Preview: Public Speaking Tips from the Top 10 TEDTalks


Short, but powerful talks.  Although typically fewer than 18 minutes long, TEDTalks pack a punch:  unique ideas presented with passion.

Inspired by a recent NSA-MN Chapter meeting speaker, Hayley Foster, who spoke about creating TED-style talks (post here), I decided that I (and you) could probably learn some public speaking tips from TEDTalks.  For the next 10 weeks, I will watch and analyze a talk a week, from the most viewed talks (starting with #10 and working up to #1). Above is a screen shot of the top 10 most viewed talks as of 11/21/2013. (Link to current most-viewed list).

In about 600 words, I will share some public speaking tips from each talk that you can use in your presentations.  I invite your comments!

Next week is #10:  Dan Pink:  The Puzzle of Motivation

How to Create a TED-Style Talk: Advice from an Expert


Hayley Foster, Short Talk Expert, presents at NSA-MN

Imagine standing on a TED stage, sharing your passion with the world.

Maybe that’s not your dream.  But, wouldn’t you like to have a powerful, TED-like presentation?  TED-style talks aren’t just for TED events.  They are becoming more popular at conferences, too.

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Chapter of the National Speakers Association hosted  a presentation “Short Talk. Big Impact. The Magic of TED for Speaking Professionals” by Short Talk Expert™, Hayley Foster.  Hayley, who has coached more than 200 TEDx speakers, shared insights on how to create a TED-style talk and the whys and hows of speaking at a TEDx event.

In case you didn’t know, TED is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design and TEDx events are independently organized.  TED talks are short, typically fewer than 18 minutes (Hayley showed a video clip of plane crash survivor  Ric Elias’s 5 minute TED talk  to show that powerful speeches don’t have to be long). Speakers speak for free at TED events, but in return can gain massive online exposure. Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability has garnered more than 12 million views.

The TED talk is not just a short version of a keynote, even though it shares the same basic 3 components of many keynotes:

  1. Content
  2. Delivery
  3. Visuals

The critical piece is the content.  You have to have the idea!

“There’s something that you don’t talk about,” said Hayley, “that if you talked about it, it would be extraordinary.”

A useful activity in uncovering your unique idea, which Hayley had the group practice, is to discuss your passion with someone else and have them explain it back to you.  Often other people can connect with your passion and unlock another way of seeing it.

If you want to speak at a TEDx event, you can find upcoming events here.  Be forewarned that TEDx organizers have a bias against professional speakers, seeing them as difficult to work with.  One of the most challenging aspects is a speaker’s willingness to build in practice time in front of a live audience.

Hayley ended her talk with more specifics on preparing a TED talk, including the “TED Commandments.”


You might think that professional speakers would do especially well with TED-style talks, but that’s often not the case.

“Many methods that drive professional speaking success are the ones that get in the way of delivering an outstanding TED style talk, ” said Hayley as she briefly discussed the “12 Mistakes that Professional Speakers Make” from her pocket-sized book, “Don’t Tank Your TED Talk!” ($9.95, email Hayley, if you want copies).

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What unique, extraordinary message is waiting for you to express it?


FREE KINDLE BOOK until 11/16: 12 Ways to Be a Confident Speaker

12 Ways Kindle Cover Snip
If you’ve enjoyed my recent tips on becoming a more confident speaker, you will want to get your FREE Kindle book12 Ways to Be a Confident Speaker.  But, hurry! The book is only free through Saturday (and after that, it is available for only $2.99–It’s a short book!)

And, I have a BIG favor to ask you!

Will you post a review on Amazon for the book? 

Reviews are critical for helping people decide to buy a book.  I’d really appreciate it if you could do this for me.

Here’s the Amazon Kindle book listing:

If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download a Kindle reader here:

Get your free copy today!  A print version will be available soon!

How to Prevent Speech Disasters

Speech DisastersYou’ve seen it happen.

Maybe it’s happened to you.

The microphone cuts out.  The PowerPoint slides don’t work.  Your presentation time gets cut.

Can you recover when things go wrong in a speech?

Can you plan ahead to manage the risk?

Yes and yes.

The 3 key ways to reduce risk: Checklists, Dress Rehearsal, and Contingency Planning.

