We love TED Talks at Ethos3, and one of our favorites is Joy Luck Club author Amy Tan’s presentation “Where Does Creativity Hide?” Intelligent, warm, and engaging, it’s one of the most popular TED Talks for a reason. So, how does she do it?

Amy Tan’s humor is spot-on throughout the presentation, supplemented by her personal photos and her dry, straight-forward way of delivering a funny line. She establishes this right away as she wryly re-writes the TED Talks rules: “(REHEARSE but ACT SPONTANEOUS!!!)” on a slide. Her jokes also effortlessly fall into place, never feeling like she is about to deliver a punchline. This is true when she casually introduces the “Eleven Levels of Anxiety” during her point about String Theory.

Relevant Personal Stories

Most of Amy Tan’s TED Talk is highly personal overall, relating to her experience as a writer. But her use of personal narrative is excellent for both the stories that she shares and the way they tie into the presentation without cluttering the message. For instance, her photo of the shameful “B-” essay at 3:32, which said a lot about the expectations placed on her growing up. As the talk progresses, she also describes the coincidence of her grandmother’s death in her writing and in life, which beautifully summarizes her point about creative coincidences.

Doesn’t Over Explain

Amy introduces String Theory and quantum physics as part of her TED Talk, but it never feels like she is talking down to the audience about it or spending too much time explaining it. She introduces a new concept, says a brief sentence about it, and moves on.

Pacing, Hand Gestures, and Tone

Amy Tan’s speaking style is perfect. Literally perfect. Her pacing is slow and thoughtful, her voice is clear, and her hand gestures show engagement but don’t distract. As you watch the speech, pay special attention to her delivery, and then sit back in awe and wonderment.

Surprise Prop

Finally, the surprise prop that was used at 22:40 (which will not be spoiled here), is not something we recommend for all presentations. In this case, it added personality to the speech and left the audience laughing. In short, she made it work.

Not all presentations will be about topics as personal as Amy Tan’s speech. But some of these techniques can, and should, be used as you craft your next presentation.

Question: What can you learn from Amy Tan’s TED Talk?

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