November 3, 2010 — 3 Comments
Admit it. The day you learned you get to give a TED talk, you couldn’t help but burst with pride. Sure, it’s not the TED conference… just a local TEDx event. But who cares?! In many people’s eyes, you’ve arrived.
This is your 18 minutes of fame! Finally, you get to talk to people outside your profession. And it puts you in front of a high-powered, well-connected, and insatiably curious audience… the TED community, known as TEDsters.
These days, I find myself having to prep quite a few speakers for their TEDx talks. Maybe it’s because I used to be a journalist. Or maybe it’s because I’ve developed toolkits on communication and storytelling. Or maybe it’s because I’ve given a TEDx talk before at TEDxTaipei.
Whatever the reason, I’ve now worked with quite a few youth leaders on their speeches. Each time, it’s a real privilege to see their story take shape. As they all begin to discover, it’s not just a “talk.” It’s about who they are and what their Purpose might be.
So how do you prepare for these TEDx talks with such high expectations? Having worked on several of them from first draft to last, I would offer these general principles and guidelines:
1. Read the TED Commandments
These are the official guidelines from TED on how to prepare your talk. If you’ve been invited to speak, you probably have received a copy of this. Chew them over one at a time and let them sit with you until each one triggers new ideas.
- Thou Shalt Not Simply Trot Out thy Usual Shtick.
- Thou Shalt Dream a Great Dream, or Show Forth a Wondrous New Thing, Or Share Something Thou Hast Never Shared Before.
- Thou Shalt Reveal thy Curiosity and Thy Passion.
- Thou Shalt Tell a Story.
- Thou Shalt Freely Comment on the Utterances of Other Speakers for the Sake of Blessed Connection and Exquisite Controversy.
- Thou Shalt Not Flaunt thine Ego. Be Thou Vulnerable. Speak of thy Failure as well as thy Success.
- Thou Shalt Not Sell from the Stage: Neither thy Company, thy Goods, thy Writings, nor thy Desperate need for Funding; Lest Thou be Cast Aside into Outer Darkness.
- Thou Shalt Remember all the while: Laughter is Good.
- Thou Shalt Not Read thy Speech.
- Thou Shalt Not Steal the Time of Them that Follow Thee.
2. Watch some TED talks.
The more the merrier. You might do it anyway just because so many of them are so damn good. But you might want to save this step till after you have a first draft of your own speech. Allow yourself to formulate your talk before you’re influenced by others.
You’ll see from the talks just how diverse they are. There is no standard template, really. Nor should there be.
But do pay attention to each speaker’s delivery style. Some might more closely match your own. Look to them for inspiration on how to structure and deliver your talk.
3. What is the question?
Establish near the beginning of your talk what question fascinates you, and by extension, what question your talk will try to answer. What is the central question you’re trying to answer through your pursuits? Once this is established and your audience finds the question interesting, they will be hooked. They’ll come along for the ride.
An interesting question becomes an itch you want to scratch. Create that itch and people will want you to scratch it for them.
4. Give the backstory.
You were probably chosen to give a talk because you did something people noticed. The question is, “What don’t they see?”
Do they understand how it originated or unfolded? Do they know the challenges you had to go through? Describe how you got to where you are, if you think it can illuminate a subject.
Behind every interesting or inspiring thing or person, there’s a good backstory. You can’t go wrong sharing it.
5. Tell it chronologically.
Unless you’re very confident in your storytelling abilities, stick with telling your story chronologically. Don’t jump around or else it can get confusing.
Also, you want to build up to whatever it is you’ve accomplished. So don’t start off telling people about your crowning achievement or the impact you’ve had on others. Don’t give away the ending right at the beginning.
A story that follows a simple chronology is also easier to tell and easier to comprehend.
6. Strive for emotional impact.
People need to feel your story, not just understand it. Ask yourself, “Will people get this on an emotional level?” Where is the emotional peak?
Of course, it’s always hard to know how people will respond – on any level. But look to yourself. Why does what you do matter so much? Were there any moments in your career or life when you felt the importance of what it is you’re passionate about? Share those moments.
They could be times…
- When you or someone overcame challenges (against seemingly insurmountable odds)
- When you or someone expressed remarkable creativity (beyond your wildest imagination)
- Or when you or someone made an unlikely connection with someone else (despite your differences)
Make sure you’ve achieved emotional impact no later than 2/3rds of the way through your talk.
7. Share what you’ve learned. (Don’t preach.)
Let us in on your own intellectual journey. Take us back to when you knew less than you know now about whatever subject you’re talking about. What was your understanding then? What important insight(s) do you have now? Share with us the events or discoveries that caused the change.
By acknowledging that you have learned from your experience, you avoid coming across as a know-it-all. You will appear humble and even vulnerable. The audience will be able to relate to that.
8. Flip the paradigm.
Try to have a take away message that invites people to think differently about something. First, you have to identify what ideas or beliefs you have that are unusual or more refined than what is commonly held. Often, when you become an expert in something, you will develop ideas that most non-experts don’t have. Are some of them worth exploring? Talk about how you formed one of those ideas.
By the time you get to your concluding remarks, you should make it very clear what your alternative viewpoint is. State it explicitly so that people register your “sticky” message.
9. Present photos and video, not text.
In an 18 minute talk, you are saying a lot. You shouldn’t put more words on screen for people to digest. Instead, show them photos and videos that help transport them to places and moments mentioned in your talk.
Only create slides with text if people often compliment you on how beautiful your PowerPoint or Keynote presentations look. Otherwise, don’t bother.
10. Write two different talks.
If you’re really struggling with what to talk about, come up with two completely different talks. Test them on friends or just sit with them for a few days. You’ll know which one feels right.
This is how designers work. They come up with two or three different designs and then get feedback before deciding which one works best.
Abandon the idea you have only one good TED talk in you.
11. Memorize the beginning and the end.
If you feel you have to memorize your entire speech, go ahead. But the most important parts to perfect are the beginning and the end. Start well and end well.
What about the middle – the bulk of the speech? Ideally, your talk is mainly a story (or a series of events told chronologically). It should have a natural or logical flow. Let that help you remember what to say. You’ll find that you don’t need to remember a story word for word. Your audience will allow for a few fumbles, or a more causal or chatty delivery.
But try not to fumble at the beginning (when you’re trying to hook them) or at the end (when everything has to be tied up).
If you have your own tips, I invite you to post them below. And if this guide helped you prepare your TEDx talk, share a link to your talk as well.
Charles Tsai is a journalist, writer, speaker and consultant for social entrepreneurs. If you like more posts like this, subscribe to his blog.