10 TED talks to sharpen your communication skills

Do you feel like when you talk, no one listens? Or do you struggle to remember what you hear? Improve your speaking and listening skills with these talks
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Effective communication is paramount to great leadership. But it’s more nuanced and complicated than just learning how to give a great speech. If you want to inspire others through your words, you must learn how to not only speak effectively, but also listen effectively. Communication is a two-way street, after all. 

We’ve rounded up 10 TED Talks that offer wisdom and advice for leaders who are serious about improving their communication skills. From practical tips like leaving bullet points out of slides, to learning the importance of vulnerability in conversations, these talks offer a mini-course on more effective communication. That should lead to deeper understanding on both sides for leaders and teams. 

1. 10 ways to have a better conversation

Speaker: Celeste Headlee

Celeste Headlee draws upon decades of interview experience as a radio host to deliver 10 powerful rules for having better conversations. Notably, she implores listeners to recall all the past advice they’ve been given – like “smile and nod to show you’re paying attention” – and throw it out the window. Instead, she offers the rules that all great interviewers live by. Even if you only master one of them, she says, you’ll be on your way to becoming a better communicator. 


2. Talk nerdy to me

Speaker: Melissa Marshall

When Melissa Marshall was invited to teach a communications class for engineering students at Penn State, she was intimidated, as she shares in this TED Talk. But her intimidation quickly turned into a strong desire to help those science-minded students clearly communicate their big ideas to non-scientists. Her tips are applicable to anyone who needs to simplify their messages without dumbing them down, to more effectively share wisdom with larger audiences. One memorable and witty tip: Drop the bullet points. “Bullets kill,” says Marshall. 


3. How great leaders inspire action

Speaker: Simon Sinek

Business leaders are already familiar with Simon Sinek, author of bestsellers “Start With Why” and “Leaders Eat Last.” This TED Talk has been viewed nearly 40 million times, so you may have already seen it. However, like a good business book that you turn to time and time again, this talk deserves multiple viewings. In it, Sinek explains the concept of the golden circle, in which leaders understand and communicate the “why” behind their mission before ever explaining what they will do, or how they'll do it. Sinek says leaders must adopt this way of communicating vision if they want to truly inspire others to action. 


4. The secret structure of great talks

Speaker: Nancy Duarte

Nancy Duarte is an expert in persuasive presentations. While studying the best speeches throughout history, she made an incredible discovery: They all follow the exact same pattern. By repeatedly contrasting the way things are with the way they could be, speakers who follow this pattern create a powerful call to action for listeners. Master this technique, and you’ll have an effective tool in overcoming resistance to change – something any transformational leader could use. 


5. How to build (and rebuild) trust

Speaker: Frances Frei

Trust is necessary in communication. After all, how can you expect people to listen to what you are saying if they don’t trust you? In this TED Talk, Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei explains the three components of trust: authenticity, rigor in logic, and empathy. If you think you’re having a trust issue, look at your empathy first and foremost. Frei says that’s the most common area where trust breaks down. But if you have a “wobble” in any of the three areas, trust falls apart – and communication becomes more difficult. 


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Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.