How to Deliver a TEDTalk: The Catchphrase

Would you like to know the secrets of the world’s most inspiring presentations?

In his book, How to Deliver a TEDTalk,  Jeremey Donovan shares nuggets of wisdom mined from studying the most popular TED Talks.  Just in case you are somehow unaware of TED Talks, TED is a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading worthy ideas through “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.”  Their exclusive conferences are expensive, but the talks are freely available online.

Donovan’s book, easily read in one sitting, is divided into 2 sections:  Part I covers content, story and structure, and Part II covers delivery and design.

If you are a serious student of public speaking, there will not be much new information; however, framing the advice in the context of TED talks is what makes the information seem fresh.  In fact, I was inspired to watch a few TED videos after reading the book, and that alone makes the book worth reading.

One of my favorite chapters was “How to Craft Your Catchphrase.”  Here is a summary of that advice:

  1. Keep it short.  Three words are best, but you can go up to twelve.  Some examples from President Obama:  “Hope and Change”, “Yes We Can”
  2. Issue a clear call to action.  Examples:
    1. Simon Sinek’s TED talk:  “Start with Why”
    2. Johnny Cochran’s jury instruction in the OJ Simpson trial:  “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” (referring to the infamous glove)
  3. Employ a musical, often rhyming structure
    1. Repeat words at the beginning (anaphora) or end (epistrophe).                                                           Example from Dickens Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness . . .”
    2. Repeat the same word in different parts of the phrase. Example from Simon Sinek “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
  4. Punch up the two-part catch phrase:
    1. Make the second part positive and sharply contrasting with the first part (“people don’t buy what you do . . .” cause the audience to think, “well, what do they buy?” which is answered by the second part of the phrase,  “ . . . they buy why you do it.”
    2. Put the punch word or punch phrase at the end.  “You must acquit if the glove doesn’t fit” doesn’t build to the punch the same way that “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit” does.

Donovan is clearly a student not only of TED videos, but also of Toastmaster World Champion speakers, as he quotes both Craig Valentine and Ed Tate in this little gem of speaking wisdom.

Get the book and/or watch some TED videos and be inspired to share your ideas with the world!

Thanks to subscriber Joe Sharp for lending me this book!

Speaker Checklist for the Day of the Event

The day of a speaking event can get hectic, so I use a checklist to make sure I don’t forget something critical!
Speaker Checklist:
  • Confirm time/location/agenda/AV set up
  • Presentation Notes
  • Equipment (computer, cords, remote, flash drive, etc.)
  • Clothing (jacket on hanger), back-up clothing
  •  Introduction (for person introducing you—large font, name phonetically spelled)
  • Cell phone
  • Contact phone numbers
  • Map to location
  • Handouts (bring some, even if the host is making copies)
  • Props
  • Water bottle
  • Timing device (I use an app on my phone/iPad)
  • List sign up (newsletter)/lead form
  • Camera/batteries/tripod (if recording)
  • Give away item(s)
  • Business cards
  • Promotional Materials
  • Items to sell
  • Cash for change, credit card processing
  • Thank you follow-up to host
  • _________________________
  • _________________________
  • _________________________

What else?

Transitions in Your Speech Bridge the Gap

Transitions help your speech flow smoothly as one unified, coherent  presentation.  They link from one part of your speech to the next.

A transition can be as simple as an extended pause.  That’s right.  Silence.  Just be silent for a couple of beats and then go to your next point.  You can accompany “movement” to your next point with physical movement on the platform to another position.  Many speakers will start out in the center in the introduction and move off to the sides for the main points and then come back to the center for the conclusion.

A transition also can be a simple “signpost” such as “first . . . second . . . third.”  Better signposting will include a number and a reminder phrase.  So, instead of just saying, “Second . . .” it is better to say, “The second reason you want to use storytelling in speeches is . . .”

You also can use transitional words and phrases, such as “in addition to . . .” or, “Not only . . .  but also . . .” and “in summary.”

More elegant transitions show the connection between the introduction and the body, between the main points and between the body and the conclusion.

There are two main ways to show connection in transitions:  the mini-summary (or recap), which quickly sums up the point before moving to the next point, or the mini-preview which sets up the next point.

You can recap your point or points yourself, or ask the audience a question and get them to recap the point for you.  You also can share a story or quote which summarizes your previous point or previews the next point.

I will sometimes highlight an important point in the recap:  “If you take only one idea from my presentation today, make it this . . . “

2001 World Champion of Public Speaking, Darren LaCroix in his winning speech used the mini-preview quite effectively:

  • Set up point 1 (a story):  Dr. Goddard had a ridiculous idea.
  • Point 1: Dr. Goddard story
  • Transition phrase:  I remember when I had a ridiculous idea.
  • Point 2:  My ridiculous idea story

The transition to the conclusion is important and different in that you have to indicate to the audience that you are coming to a close (so that it doesn’t seem abrupt).  You can be obvious and say things like, “in conclusion” or “in closing” which is better than nothing or you could try a more elegant approach combining specific phrases (e.g. “Now that you can see how [solution] can work for you, let’s review why you would want to implement it . . .), with body movement (coming back to the center) and slowing your rate of speech, using more pauses.

Here’s a question on conclusions I’ve often heard . . . “Should I say ‘thank you?’”  I suppose it is a matter of personal preference, and if you are in Toastmasters, you probably have heard that you shouldn’t.  As for me, when I speak professionally, I almost always do.  I sincerely appreciate my audience for allowing me to enter their world.

