speech presentation stage

Since the first TED conference in 1983, TED presenters have shown the incredible power of a well-structured compelling presentation. TED, and its following of TEDx independently organized events, launched TED Talks online in 2006, reaching more than 1 billion views.

Preparations for a TED Talk, which typically last less than 18 minutes, begin six to nine months before the event and involve repeated rehearsals and editing. While there is no single approach for a “killer presentation,” communications experts agree that TED Talks are coachable, with lessons that are applicable in other public speaking situations, from leading an internal management team meeting to a pitching a startup to venture capitalists.

High energy and stage presence

As organizer of a Young Presidents’ Organization Poland Chapter event on how to deliver TED Talks, David Putts came away from the program with the realization there was much more to TED talks and public speaking in general than he thought.

“For me, it was a mindset shift. In the past when I learned about public speaking, it was more about mechanics. Today, the focus is on performance, raising your energy level to persuade and engage,” says Putts. “I also discovered that while it should be approached as a well-structured performance, you need to keep it authentic, not forced.”

Edie Lush, a communications coach who led the workshop in Poland, has worked with other YPO chapters and TED Talks speakers around the globe. She reiterates the importance of performing with energy and developing presence on the stage, taking control of how you look and sound.

“Without energy, the audience has to work too hard and may switch off. It is up to us to find the energy we need to project ourselves. We have to perform and come across with conviction,” Lush says. She believes that the most important physical act on stage is pausing.

“What feels like an eternity is a millisecond. A pause gives the listener time to digest and absorb. It also helps give gravitas, adds real weight to your message. But pausing can’t work without energy around it.”

Storytelling, emotions and making it your own talk

On content, Lush advises TED Talk speakers to use stories to illustrate each point they want to make. This allows the speaker to take the audience on a journey and can help them bring to life even the most technical content. “Tell an audience how you feel – whether it be excited, proud, astonished, worried. They want to hear your story, examples, analogies. I use the story structure to introduce characters, explain facts and share opinions.”

TEDx speaker and YPO member Sean Kelly, a social entrepreneur and nutrition activist, relies on storytelling principles for his presentations.

“Public speaking is not complete without stories. Integrating stories based on emotion is more important than presenting data. I would rather listen to someone with poor vocabulary but real passion and emotion,” says Kelly.

From his TEDx talk, “The Global Health Paradox” at TEDx Columbia Engineering School in New York, he also found that projecting a vision of a better future could provide powerful emotional engagement.

While many popular TED Talks are memorized word for word to ensure the flow is natural, Kelly believes it is the quality of the narrative and passion of the speaker that is more important. “By all means, practice and know what is coming next in your presentation. But above all be yourself and play to your strengths.”

Here are 5 more tips for improving your TED Talk from Edie Lush:

  1. Worry about how you stand. You can decrease nerves and increase impact by standing up straight with your shoulders back and head straight up — and use your arms. This position physically increases the testosterone (your ability to take risks) and decreases the cortisol (your stress levels). Watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk to learn more about the importance of body language.
  2. Vary your vocal tone. Even non-professional singers have about two octaves in their voices. Use vowels to vary the tone you use. Emphasize along the way as this usually helps slow down speaking speed.
  3. As you develop your messages, think about personal stories that can illustrate the points as real-life examples help connect the audience to you. If it is quite a technical point, then an analogy works really well. Descriptions and illustrations speak to the part of the brain that sees and remembers pictures.
  4. Eye contact can be difficult if the stage is lit and the audience is dark. Mentally divide the audience into three or four sections and spend time speaking to one section, then turning to the next section. This makes the audience feel included in the talk.
  5. We cannot read and listen at the same time. Your slides should be incredibly simple. A picture and a few words. A quick test to see if your slides are simple enough is to text the image to a friend and ask the friend to read it without zooming in.

This article first published on Ignite, the official blog of YPO – Young Presidents’ Organization.