bad your life is)
  • If you’re an artist playing music, use an upbeat song (vs. a slower song)
  • A cute or funny picture, rather than one that causes sadness or pity
  • Getting the audience to do some physical activity that causes their heart rate to increase

For example, Roger Frampton does this in his talk at TEDxLeamingtonSpa (the event I created). 

At the 11:42 mark of the talk, he asks the audience to stand up (to demonstrate the movement techniques he talks about), but then has them stay standing for the conclusion of his TED Talk (and even asks for a standing ovation)

Technique 2: Add a Callback

In comedy, a “callback” refers to an earlier joke or story. Most stand-up comedians employ this approach, which you’ll notice if you watch a longer comedy special all the way through. 

You can do the same. Once you know how to start your TED Talk, craft a call back to the beginning. 

My TED Talks coaching client Zach Evans did this with his talk. He begins the speech by saying, “I bet you one million dollars that you can learn piano or any skill in life…”

Then, ends with “and by the way, once you do find the secret sauce, make sure you shoot me an email and let me know what it is, and I’ll send you my address, and I’ll be waiting on my million dollar cheque.”

Technique 3: Ask “All of Us” (Not Just “You”) To Do Something

Once you’ve decided what to make a TED Talk about, you may have ideas about what change you want to create in the audience.

One way to do this is to end your TED Talk with a request from the audience. However, this can sometimes come across as preachy.

Instead, reframe it from “you should do this” to “we should do this.”

For example, Tim Urban does this (I’ve emphasized the “we”):

“So I think we need to all take a long, hard look at that calendar. 

We need to think about what we’re really procrastinating on because everyone is procrastinating on something in life. 

We need to stay aware of the Instant Gratification Monkey. That’s a job for all of us.” 

Notice how he uses “we,” “everyone,” and “all of us” to call attention to the fact that this problem isn’t just something other people struggle with that he’s figured out, but rather something that he struggles with too.

An Example of All Three Techniques Together

The best endings combine all the techniques. For example, here’s my TEDx coaching client Kate Schutt with a conclusion that incorporates all three techniques:

She starts the conclusion of her TED Talk with a “we”:

We all know someone who’s going through something tough right now. Go say something to them. Go do something for them.”

Then she adds a callback:

“…maybe something as intrusive as dropping off a casserole.”

The word “casserole” is intentionally included to offset the heaviness of Kate’s talk (words with the “k” sound are inherently funny)

What To Do Now:

  1. Use my TEDx Call for Speakers Tool for the easiest way to apply to be a TEDx speaker (if you haven’t already been booked). This tool is by far the easiest way to find events now, with all the info you need to apply. 
  2. Write the rest of your TED Talk (I cover things like like memorization, picking a great title, intros, and so on, in my guide on how to do a TED Talk)

If you aren’t ready to apply yet (or want help with the entire process),  you can hire me as a TED Talks speaker coach. I help with the entire process and guarantee you’ll get booked.

Ryan Hildebrandt
Ryan Hildebrandt
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