The SHARP Method of Structuring a Speech

A speech is written for the ear and not the eye.  Unlike reading an essay, a person cannot go back to review what you just said.  Your audience is forced to go at your pace.  Therefore, a speech must be clearly and simply organized to help your audience follow your line of thought.

This post is a quick look at the basics of organizing a speech, including the SHARP method for supporting your points (based on an acronym provided by Joe Sharp).

Introduction (10-20% of your speech):

The introduction needs to accomplish three basic things, the 3 Ps mentioned earlier:

  • Pep—get attention (questions, startling statements, quote, story/humor)
  • Promise—state solution or benefit (give your audience a reason to listen. Sell a vision)
  • Path—preview points (tell them where you are going)


Body (70-85% of your speech):

The body typically will have three main points (people remember 3 points easily), with each point being supported by a both a mental anchor and a power phrase.  Mental anchors help the point stick in the mind and are designated by the acronym SHARP :

Story (or analogy/metaphor)





Power Phrases are catchy phrases that sum up the point in a memorable, repeatable way.

For example “Facts tell, but stories sell.”

Transition between each point and transition to the close

Conclusion(5-10% of your speech)

The conclusion also needs to accomplish three basic things:

  • Revisit the points and promise from the introduction
  • Close with a big anchor—see following sections on openings and closings.  Your most powerful anchor should go here, or find its completion here.
  • Call to action (the action might be a call to a different way of thinking, via a final thought-provoking question, or a call to feel differently about something and change an attitude, or it can be a call to a physical action).

More on transitions next week!


Public Speaking: How to Manage the Fear, Part 3

Many people will say that you need to change your feelings and beliefs (the inner game) before you can change your actions (the outer game).  However, I believe they are interrelated.  You can change one to affect the other.  In public speaking, you can “fake it till you make it” to a certain extent.  You need to act as if you already are the speaker you wish to become.

The Outer Game

 1.      Structure Your Speech for Success

Don’t make your speech too complicated!  Most people can only remember 3 main points, so try to have only 3 main points that you support with stories, examples and interesting facts.

2.      Practice. Practice. Practice

One of the biggest fears that people have about public speaking is that they are going to forget their speech, or that they will have poor delivery.  Overlearning the material and practicing will help you gain confidence.  Practice from keywords and allow yourself to say things differently from how you originally wrote the presentation.  If you try to memorize a presentation and then, under stress, can’t recall the exact phrase you memorized, your mind is more likely to draw a blank than if you simply practiced from concepts and key words.  Practice your transitions between your key points as well, to help your delivery become smooth.   Memorizing the opening and closing can also help you feel more confident, and those are the parts that people are most likely to remember, too.

3.      Vary Practice Conditions

Practicing under different conditions will help you deal with stress.  One of my favorite places to practice is in the car while I’m driving.  This divides my attention between the speech and driving (you probably DON’T want to practice in rush hour), which makes just giving the speech seem easier.  If you have the opportunity to practice where you will be giving the presentation—take it!

4.      Rehearse Live

There is nothing like a live rehearsal!  Give your presentation or portions of it to your friends and family.  Toastmaster clubs are a great place to practice and get feedback on presentations, too.

 5.      Reduce Risk: Have Checklists and Back Up Plans

Make a check list (notes, water, props, equipment, speaker introduction, etc.) and check it before you leave for your presentation.  And, have a plan B.  And a plan C.  And a plan D.  Almost anything that can go wrong eventually will.  But some things are more likely to go wrong—technology for example.   If you have a PowerPoint presentation, have a plan for what you will do if it doesn’t work.

6.      Have Coping Supports in Place

You know what your challenges are.  What can help?  Do you need some water for dry mouth?  Room temperature water is probably best for your vocal cords.  Do you need a small towel for sweaty palms?  If your hands shake maybe small note cards are a better choice than sheets of paper for your speaking notes.

7.      Warm Up

If I am driving to a speaking engagement alone, I almost always warm up my vocal cords by singing in the car, either to the radio or, more often the “Do-Re-Mi” song.  I also will slide my voice up and down.  I do this to improve the quality and range of my voice.   You can also release some nervous tension by stretching your arms, neck and jaw, rolling your shoulders and clenching and unclenching your fists.

8.      Meet the Audience

Get to your presentation early enough to meet some of the audience members.  Then you will have some friends in the audience.  As a bonus, you may even get some material to use in your speech!

 9.      Slow Down and Breathe

If you lose your breath, you lose your voice.  Just prior to speaking, you can do some deep breathing to help calm yourself:  breathe in through your nose and fill up your abdomen, hold this breath for 10 seconds and exhale slowly, pushing the air out with your abdomen. Repeat.  Take a breath before you speak your first words.  While speaking, remember to slow down, pause and take a breath!  You can also practice breathing while driving or at bedtime.

10.  Speak to Individuals

For most people, speaking one-to-one is less scary than speaking to a group.  So, consider the group as composed of individuals and speak to individuals conversationally, making and sustaining eye contact with an individual for a complete thought before moving to another individual.  You can practice eye contact when you practice your speech by drawing simple faces on sheets of paper and putting them up in the room as you rehearse.  Stuffed animals can work too, although it looks a little silly if someone walks in.

Combine the outer game of physical preparation, practice and performance techniques with the inner mental game and manage your fear of public speaking to the point and become the powerful and confident speaker you were meant to be.