TED Talks curator Chris Anderson explains the 18-minute rule as time ‘long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention’. When I descended the stage after my 15-minute TEDx talk, I asked my good friend Alex who was there with me, the immediate most important for every speaker question: “What did you think? How was it?”. “It was great that your talk was shorter than the others we have seen today”, was his very first reaction. This could mean a complete failure or a resounding success.
Oscar Wilde once said: “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes”. As I still haven’t seen the recording from my talk at #TEDxTriaditza #BuildingBridges, my hope to prove Mr. Wild wrong is vivid. Yet I did gain some experience.
The world-famous conference format had fueled my inspiration hundreds of times for many years. At some point it became obvious that all remarkable talks have a few things in common. Here I’d like to put my two cents worth on how to approach the task. It will help you prepare for your TED speech, or any other talk designated to inspire.
1) Know WHY you have been invited. It is not to present your product, service or work, no matter how inspirational it might seem to you. The reason you are invited is to share and hopefully to transport an idea worth spreading. If it’s part of what you do, that’s fine, but please, no brand and service positioning when on stage. You are invited to share thoughts in words that will inspire people to take action for improvement. Their improvement, not yours. There is no other reason for you mounting that podium.
2) Know well WHAT you will say and the words you will choose. If you are a writing person, put pen to paper and say it all in advance, ideally, weeks before the event. Then optimize it by cutting the half of it and leave the gist. If you prefer to talk in quotations, better stick to your own. Every other sentence should contain a key message. At the same time, be careful not to overdose it with too many main messages so people get lost. My ideal proportion is five minutes – new angle to the topic.
3) Rehearse, practise, excel. If the organizers have framed it as 18-minute talk, aim at 18 minutes on the dot and even better, do a few mocks in front the mirror setting the stop watch at the 15th or 16th minute. Put a real timer, don’t just count minutes while looking at your mobile phone when starting and finishing. Watching a chronometer counting down the seconds reminded me of the times as host of a morning radio show, where we excelled the so called intro-outro. To do it the right way you need to start talking at the fading melody of a song while another begins and you need to precisely stop talking a second before the voice enters the music. Don’t count on writing a few bullet points and imagining roughly what you mean with each one. Being a TEDx speaker has more similarities to performing a piece or etude than delivering a lecture at university.
4) You are the presentation. Not only the message but the way you spread it has its impact. You need to plan both your words and silence. Like inhaling-exhaling, doing it hurriedly will get you out of breath. To use or not to use slides? That is not the right question. The proper one is “Do your slides add to the story you are telling?” If not, you know the answer.
5) Be confident ENOUGH. While confidence stems from rehearsal, this is not valid for the right volume of it. A couple of years ago I attended a fantastic training on powerful presentations. There was this popular round red small carpet they put on each TED stage. The trainer asked us to imagine the red dot as a 1-10 target and to consider how confident one would feel when delivering a speech or talk before a group of people where 1 is “I’d better collapse”, 10 is “completely certain of my ability to do this”. As an amour-propre booster all other trainees chose “10”. Surprisingly for the trainer, I spotted 8½ as my desirable confidence gauge. The reason behind was the clear insight after watching numerous orators in action: overconfidence distances you from the audience and isolates you on a private island called “your ego”. Being too confident means you are there for yourself and not for the audience.
Delivering a TED talk or any other inspirational speaking undoubtedly provides personal branding opportunity as much as it is a call for personal responsibility. It is about taking and giving back. Approach it purposefully with open heart and mind, and then head to the stage not only to perform, but to serve and to create meaning. This is way to go if you are well-intentioned about building a bridge from you to people who have gifted you their time and attention for this-maximum-of-18-minutes.