Tips from TED: Why Your Messages Should Be 18 Minutes or Less

Jeff Tatarchuk —  July 28, 2013 — 7 Comments

(This is a guest post by Jeff Tatarchuck. For complete author info and to see the videos, view from Modern Ekklesia)

I love watching a good TED talk. They are inspiring, informative, challenging and most importantly, short. Short works perfectly in our easily distracted society. 18 minutes or less is the strict stipulation given to every speaker without exception.

The curator of TED, Chris Anderson, explains in an interview that a presentation that is 18 minutes or less makes it long enough for people to take the idea being shared seriously and short enough that it will hold their attention. It also forces the speaker, who might be used to speaking over 45 minutes, to boil down the essential information in their presentation and focus on a main idea. This allows for their message to be simplified, so a broader audience can digest the content. Then, because the topic is short and simple enough for people to listen and digest the information, it makes it much easier for the audience to take action, which is to share the information with others. Distilling the message down in this way make it a perfect vehicle to fulfill TED’s mission: “Ideas Worth Spreading.”

These same elements can be applied to communicating the greatest idea on the planet: the Gospel. Short. Simple. Shareable.

1. Short – It has been said, “The mind won’t retain what the seat can’t endure”. After making the mistake of thinking that the longer I speak the more I will be able to communicate to my audience, I realized this is not the case. In fact, I find it has the opposite effect. I find that the longer I speak the more the average audience tends to forget. Shorter is better!

2. Simple – Simple doesn’t mean easy. Albert Einstein once said, “Any fool can complicate things; it takes a genius to simplify them”. It is no easy task to truly simplify an idea so that it could be clearly and easily understood. I have found that the more I study and wrestle with a topic the simpler it becomes. But this can take months or even years! It takes research and time to allow the idea to marinate. Find your main point and stick to it. Then, make that idea as simple as possible. Before preaching your next sermon, try to explain your main idea to a child to see if they can grasp it and if they get it, preach it!

3. Shareable – The main hope of God is that the gospel will go viral, even to the ends of YouTube and the earth. But how will it spread if we don’t package it in a way that can be easily communicated from one person to the next? TED has intentionally made the presentations shorter and simpler so that it can be easily shared via YouTube and viewed during a coffee break so  more people can continue to share ideas. Our message needs to be easily accessible to as many people as possible. What better tool is there available than the internet? Use it!

The next time you sit down to write a sermon remember, SHORT + SIMPLE = SHAREABLE. This easy to follow equation will help you be more effective at spreading the best idea ever.

So what about you? What do you think about this framework of 18 minutes to make the message shareable? To leave a comment click here.

[image by TED Conference]

By the way, below are links to my current all-time favorite TED Talks:

(Can’t see the videos? Click here to view them on the site)

1: Got A Meeting, Take a Walk

2. Israel and Iran: A Love Story?

3. Malcolm Gladwell: Choice, Happiness and Spaghetti Sauce

Jeff Tatarchuk

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Jeff is a native of Southern California. He works for Southeastern California Conference. He received a BA in Theology from Southern Adventist University. Now, he is currently working on his MDiv at Andrews University where he resides with his beautiful wife, Joyce.

7 responses to Tips from TED: Why Your Messages Should Be 18 Minutes or Less

  1. Great post, Jeff! 18 minutes is such a huge challenge for me, personally. I think I usually average around 40 minutes or so, but I think the next time I speak I’m going to try to frame things a lot closer to 18 minutes. I was really surprised that the presenter of “Got A Meeting, Take A Walk” was able to cover so much in just 3 minutes. Wow. But what would we do with all the extra time in the church service? ;)

  2. awesome! i like it! i’ve noticed the less i’ve prepared, the longer the sermon. it’s a good reminder to keep things simple and short.

  3. How about we shift from the talking head altogether?

    How about interaction with your audience and open discussion?

    When Jesus ministered here on earth “… with many parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples. (Mark 4:33, 34 NKJV)

    Science and the Bible shows the power of story to share truth that sticks in people’s minds and hearts, as well as enabling others to hear and pass on that truth to others … easily! (How many of us can pass on sermons to those who weren’t there … easily?!?)

    By the way, I am regularly seeing people sit on the edge of their seats for a story and then a discussion that goes on for 30 minutes, 45, and hour and even two hours in Asia, Africa, America and here in Europe! NOBODY falls asleep or checks out.

    Today’s society needs more than talking heads in church! They want to engage and interact with the speaker.

    • I agree Bryan! We definitely need to be way more interactive. I have found that a shorter presentation followed by a Q&A session or a post interview is very effective at leaving a lasting impression on the audience.

  4. Great thought. The Sermon On The Mount can be recited under 20 minutes.

  5. Totally agree Jeff. Think we have lost sight of the real purpose of church. One thing I really appreciate about TED talks is not so much the subjects but the brevity of the subjects. It takes a lot to prepare those presentations. The value, I remember all that was said and I am able to digest it. Great suggestion.

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