7 Pieces of Public Speaking Advice I Learnt From Speaking at TEDx
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 45 seconds
If you’ve watched a TED talk before, you’ll have probably noticed that they have a very distinct style to them – the talks are sharp, emotional, thought provoking, and ultra-shareable.
This isn’t by accident. The organisers of TED events invest a lot of effort into training their speakers to ensure the talks end up like that.
As many SoS readers are public speakers themselves, and with quite a few digital marketing conferences on the horizon, I wanted to share a few of the most valuable lessons and experiences I had in preparation for a talk I did at TEDxMelbourne last year.
1. Practice your talk AT LEAST 50 times
“If you want me to speak for two minutes, it will take me three weeks of preparation. If you want me to speak for thirty minutes, it will take me a week to prepare. If you want me to speak for an hour, I am ready now.” – Winston Churchill
I remember being told by Jon, the organiser of TEDx Melbourne, that if you practice a talk 10-20 times you will *feel* as if you know your talk, but you probably only know the words of what you’re saying, and you might not sound very natural saying them.
He went on to suggest that it takes AT LEAST 50-60 run-throughs to know your talk off by heart and sound natural. Many of the most shared talks on TED.com took over 50 hours of practice to get right!
2. Explain WHY before HOW or WHAT
After finishing the first draft of my TEDx talk, I was sent a link to Simon Sinek’s great talk on how leaders inspire action. In his talk Simon explains the power of explaining ‘why’ before ‘how’ or ‘what’, and how this has been the secret sauce behind Apple’s effective marketing campaigns.
Frustratingly, watching Simon Sinek’s talk made me scrap my initial draft and start again. If memory serves me rightly, my first draft started with “Over the past few years I’ve had a passion for getting out of my comfort zone…” – a pretty generic ‘what’ statement.
I changed this opening line to “If you had never done anything that made you nervous, where would you be right now?” which helped the audience identify with the importance of doing things that scared them and getting out of their comfort zone from the very first line of the talk.
Explaining why something’s important before you explain what it is can be tremendously powerful – in fact, much of the A/B split testing I’ve done over the past year or so has proven this theory true.
Using headlines like ‘Need to Get Your Music Out There?’ are often far more effective than ones like ‘The Ultimate Package to Get Your Music Out There’ because the reader understands why before they understand what you’re doing or saying.
3. Don’t move around too much
This was a big challenge for me. When I speak at events, I like to walk around on stage as it adds more energy to the tone of my voice, but at TED events you’re given a small red circle carpet to stand on – and they’re very strict about not leaving that circle!
The speaking coach at TEDx explained to me that when I move around I may feel energetic but the audience receives less energy from what I’m saying because they have to keep up with my movements, whereas if I stand still I may feel less energetic, but the audience gets more impact from what I say.
4. Begin your talk preparation by deciding (concisely) what you want the audience to think, and do.
I have to admit, I still struggle with this one a lot. When you’re structuring a presentation the first thing you should answer is ‘what do I want the audience to go away with?’ and then work backwards from there. Resist the temptation to put everything you know into your talk.
This prevents you from having too many tangents to your talk, or diluting your message with too much information. If the purpose of your talk is to inspire one action or teach them one incredibly useful lesson, then your talk will be well received.
5. Watch talks similar to how you’d like to present
In the run-up to the event, the TEDx organisers sent me a dozen or so previous TEDx talks to watch and gain inspiration from. One that I found particularly useful was June Cohen from TED Media’s explanation of ‘What Makes a Good TED Talk’.
Watching videos of speakers from previous editions of the conferences you’re speaking at allows you to get a feel for the style and audience of the event.
6. Speak slowly and pause often
Last week I spoke at a music event called MIDEM. It was my biggest talk to date and going on stage was pretty nerve-racking, despite practicing the talk 5 times a day for about four weeks! But I received a lot of feedback about how confident I came across because I spoke slowly, paced, and paused a lot.
Most people have a tendency to speed up the pace of their voice when public speaking, which makes them sound nervous and makes it harder for the audience to keep up with what they’re saying.
Speaking slowly and pausing between your slides is a great way to appear more confident, even if you’re nervous. It’s also makes it easier for people to tweet what you say 😉
7. Walk around the room you’re speaking in
The day before TEDx Melbourne, all of the speakers were invited to the venue to practice their talks on the stage, train with speaking coaches, and get feedback from fellow speakers and the organisers.
While the practice and feedback was very valuable, I also found it immensely useful to familiarise myself with the venue, the people, and the room. Sitting in the audience and walking around the room ahead of the event means that on the big day you don’t feel like the new kid at on their first day of school. It’s tough to articulate, but I find that seeing the room from different perspectives gives you a bit more confidence.
I hope these tips are useful to anyone who’s preparing for a talk in the next few months! If you have any questions or want to keep in touch my email is Marcus (at) Ventureharbour.com, and on Twitter I’m @MarcusATaylor. Thanks!
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