My origin piece, a Michigan Daily article on ECT, was inspired by an academic research paper. For Experiment 2, I’m writing a TED Talk presenting the results of that study, from the perspective of a researcher. I hope to take this experiment further by adding visual elements and actually recording the TED Talk.
In terms of genre exploration, I watched and read the transcripts of few recent TED Talks in which scientists present the results of their research. I watched one by Faith Osier, a researcher working on a malaria vaccine, another by Hasini Jayatilaka, who researches communication between cancer cells during metastasis, and a third by Greg Gage, a scientist looking into whether artificial intelligence can be used to recreate a subject’s thoughts. Comparing and contrasting these three lectures, I identified a few key characteristics of the genre, and put together guidelines for writing a successful research-based TED Talk .
- Establish importance
Researchers generally begin their TED Talks by explaining why their topic is important. I think the most successful TED Talks do this is a compelling or humanizing way. For instance, Osier provides startling statistics about the prevalence of malaria. Jayatilaka doesn’t use statistics, but establishes right off the bat that cancer is a devastating disease despite medical advances. Right after they demonstrate the relevance of their subject, all three lecturers have a sort of “thesis statement” explaining what their research is about.
- Be concise and straightforward
Looking at the transcripts, I noticed all three researchers kept their paragraphs short. There wasn’t much “fluff” − the lectures got straight to the point and really focused in on the science. Even though the TED Talks were packed with information, I could tell the speakers made an effort to simplify their research for a more general audience, emphasizing just a few key ideas and speaking clearly. Most TED Talks last only 5-15 minutes.
- Provide background
A successful TED Talk speaker gives some context for their research, briefly discussing the history of their subject and establishing why more research needs to be done. I think Osier and Jayatilaka did this particularly well by providing some information on past work against malaria/cancer. Giving context helps justify the “why now” aspect of the TED Talk.
- Use visuals
Both Oisier and Jayatilaka used background slides, but Gage really took advantage of the visual mode in his TED Talk. Gage described his research while playing a video of the experiment, helping the audience to follow along, step by step. Including visuals, like slides or a video, can make the TED Talk more engaging and can help clarify complicated topics. Also, all three speakers used hand gestures, another visual used to emphasize important points.
- Think big-picture
I think a key aspect of the research-based TED Talk is concluding with some forward-looking, big-picture thoughts. For instance, Gage ends his lecture by musing on the future of artificial intelligence, and Osier touches on what malaria research will look like going forward. This aspect of the TED Talk is critical because it shows the audience why they should be interested in the subject, and can even inspire them to get involved. Unlike a research paper, the TED Talk genre allows the researcher to provide a call to action.