Yesterday, I gave my first TEDˣ Talk. It was organised by my employers, Telefonica in order to showcase innovative thinking throughout the business (usual work/personal disclaimers apply).
I don’t want to go into too much detail about how amazing the day was – or the incredible talks that I heard my colleagues give. I’d like to talk a little about preparation. What I think goes in to making a great talk.
I’m not going to claim that I know everything there is to know about public speaking – nor that my talk was measurably better than anyone else’s. I simply want to list what I do in order to feel comfortable up on stage. I hope that this will be of some use to you – whether you’re preparing for a TEDˣ or some other public engagement.
Understand The Event
What is a TEDˣ Talk? What is the message of the event? What are people expecting to hear?
If you’re talking at a shelter for stray dogs – don’t talk about stray cats.
What did people say last year? There’s no shame in watching other people’s talks and “borrowing” their successes. I’m not saying that you should steal material – but that you should study their inflection, body language, mannerisms, and work out ways that you can incorporate them into your style.
Talk, Don’t Write
The first thing to realise is that the written word is very different from the spoken word. It’s called a “Talk” for a reason!
If you start by writing down what you want to say and then reading it aloud, you’ll find that it sounds stiff, mannered, and entirely unconvincing.
Set up a voice recorder on your phone and start talking. Imagine that you’re talking to a friend, what would you say? How would you emphasise your point? Where would you pause?
Play it back and listen to yourself. You’ll hate the sound of your own voice, that’s perfectly normal!
Start writing down the phrases and sentences you like. Keep repeating them out loud. See what connections your brain makes to string points together. Record, listen, write, talk, repeat.
Once Upon A Time
There are many different ways to craft a talk. Ultimately, though, you’re telling a story. You’re around a camp-fire spinning a yarn – just like your forebears. You need to make the story compelling – I was always told that “acting is the art of stopping people from coughing.” In today’s world, “giving a good talk is the art of stopping people from staring at their smartphones.”
Think about the journey you want to take the audience on.
- The beginning – your audience knows nothing. How do you introduce them to the characters and the situation?
- Drama is conflict. Who are the “goodies” in your tale? What adversity are they facing?
- Resolution is satisfying. What was done to defeat the baddies? How did justice prevail?
- Knowledge is power. What practical steps can the audience take away? What’s their call to action?
- Finish. Don’t abruptly end your talk. Bring the audience to a definite conclusion. Let them know you’ve finished, and let them know it’s time to applause.
Get To Carnegie Hall
I cannot stress this enough. Learn your material. Know it off by heart. Know exactly where the pauses are, which words to stress, when you are going to have time to take a breath.
Practice in your car, on the loo, in the shower, wherever you can. But remember this – practice out loud.
Running through lines in your head is cheating! Anyone can fool themselves into thinking they know something. Talking aloud is the only way to prove that you can do it.
Let the words flow through your mouth. Let your tongue get used to the way one word morphs into the next.
Practice with real people. It’s easy to talk to a crowd of 200 strangers – it’s hard to talk to one friend.
Have a couple of people listen to you talk. Let them tell you where you’re going wrong – both in content and delivery. Trust them. Adjust your talk.
Then go practice it again.
You can’t go from zero to hundred-percent instantly. No one can. A few minutes before your talk, warm up your voice and body. Stretch, chat tongue twisters, jump up and down, hum scales, and take several deep breaths.
There’s no really good way to fake this. Are you excited by what you’re saying? If so – show it! Let the audience be infected with your passion – be it joy or rage.
If you’re not particularly interested in what you’re saying, the audience won’t be interested either.
If you can’t find anything to talk about which genuinely enthuses you, it may be time to reconsider whether you should be speaking.
I’ve written some more detailed tips on how to be a better public speaker. There are thousands of books on the subject – but none of them compete with experience. Talk to people. Talk to a group of colleagues, find a local group with whom you share an interest, go to BarCamps, take your voice and use it!
My blog, my rules. Here are some nice tweets and photos from the event.
— Mark McWhirter (@beardyirish) September 25, 2014