Spotlight TEDx Talk: How to sound smart

Will Stephen at TEDxNewYork

Will Stephen at TEDxNewYork

At TEDxNewYork, Will Stephen sounds smart saying nothing. It is virtuoso nonsense. The professional comedian has studied many, many presentations to figure out just what makes a speaker sound brilliant (hint: it has a lot to do with tone, gestures and pauses) — even if their message is not.

See the magic unfold in his talk:

Insight from the TEDx office — why we like this talk:

Comedy writer Will Stephens uses studied communication skills: He moves confidently. He shows humility. His timbre rises and falls. He shows simple visuals to punctuate shifts in topic. He carries the arc of an argument – from idea (nothing), to evidence (irrelevant data), to big surprises (the glasses), to a call to action (think about nothing). Aspiring speakers should take note.

But it’s worth noting that none of these lessons are really spelled out in this talk. To borrow from Stephen: We’re pulling something out of nothing here. Which points to another important lesson: When people sound smart, they compel us to conjure meaning, regardless of substance.

It’s an effect that has empowered con men of all kinds. Which is to say, we should watch well-polished talks (or read books and articles) with a skeptical eye. But we should also remember that when performance and substance do align, the format lends power to truth.

In any case, we like this talk because it’s funny.


  1. Valerie Buickerood

    Hilarious! And he emulated every TED talk I’ve ever watched. But I took away some great speaking tips while being entertained.

  2. Michael

    The few mins spent is better spent than getting a book to teach how to give a good TED talk. He nailed what he intended to do.

  3. We can all learn from this talk, even the folks that go Toastmasters!

  4. Watch out TEDx speakercoaches! Any of you still using these old techniques how to look good on a TEDx stage? Ideas worth spreading needs more nowadays….
    Keep up the good work, show every ‘speaker to be on a TEDx stage’ this video and go beyond that!

  5. Himendu Chaudhuri

    Simply excellent. He has showed all the relevant and important points of public speaking without having a massage. He has graph,pictures, gestures, speaking tones, humor, climax, and all that make a good speech. He has high lighted all these in a humorous way so these important points of public speaking will remain in our mind for a long time. What a wonderful way to present these.

  6. Neko 2.0

    Oh, so somebody is a cheeky little fan of the Sokal affair.

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  9. interesting trick discussed.
    I’m sure all major politicians are aware of it

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  11. HS

    “Simply excellent. He has showed all the relevant and important points of public speaking without having a massage.”

    Just imagine how good he would be if he’d had a massage beforehand.

  12. Abeer elshahed


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  14. Tom

    I loved this, so true!

  15. Sajjan

    Great Talk!

  16. Julie Boudreau

    Thank you so much for this wonderful speach! I’m so gratefull to be able to respond in a way inspired by this TEDTalk. I’ve learned so much and the numbers were very helpful to understand your point! Took lots of notes! A life changer.

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