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TED Talk Review: Jamie Oliver

Ginger Leadership Communications

He’s got a BIG message, a BIG heart, and a BIG following, but is he any good at public speaking? Jamie Oliver’s TED Talk wish was to “Teach Every Child About Food” – did he lecture, or inspire?

TED Talk Review: Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize wish: Teach every child about food

From the moment Jamie Oliver steps on stage to deliver his TED Talk, you know that he is neither a seasoned public speaker, nor is especially comfortable with a speaking platform. He wanders about the stage too much, he has a giant set of notes he uses to flap about and at moments he just stares at his projector screen, rather than the audience. Any Toastmaster could point out a large handful of technical mistakes Jamie Oliver would have to overcome if he were to win a speaking competition.

Anyone whose second line in a speech is “My name’s Jamie Oliver, I’m 34 years old and I’m from Essex” clearly hasn’t read The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking by Dale Carnegie. It’s not professional, it’s not impressive and it’s not even that relevant.

And as Jamie Oliver tots up his public speaking technique black marks I get to thinking, “Thank You! Thank you for showing us that passion and heart still have a place in public speaking.” How can you even worry about a bit of mumbling, or funny fidgets when a speaker evokes this sort of reaction from his audience?

And its not just the online fans – the whole room at that TED conference were said to be captivated by Jamie’s talk. And why? Let’s unpick a little about what made this a successful TED Talk.

Perhaps it’s Jamie Oliver’s choice of subject matter that’s inspiring? Not necessarily. There are others who have tried the same and failed to gather as much of a reaction. Take Ann Cooper’s EG Conference Talk who I received as quite pushy, to the point of being a weeny bit scary! Or Dean Ornish’s powerpoint heavy TED Talk quickie. That talk was only 3 minutes, but it still felt longer than Jamie Oliver’s enjoyable 21 minutes.

Jamie Oliver’s TED Talk was powerful because it combined cold, hard data with real people. And his love for real people made us love him; just like anyone expressing their passion so openly and expressively would make us love them.

Jamie Oliver’s power on TV has always been connecting with people, treating them as real life human beings – and he does his best to play to those strengths in the strange environment of a TED Talk stage. We don’t need Jamie Oliver to be a technically brilliant public speaker, but we do need him to be authentically Jamie Oliver. And he pulls it off in style.

Compare Jamie Oliver’s TED Talk with Mark Bittman, who delivers a slick, well rehearsed talk in his EG 2007 speech. It seems clear that Bittman is a seasoned speaker, he has good arguments, good examples and good visuals. Good for him, solid job. But where’s the edge, where’s the passion? What am I supposed to feel at the end of his talk? It leaves me with a feeling of “oh, that’s interesting”, rather than the clear urge to act I get from Jamie’s TED Talk.

Give me the messy authenticity of Jamie Oliver any day, over yet another precisely rehearsed, carefully manicured presentation.

Yes, I loved Jamie’s talk. It was inspiring, in spite of (and perhaps because of) his technique as a speaker. He’s ruthlessly real – whenever he speaks he seems to refuse to pretend anything – and we love him for it. Yet I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that there was more he could have done to have us rallying behind his message. Sure, everyone gets nervous at a TED conference (as TED speaker Caroline Casey recently told me in an interview), but I would have liked to see just that edge more of self belief – just a touch more clarity and certainty in his message.

My advice to Jamie Oliver would be to stop for a moment and appreciate his power. To speak those key moments like his wish at the end from his heart, not from the notes. To stand firmly, to look his audience firm in the eyeballs and say, This is what I want you to know and this is what I want you to do. That’s enough. That is wow.

Don’t get lost in your own nerves, Jamie – your message is bigger and more profound than one person alone and we want to see that message in all its greatness.

Ginger Judge’s Scores

Basic Speaking Technique**Wandering around on stage, flapping notes, peering back at the screen – lot’s of technical no-nos.
Clarity of message*** Not always as clear / certain in message as you’d like.
Info with the ‘wow’ factor****Yes, shocking stats that will stick in the mind. Loved the bucket of sugar!
Power of message to move us*****He made it about us, so yes, very moving.
Personal authenticity*****Without a doubt – scruffy, honest, unashamedly Jamie Oliver.
How inspiring overall?


Couldn’t help but think Jamie ought to have hit a 5. He missed out on a sense of certainty or ‘standing in his message’ that would have made this a true classic.

Ginger Leadership Communications

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