Published November 02, 2011
Trying to engage an audience? Here’s a list of what to do and what to avoid when you’re handed the microphone.
When it comes to amazing speeches, TED rules. Founded as a clearinghouse for free knowledge and inspiration from the world's most remarkable thinkers, TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) grew from an annual conference in Monterey, California, to a news-making series of global events featuring some of the most exceptional talks in today’s world.
The TED Commandments
No TED speech runs longer than 18 minutes, and all follow the “TED Commandments” for speakers — a set of guidelines valuable to any speaker, anywhere: “Dream big. Show the real you. Make the complex plain. Connect with people’s emotions. Don’t flaunt your ego. No selling from the stage! Comment on other speakers’ talks. Don’t read your talk. End your talk on time. Rehearse your talk in front of a trusted friend … for timing, for clarity, for impact.”
To this list, I’d add one more thing: Print the preceding paragraph and commit to following every rule.
Before you can commit to a great presentation, though, you have to plan a great talk. To tap into a gold mine of planning advice, study Scott Berkun’s “Confessions of a Public Speaker,” with advice on everything from overcoming attacks of the butterflies to working a tough room. In a chapter titled “Do not eat the microphone,” he reduces speech preparation to four tips:
- Take a strong position in the title. Know your topic, know your point of view and create an interesting title that expresses this. Avoid “the same recipe that’s put us to sleep a thousand times,” Berkun says, citing titles like “Risk Management 101.” “For those who remember college,” he says, “101 courses were boring.” Better, he says, are titles like “Mistakes I Made in X and What I Learned,” or “Why X Sucks and What We Can Do About It.” See a pattern? Draw people to your talk with a bold title that describes what you promise to communicate.
- Think carefully about your audience. Learn who will attend, what they currently think, and what they hope to learn. Get this information from the meeting presenters but then go further, searching online to learn about attendees as well as what people are saying about your topic on blogs and social media sites.
- Make your points as concise as possible. I’ve long said that what you can’t explain in a sentence, you can’t sell — and certainly that applies in the arena of speechmaking. Write your key points down. Arrange and rearrange their order. Reduce them to a list of five or fewer things. Wordsmith them into powerful statements your audience can grasp, remember and carry away. Then make them the foundation of your talk.
That way, Berkun says, “if during your presentation you get lost, your laptop explodes or your notes become incomprehensible, you can fall back on the outline” and still deliver value to your audience.
- Know the likely counterarguments of an intelligent, expert audience. Berkun says, “If your presentation is about why people should eat more cheese, you should at a minimum know why the Anti-Cheese Foundation of America says people should eat less cheese.”
The big moment
Berkun’s advice for the moment of your presentation can be reduced to three words: Set the pace. “Provide an easy-to-follow rhythm,” he says, such as “I have 30 minutes to talk to you, and five points to make, so I will spend five minutes on each point and save the remaining time for questions.” Then keep your word — which leads straight back to the TED talk commandments.
Capitalizing on success
Once you finish — on time, of course — and after the Q&A and long applause, leverage your success.
Send thanks via email and social media to those who made your talk possible. Post your handout, slides, outline, audio or video online for greater reach and visibility. Search blogs and social media for mentions about your talk, responding and reposting wherever possible.
Finally, start preparing for the next opportunity. With great planning and presentation guidelines, you’ll be in demand.