TEDx Talk—11 Tips to Help Prepare

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Imagine, it’s the day of…it’s about to all come true. Today, you give your TEDx talk. You’re mic’d up; you step out from the darkened wings of backstage into the spotlight; you’ve reached the red carpet. You turn to face the eager audience, and…you open your mouth.

What effort did it take to get there? Let me tell you, the speaker curator will be your partner in this effort.

The role of speaker curator
The speaker curators work with speakers in an ongoing supportive capacity. We create a schedule to keep in regular touch; we help hone and refine speakers’ talks and we coach with delivery suggestions. Essentially, we listen, we watch, we feel, we experience and give feedback in the most loving ways we know how.

As a 2014 TEDxNavesink speaker, speaker curator and speaker coach, here are my top 11 tips to help prepare speakers give the talk of their lives. These tips are applicable to speakers themselves and to the speaker curators whose responsibility it is to support the speakers in the countdown to giving their talk. If you have addressed all of these at a minimum, you will be in a great place when your day comes.

1. Ensure the talk is true to the theme
The subject matter of the talk is true to the event’s core theme. TEDxNavesink 2015’s theme is “Accelerators.” As speaker curators, we hone in to ensure the talk addresses the core theme: what’s the acceleration story in this speaker’s talk? What’s the unique, compelling, difference in this talk related to the theme? In the mantra of TED, “what’s the idea worth spreading?”

2. Create a powerful phrase or takeaway
The talk has a powerful phrase or takeaway that the audience will remember. Such a powerful, memorable phrase helps to make the talk stand out. It identifies the speaker with the message. For example, my memorable takeaway in my 2014 talk was “What’s the best thing that’s happened to you today?” I had people lining up to tell me how powerful that little question was. I get people emailing to let me know how successfully they have used it to improve relationships with family members and colleagues. People stop me in the street and want to share.

3. Develop an attention grabbing opening
The opening is really strong and grabs attention. My own curation team and speaker coach Jeff Davis advised me to use my powerful question as my attention grabbing opening. I listened to their advice and it worked. It’s that first impression that counts and, in nanoseconds, it can set the tone for what follows. You want to engage with the audience from the start. It’s easier to keep them once you have their supportive attention. It’s a wow-moment opportunity.

4. Establish your credibility
You establish and maintain credibility early and keep adding to it throughout the talk. If your talk is a personal story, the audience cannot challenge your reality, but you can add third party credibility with quotes, or statistics, credentials or name-drop. For example, I consulted to Google, so I managed to weave that in, as it was related to my field of study and work. I quoted one of my favorite, most highly respected authors. Include facts or people that the audience will identify.

5. Build emotional connection
Emotional connection with the audience is a most important consideration. This is why personal stories really work well. To rely purely on science and facts and intellect is not enough. We want to feel something. Connect to the heart, to the gut, to really engage people. When coaching speakers, it’s so important to ask them “what feelings/emotions do you want to evoke in the audience?” I prompt them: do you want to delight, shock, arouse curiosity, arouse wonder, or concern? How will your arouse those emotions?

6. Awaken the imaginative capacities
Transport the imaginations of the audience through your colorful language and imagery. Paint pictures with your words. Tell vivid stories to ignite imaginations. Take people to new places. Allow them to run the movie in their heads. For example, in my TEDxNavesink talk, I vividly describe two cab drivers. People tell me those descriptions were so clear—they visualized the faces of my cab drivers.

7. Stimulate all senses
Visual and auditory stimulus can augment the audience experience. Use slides or videos very intentionally. And bullet points are a no no! Remember, your TED talk is your story or your unique perspective. It is not a lecture, a sales pitch, a business presentation. We regularly have brilliant academics and polished business professionals and/or authors submit to talk who are of the view that because they are seasoned presenters, it’s a walk over. Their prior experience means they can stand up very comfortably and “present”. I am a trainer, a facilitator, as well as a conference speaker. Believe me, there is a big difference in all of those delivery styles. Knowing the difference matters.

