Presentation Breakdown: “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”

So we’ve got numerous requests to do more of these TED presentation breakdowns, so we’ve thought to ourselves, “Why not feature the latest and coolest presentations?”

And that’s what we’re doing.

Today we’re featuring Simon Sinek’s “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” presentation:

Please see below our breakdown on how Sinek enchants his audience.


Simon Sinek

“How Great Leaders Inspire Action”

 0:00-0:28 – Begins the presentation with a series of questions to the audience

  • Right off the bat, Sinek has engaged the audience with a deep question, one that actually stimulates thought and creates a tiny wisp of suspense.  There is no doubt about where the presentation is going.  Sinek is using the question to make a statement.  This is a very easy and effective way of stating a point.


0:30-1:18 – Continues to ask questions of the audience, but refers to 3 specific examples from modern times moving backward to the turn of the century.

  • Sinek continues to ask questions of his audience, but has narrowed the focus of his questions.  He has referenced 3 major ideas of success: a company (Apple), a man (MLK) and scientific breakthrough (Wright Bros.).  By questioning very notable examples of success, Sinek has given us reason to doubt why these successes were successful.  This, in turn, has the audience craving the explanation.  Sinek has earned considerable attention.

1:18-1:35 – Shifts his questions into statements.

  • He sets up the central concept of the presentation by telling us how it affected him.  We, as the audience, are now more invested in the concept that we are about to understand simply because he told us how important it was to him when he discovered it.

1:38-1:55 – Makes a very strong, clear statement that leads into explanation.

  • Sinek has now given us a small taste of the central concept, of the meat, if you will.  He hasn’t yet told us the exact method by which success is achieved, but he has told us that it is the opposite of everyone else.  This is very clear and easily digestible, but it is not fully understood yet.  Sinek is still lingering on the precipice of the central concept.

1:55-2:20 – Introduces the idea of the “Golden Circle”

  • We are one step further in terms of understanding the centralized concept.  Sinek has now given us something to hold on to: an image.  He has piqued our curiosity even more, and we are ready to learn.


2:21-3:17 – Defines the terms of the “Golden Circle” and explains its meaning as applied to inspirational leaders and groups

  • Sinek has defined what he referred to earlier when he said that the great ones acted completely opposite from everyone else.  He has given meaning to his image of the “Golden Circle.”  Finally, he has explained how this concept applies to the previously mentioned subjects.  We are now primed for a thorough explanation from Sinek, which he has expertly constructed and is now prepared to deliver an example.

3:18-5:51 – Delivers a full explanation and example of how the “Golden Circle” concept works.

  • Sinek dives into the central concept.  He explains how and why Apple is successful in inspiring their customers to buy the product.  This example and its subsequent explanation give meaning to all of the preparation that Sinek has built up to this point.  He even compares and contrasts companies (Apple vs. Dell) and discusses how the “Golden Circle” concept applies to both.  We are now clearly and tangibly aware of the concept that Sinek is trying to illustrate. 

5:52-7:33 – Discusses the science behind the “Golden Circle” concept

  • Now that we have a decent understanding of the concept, Sinek reinforces the significance of this idea by backing it up with fact.  He has gotten our attention with the story and practices of the “Golden Circle,” but now he is justifying his claims with science, which only makes him sound more credible.  We believe in this stuff now, and Sinek is going to keep pulling us deeper into the inner workings of inspirational leadership and the passion that comes with it.


7:34-8:14 – Applies the scientific principle of “feeling” to “behavior” in the workplace

  • Once the element of scientific foundation has been laid, Sinek shifts briefly to discuss how the “Golden Circle” principle applies to who you hire in your movement, group, company, etc.  He stresses how important it is to know why you do what you do before you actually do it.  Now Sinek is speaking directly to the audience.  He says the word “you” repeatedly, which connects with the audience as he gives them some practical tidbits of advice.


8:15-10:57 – Tells the story of the Wright Bros. vs. Samuel Pierpont Langley

  • Sinek shifts into a story that deals with the central concept: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”  He explains how the two attempts at manned flight differed based upon their reasoning.  Once again, Sinek excels at presenting a clear image of contrasting ideals.  Just as in his comparison of Apple vs. Dell, Sinek is highlighting the successes of people who believe in what they do.  At this point in the presentation, we have seen two of the three aforementioned examples being applied to Sinek’s main point.  This story, like the one before  it and the one following it, helps to illustrate and demonstrate the main idea of the presentation.


10:58-13:31 – Introduces a new concept: The Law of the Diffusion of Innovation

  • Sinek is shifting into another principle and applying it to another practical example.  He draws the diagram, once again giving the audience something to hold on to and use as framework for the information to come.  Sinek is keeping the audience on their toes by introducing a new concept and proposing a new idea. 


13:31-15:15 – Applies the Law of the Diffusion of Innovation to a failed attempt: TiVo

  • Once more, Sinek is giving us an example of how one of his concepts plays out in reality.  He discusses the premise of TiVo and then why it was a colossal commercial failure.  He not only applies the Law of the Diffusion of Innovation to this example, but also includes the “Golden Circle,” building atop the foundation that he has laid thus far.  Sinek is a master of slowly and simultaneously revealing and building concepts with examples to further illustrate his points.

15:16-17:13 – Applies the Law of the Diffusion of Innovation to a successful attempt: Martin Luther King in Washington D.C. (“I Have a Dream”)

  • Sinek has discussed everything thus far in order to illustrate a much larger idea.  He has given the examples, introduced and explained the concepts all so that he can reveal the true meaning of leadership in action, which is the overarching theme of this presentation.  He tells the story of Martin Luther King’s speech in Washington D.C. in 1963.  He tells how it was organized, and more importantly how King himself used The Law of the Diffusion of Innovation to spread his word, and how he used the “Golden Circle” principle to speak his beliefs.  Now that we fully understand how Apple stays innovative, how the Wright Bros. changed history and how Martin Luther King was able to congregate such a massive amount of people for a cause, Sinek is preparing us for his final revelation.

17:21-17:56 – “There are leaders, and there are those who lead.”

  • This is it. This is the true and final revelation for which we have been waiting.  Sinek has cut to the core of all of his previous examples, concepts and stories to give us the meat of this presentation.  He has built up with lead-ins, subtle shifts and clear examples.  He has backed up his statements with facts, and he has captivated us with his passion.  We believe what he says because he has so clearly and so cleverly outlined, examined and explained his ideas.  There weren’t any misleading or vague moments in this presentation.  He also repeated “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” after many of his points were made.  This reinforces his main point, and gives us something to refer to and take with us.  All in all, Sinek is a clear, simple presenter that knows how to delicately and subtly build point upon point until his revelation.


Great leaders inspire action.  We follow these leaders not because we have to, but because we want to.  We follow them for ourselves because they speak from the “why” of their minds, not the “what.”  In order to lead, you must know why you are doing what you are doing, then you must speak from the heart and others will follow. 

Simon Sinek is a master architect of this presentation.  From the very beginning, his tactic of carefully and consistently adding layers of concepts, facts, explanations and applications gives depth and credibility to his words.  He teaches, but without overburdening his audience with instruction.  In essence, he has built a presentation from the ground up, using the very concept that he has illustrated to the audience.

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