Bono is the guest of this #LearnFromTED! What can you learn for your presentations from a rockstar? Well, if you have desire of pride for your public speaking he’s the one you can look upon as someone to watch without a vertigo. Jokes aside his talk at TED back in 2013 is inspiring not only for the content (poverty) but also for his delivery.

Before dwelling in the analysis of the focal points let’s share a consideration. Bono is the frontman of U2, a band that just a couple years before this TED talk, had a worldwide tour with over 7 million people attending or an average of over 60,000 per concert. I would venture to say that Bono is more accustomed to face large audiences than you (and me). I cannot find an exact figure for TED but the attendance should be around 1,000 people, a small group by comparison. If you think of stage fright, speaking before them should be a piece of cake for him, shouldn’t be?

Let’s appreciate this beautiful talk.


It is quite common for Anglo-Saxons to use humour as an ice-breaker and here it is straight from the beginning.

Chris Anderson asked me if I could put the last 25 years of anti-poverty campaigning into 10 minutes for TED. That’s an Englishman asking an Irishman to be succinct.
I said, “Chris, that would take a miracle.”
He said, “Bono, wouldn’t that be a good use of your messianic complex?”

The opening goes on with a parallel story between old Egypt and modern times (notice the reference to Facebook). It’s a preamble that introduces the main theme. At around 2:50 there is this statement.

So I thought, forget the rock opera, forget the bombast, my usual tricks. The only thing singing today would be the facts, for I have truly embraced by inner nerd. So exit the rock star. Enter the evidence-based activist, the factivist.

This is the end of the opening. The subject has been introduced. These last sentences are important to reinforce the speaker’s credibility. Bono is known mainly as rock musician, an arena where artistic talent often goes along appearance. To avoid any possible issues he clears the air before: “what I am going to say is about real data”. I often talk about communication, when I face a technical audience I know some of them may think (“it’s a marketing thing…”), thus from the beginning I explain where my facts come from and how solid they are.


Going back to my initial consideration have you noticed how in the first minutes he is more nervous and then it gets better after a little while? The TED stage is small compared to a rock one, but it is a different setting Bono is not used to. A little out of the comfort zone gives a pretty normal tension, that he manages very well moving on with the talk.

Evocative words

I like a lot the last sentence above because it has uncommon and evocative words that catch public’s attention and interest. It’s not the only one, there is more of them along the speech.

Enter the evidence-based activist, the factivist.

We’re pushing for laws that make sure that at least some of the wealth under the ground ends up in the hands of the people living above it.

…but I have his words tattooed on my brain.

…the power of the people is so much stronger than the people in power

Those words, locution or phrases, have the power of raising the attention level in the brain of receivers and to strike them both from the logical and the emotional side. Take a look at the contrast of “the wealth under the ground ends up in the hands of the people living above it”. Evocative words have greater impact, and they are more likely to be remembered by the audience along with the message you want them to take home.


The central part of the talk, normally called the body in communication, is based on data (as anticipated in the opening) interlaced with stories and people (Michael, Benedicta, Mo, Mandela, Wael). This mix fulfil the scope of being factual and being interesting at the same time. A list of numbers, albeit connected by some logic, can be boring or at least tiring to follow. On the other side a mere collection of stories could be perceived as not giving the full picture.

When preparing a presentation, try to think if it is unbalanced. Too many numbers? How to put them inside a more engaging delivery? Too shallow? What can you add to satisfy the most demanding public?

Visual aids

Some data in the presentation has visual aids (slides) going along with them. Take a look at them, they are clean and readable. They are designed so that the audience can immediately grasp the message they hold. Here is an example.

clear readable slide

No complexity, big letters, easy to read. This is something you too should aim for when presenting data.


A bold message wrapped up in a very well arranged talk. It has everything needed to be successful:

  • A fascinating topic
  • Factual information
  • Well organised structure
  • Clear supporting slides
  • Evocative words
  • A strong positive closing
  • A phenomenal rockstar to deliver it

All things you can do, and should do, yourself (maybe bar the last one).