1. Checklists: Seminar Equipment Checklist and Pre-Presentation Checklist

Your memory is not infallible.  Checklists are an easy way to make sure you don’t forget necessary equipment or procedures.  Astronauts use them.  Surgeons use them. Speakers should use them! Click on the above links for my checklists for when I hold public seminars.  Feel free to modify them for your own use.  A checklist is a work-in progress.

2. Dress Rehearsal

The value of a dress rehearsal can not be overstated.  You may not be able to do a final rehearsal at the actual venue, however.  Set up your own dress rehearsal, making it as close as possible to the actual conditions.

A few weeks ago, I set up a dress rehearsal for a young client who would be presenting a TEDx talk 6 days later in Florida (16 year old Astronaut Abby).  I created an Eventbrite event 2 weeks prior to the dress rehearsal and Abby’s mom promoted it to her friends and family. Prior to this dress rehearsal, Abby and I worked first on the content of her speech, and then practiced the delivery with two run-throughs early on at a couple of Toastmaster clubs (got great feedback, from both the Toastmasters and the video which I took and made her watch).

At the dress rehearsal, a few small challenges became apparent.  The slides had just been completed the day before, and Abby was not completely fluid in going through them. She also needed to look at her notes a little more than she should have.  And there were little things too, like the color of her shoes.  On the TED stage she would be visible from head to toe, so shoe color did matter.  I videoed the dress rehearsal and made her watch it again a few days before the TED event, after which I had her run through the presentation with no notes.  At one point, she forgot what to say next and got a little flustered.  We had a chat about how to handle a memory glitch (in this case, don’t react, just move on).

On the night before the TED talk in Florida, the presenters had the opportunity to rehearse a portion of their speech on the actual stage, with microphones and their PowerPoint.  Abby’s mom texted me from the rehearsal, “We just listened to two adults give their talks and let’s just say they didn’t have you.  They gave nice reports on highly scientific stuff that no one will follow . . .Abby only did part of hers, but it was apparent she owned the stage.”

And the next day, Abby did “own the stage,” receiving the only standing ovation of the event.

A dress rehearsal can make the difference!

3. Contingency Planning

Presentation planning begins with audience analysis and ends with contingency planning. You need to have plans in place for outcomes other than expected.  There are several key uncertainties when speaking.  Here are a few, with some ideas on what you could plan:

Technology fail:  sound equipment, computer

Go into the presentation prepared with back-up equipment, if possible, and your presentation on a flash drive (and also online as a further back up). One organizer told me that my presentation was pre-loaded, but when I got there it wasn’t.  Fortunately, I had my presentation on a flash drive.  I also had my own lap-top and a remote with me, even though the organizer told me there would be a remote (there wasn’t).

Plan on giving your presentation without your slides.  That means you better have a print out of your slides (or an outline) if you had been relying on your slides as a presentation prompt.

If your microphone fails and you are speaking to a group of fewer than 100 people, in a room that is not too large, you can probably do without the microphone.

Ask for technical assistance.  And, while you are getting technical assistance, if it wasn’t a microphone problem, tell a relevant story to keep the audience engaged.

Use humor!  Have some stock phrases ready to go and you will sound like a genius!

Here are a few ideas:  Handling Problems During a Presentation

Remember to focus on the audience, not your problem.

Program fail:  Schedule change, length change

Plan on being flexible.  Know where you can cut and add material (Q&A can be added or cut).  Once I was the speaker scheduled before lunch, with an hour slot.  The speaker before me, a well-known television personality, went 15 minutes overtime, into my time slot.  I couldn’t go overtime (never, ever cut into meal time). So, I adjusted by cutting out a story, an example and Q&A.

Presenter (You) fail:  memory lapse, run out of time

You could soldier on, which in many cases is the best choice–the audience probably won’t notice.  Or, you can admit the problem.  Audiences may like you even more for not being perfect.  If you have forgotten something, you can say there was something else and you’ll come back to it, if it comes back to you.  Take a peek at your notes and go on.  If you run low on time, ask the audience which point they want to hear from you, and promise a resource (email, link) to additional information.

There are, of course, many other things that can go wrong.  But, you can’t go far wrong if you remember one thing:  Focus on the audience, not your problem.