A quick story: Peter Gray, in 2014, whose talk, The Decline of Play and the Rise of Mental Disorders is so far the most popular TEDxNavesink talk with almost 100,000 views. Peter is an academic researcher. Peter was wedded to his usual bullet point presentation format. Not only that, Peter disclosed to me during our coaching sessions that he had only ever presented from a podium, referencing his notes and slides. Peter was a great “client”. He accepted graciously that he had to let those usual props go. He listened to the feedback. He was able to talk statistics without focusing on numbers or slides but with images and stories. With only the teleprompter at his feet, at the edge of the stage, he clicked his way through to deliver a talk that received a standing ovation.

8. Prepare, prepare, prepare
You cannot prepare enough. I started practicing in January and the event was in May. For four months I practiced every day: first thing in the morning, in the shower, putting on my makeup, working out. I recorded myself on my iPhone so I could listen to it when I was cooking, walking or driving—just as I listen to podcasts. I was my own favorite podcast show! I video recorded myself so I could look at my facial expressions.

I had a lucky break. There were four of us in our town who were fortunate enough to be selected to speak at TEDxNavesink 2014—myself, Laurie Brekke, Marie Jackson and Gail Woods. We formed a support group in the last couple of weeks and met a couple of times a week to practice together. We gave each other feedback and cheered each other on. We made ourselves feel more comfortable speaking to an audience.

9. Articulate with movement and gestures and eyes
Delivery is as important as content. Practicing in front of a mirror, on video or best yet, an audience allows you to test out your gestures, your movements, your facial expressions and your eye contact with the audience. Standing in front of the video camera on your computer or your mobile device helps enormously. Decide if you’re a mover on stage, or you prefer to stay centered in one spot. If you move, how purposeful and how well-timed are your movements. Your gestures need also to be congruent with your language and message. You will always be told about ensuring you have eye contact. Aim to connect with members in the audience and hold their gaze. Move your eyes and face to connect with all parts of the theater, indicating you are aware of the whole audience, while having intimate eye contact with a few.

10. Use vocal variety
Your voice adds to the quality of your delivery. Become aware by asking others about your tone, your pitch, your intonation, your emphasis. There are people who are monotone in their delivery, some are sing-song, and many in between. Be open to be receive feedback about your voice and if you need to lower or raise the pitch, change the speed, alter your tone or tempo.

11. Enjoy the experience
Stay open to all the feedback. It comes from a really supportive place. Your curators, coaches, family, friends and colleagues are there to support you to give the best talk of your life.

When it’s over and you walk out of the spotlight, speaker curators feel as equally proud as the speakers themselves, because they’ve work closely together. To see a speaker you have supported gives a great sense of satisfaction and pride.

Once it’s done, you will feel so high and so thrilled and so proud. Bask in the immediate appreciation. Believe me, you won’t forget your talk. I can still stand up and deliver mine today almost a year later. It came from my heart. It reflects who I am and I live it every day. Authenticity—I hope you intuitively got that tip, too.

Now is the time to get your tickets to TEDxNavesink Accelerators and hear great (and well-prepared) speakers. Click here for tickets.

If you’d like to read more, here’s another post to back up my 11 tips.
Robyn Stratton-Berkessel has been connected with TEDxNavesink since the beginning, volunteering at first on the sponsor team and then the last two years as on speaker curation team. Professionally, Robyn is a Positivity Strategist, specializing in participatory, strength-based approaches to innovation, leadership, high-performing teams and organization alignment. She gives talks, coaches, and designs and facilitates workshops all over the world. Since her very popular talk at TEDxNavesink, 2014, “Playful Inquiry - try this anywhere”, Robyn has launched her highly successful podcast show, Positivity Strategist, where you can listen to Robyn interview a number of our 2015 speakers.

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