TEDx is the holy grail of public speaking. A chance to finally get your story, your message, and your voice in front of tens of thousands of people. Everyone knows the value a TEDx talk can bring to their career, but few actually understand the logistics behind the events themselves.
How do you prepare for and present a flawless speech? How do you leave a lasting impression on your audience? How do you actually land the opportunity to speak in the first place? There’s a lot to learn, but fortunately, there are many public speaking veterans eager to assist you on your journey towards a great presentation.
Here’s what they did to make their talks successful, and how they suggest you can do the same:
1. They sell themselves before they sell their stories.
It’s often harder landing a speaking gig at a coveted event like TEDx than it is delivering the actual presentation. It’s a competitive environment. People are aware of the prestige that accompanies talking in front of those big red letters, and as such there are dozens of applicants fighting for your spot on stage.
“To stand out you need more than just a gripping story. The organizers actually need to know who you are.” Says Cammi Pham, a TEDxRyerson speaker. “People focus on the content of their speech to the point that they forget to sell themselves, and as a result, many speaking opportunities pass them by.”
Failing to convince organizers that you’re an ideal speaker will ensure that your important story remains unheard, while many average stories take the stage because the presenters knew how to sell themselves.
So how do you convince TEDx organizers that you’re the perfect speaker?
For many TEDx speakers, opportunities came from within their network. They got on the radar of event organizers early on, struck up friendships and developed relationships for months, if not years ahead of their eventual appearances on stage.
Make an effort to connect with TEDx organizers and you’ll stand a much greater chance of having your voice heard. After all, asking a friend for a favor is much easier than cold pitching a stranger.
2. They help promote the event itself.
TEDx events are local gatherings of people committed to sharing new, thought-provoking ideas. They require time, organization, and promotion in order to be successful -- and as such it’s essential that a team of dedicated volunteers help get things off the ground.
“Merely speaking at the event is not enough.” Says TEDx, UofT organizer and speaker, Manu Goswami. “If you really want to leave a lasting impression on attendees, fellow speakers, and TED employees, you want to be the driving force behind the entire event.”
Become a spokesperson for the event on University campuses. Lead the charge on social media. Become the reason why people find out about the event in the first place.
By being in the inner circle of the TEDx event management team, you’ll have opportunities to put yourself forward as a speaker and connect with other thought leaders from around the world. Not to mention you have influence over what topics will actually be presented in the first place.
So how can you get involved in a TEDx event near you?
- Visit the TED website.
- Apply for a TEDx license.
- Come up with a compelling theme around which your event will revolve.
- Pick a great venue (college campuses work well).
- Assemble a dedicated team (passionate and productive people who can get the job done).
3. They study how great speakers explore similar topics.
Most TEDx talks revolve around an overarching theme -- a focal point organizers use to tie different topics, talks, and ideas together. The more relevant your topic is to the theme, the more your ideas align with the expectations of attendees, and the more likely your speech is to resonate with the audience.
Themes are designed to be deliberately abstract, leaving speakers with a wide variety of interpretations and a diverse array of topics to choose from. Yes, you can let your creative genius run rampant and come up with a topic all on your own -- but to ensure you come up with a winner, it’s often best to study how popular TED speakers have interpreted themes in the past.
“There are thousands of talks that have already been given, and it’s likely your topic has already been explored in various shapes and forms,” says branding expert and serial TEDx speaker, Ryan Foland. “Watch TED videos about your topic on YouTube. Pay close attention to the number of views each one gets. Some will have millions of views -- identify what makes them memorable. Some will have relatively few views -- analyze what they could’ve done better.”
4. They believe there’s no such thing as too much practice.
Scripted, robotic, and boring. That’s what people fear their speech will sound like if they try and memorize it or go over it too often. But nothing can be further from the truth according to TEDx Hong Kong speaker, Joshua Steimle.
“I prepared as best I could. But I wish I had practiced 20x as much. I realized that rather than making my speech sound scripted, having it memorized to the nth degree allowed me to customize it on the fly.
I could adapt it to different venues and occasions with very little effort, and without losing my train of thought. And while I was scared that I’d choke up and forget parts of it -- my familiarity with the words ensured that never happened.”
5. They build confidence through vivid visualizations.
Speaking in front of a large audience can be intimidating, especially if it’s your first time. But to deliver a compelling message you have to speak with conviction. You have to develop confidence, not just with the subject matter, but with the idea of standing in front of thousands of people.
TEDx speaker, Krystal Covington, suggests a number of techniques to help you build this conviction. “I read my speech repeatedly for months, made changes on a near daily basis, performed in front of coworkers and friends, and listened to recordings of my performance incessantly. I did visioning exercises -- imagining myself walk on stage, taking note of my body language, receiving applause as I made my concluding remarks.”
This combination of preparation and visualization removes the fear of unfamiliar experiences. By vividly imagining yourself standing on stage you can convince yourself that you’ve already given this talk before. Since you’ve done this all before, there’s nothing to feel nervous about.
6. They anticipate and prepare for technical difficulties.
Even well-organized speaking events can be fraught with technical difficulties -- most of which are beyond your control. The microphone might stop working, the lights could cut out, and your Powerpoint slides might take on a life of their own.
"Any number of these scenarios can derail your carefully prepared presentation. That’s why it’s essential to anticipate and plan for them," says personal branding expert and TEDx speaker, Leonard Kim.
“My speaking coach recalled a story of how one of his student’s mics went out mid-talk. He walked me through how to prepare for that technical difficulty. Instead of interrupting my speech and improvising with a handheld microphone, we practiced maintaining a vocal tone strong enough to fill a room without the use of a mic at all.”
You have to anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong on the day, make a plan for each scenario, and incorporate these plans into your practice routines. Preparing for technical challenges can mean the difference between a potential nightmare and an opportunity to impress your audience even further.
Public speaking can be scary even when you’re prepared. But it’s downright impossible if you’ve never taken the time to figure out how all the pieces fit together. That’s why it helps to learn from people who’ve already been down the path you’re traveling.
Develop relationships with TEDx organizers, help organize the next TEDx event yourself, study how great speakers explore similar topics and anticipate and prepare for technical challenges on the day.
It’s these small insights that could mean the difference between a speech that’s quickly forgotten (or worse still, never heard at all), and one that’s a sensation for many years to come.