How to Fearlessly Give a TED Talk: Public Speaking Tips from Professional TED Speakers
TED talks. We’ve all seen and watched a few, and most of these talks have left an indelible mark on our lives. But what is it that makes these talks just so great that it leaves the audience thinking and astonished?
To be direct, a TED talk is just like any other lecture, yes the topics may sometimes be profound or not your usual lecture topics, but the very core of every TED talk is the speakers. The people on stage know how to give a “talk” and speak to an audience, they know how to engage them, give out a great hook, line, and sinker that will leave you with your mouth and mind open to learning more.
So how do you give a compelling talk like most TED Talk speakers? Well, here are the top tips and tricks coming straight from professional TED speakers.
Table of Contents
1. Break the ice right away
As much as you are prepared for your talk or lecture, or you may be a known figure in the field that you are about to give a talk about, but it’s still a talk. Most people who are attending or will be watching will have their reservations and other motivations for being there other than actually listening to you.
So break the ice right away, throw in some humor, interact with the audience, and make them feel that it’s not just gonna be you speaking about what you know the whole time, even though that’s basically what it is. Make them laugh a bit, make them feel that they are a part of what you are about to give them.
In Sir Ken Robinson’s TedTalk, he breaks the ice by cracking a joke at the start, throwing some commentary, and interacting with the audience that the whole being on Ted Talk has blown him away and partly teasing that it makes him want to leave, and this has made the audience laugh.
Opening in a casual tone like he did, broke the audience’s expectation of how formal and structured a conference is which is what made the audience laugh. This also shows that aside from being an academic, he’s also a fun guy, warming up the audience before the full speech, and still throwing in some small jokes here and there to keep them on track.
2. Visuals will make it or break it
If you’re giving a talk that has a lot of numbers, figures, and facts in the mix, it would be best to pair it all up with some visuals so that the audience can make sense of what you’re saying even more. In the same way, the manner that you present yourself to your audience is also a visual aid, look inviting, come on the stage with a smile, wear some neat looking clothes.
In Dan Albert’s TED talk, he spoke about the evolution of the human brain, and to accompany it he gave a visual of how much the skull of early humans evolved in the past 200 or so years. This helped the audience visualize how much of an evolution the human brain has gone through to be what it is today.
While you might not have the option to bring an actual picture or slide presentation to a speech, your attire, the gestures you make, and how you carry yourself in front of an audience serves as a visual aid in itself. So, be wary of your hand movements and try to relax and carry your speech as naturally as possible.
3. Practice, not to be perfect, but to be confident.
A TED Talk is only 20 minutes max, and in that 20 minutes, the speakers must be able to impart their knowledge and move the audience and take action. But the real question is, how are they able to make a statement in 20 minutes?
The thing is, it’s not just all about being an expert or practicing your piece word per word. These speakers are able to command respect and admiration because they are able to stand on stage with power and confidence that hooks the audience’s attention.
Brittany Packnett’s TEDTalk on how to build confidence shares how knowledge isn’t enough if we don’t have confidence, how we’re in a day and age where confidence is considered a soft skill but in reality, it’s in the confidence that TED Talk speakers have on their piece that keeps us engaged. Confidence is what makes them compelling and credible in the eyes of their audiences.
4. Don’t show off
It’s public speaking, not show and tell. In most TED Talks you don’t see speakers opening their segment with their accolades just to get the audience’s attention, because it won’t.
As much as a leader you may be in the field you’re about to speak about or may have numerous accolades related to it, it’s not the time to boast and lay your feathers out in the open like a peacock looking for mates. This won’t give a good image to the audience and may even ruin your reputation in the short time you have with them.
TedTalk Curator Chris Anderson gives this tip to their speakers and many more, reminding them that the stage is for them to share the knowledge they have, and not to stroke their ego.
5. Tell a story
For most talks that you might have been to or watched, one of the reasons that might have pushed you to zone out, not listen, or just click X is that the speaker is just “talking.”
It sounds ironic, but even though you are a leading figure in the field you are about to speak about, that’s just half the battle. What you need to do is really capture the audience’s attention and just standing on stage and talking on and on won’t do that.
Tell a story, relate the numbers, facts, and figures to your own personal experiences, this humanizes you in the eyes of the audience. Or even better, speak about a shared experience that almost everyone in the room has experienced.
David JP Phillips demonstrates this skill in his TEDTalk about the science of storytelling, emphasizing how emotional investment is the core of storytelling. As stories capture people’s emotions, they create empathy for the characters and in turn, it is what makes people feel more human. By science, stories are “dopamine-creating” and “oxytocin-triggering” and in most cases, these are the emotions that draw people to action.
TED Talks are supposed to be limited to 20 minutes but the fact that people keep coming back for more has proven time and time again how it’s not what you say but how well you say it. While there is no “ideal TED Talk,” there are several aspects in common that successful speakers bring to the stage. They are all relatable, have engaging stories to share, and most importantly, have confidence in what they say or do that keeps the audience engaged to the end.
For more tips on public speaking and storytelling, visit our website. There you’ll find plenty of articles, examples and free resources to help you inspire your audience.