Preparing for your TED talk

Before you think “I’m not giving a TED talk,” you should know that there are 47 TEDx events happening today alone, and over 50,000 talks to date.

You should also know that the same lessons for creating a good TED talk can help you prepare for a wide range of big moments in your life.

Here are five things I learned from my TEDx experience that might help you.

"Working Out Loud: The making of a movement"

Learn the basics.

Public speaking is a skill like any other, meaning that you can readily get better at it. You can get better much more quickly by understanding what others have learned before you.

The book Resonate will help you craft a more engaging story that’s more likely to, well, resonate with your audience. Presentation Zen will make your slides better than 99% of most presentations. Talk Like TED will summarize the lessons of what makes for a good talk and provide and analyze excellent examples.

Then read what speakers write about their experiences, and watch as much as you can to refine your own taste of what you like and don’t like.

Doing this research helped me. Next time, I’ll do even more.

Make the audience the hero.

The initial drafts of my talk were too much about me and my own story. While some of that is necessary for context, the key is focusing on how you can help the audience. Though my talk was about “Working Out Loud: The making of a movement,” it would be more engaging and useful if it helped the audience with their own movements.

As Nancy Duarte says in Resonate, be more like Yoda than Luke Skywalker. Enable heroes instead of trying to be one.

Get live feedback earlier.

I waited too long to practice in front of a live audience. Although I solicited feedback on the script two months before the talk and went through many iterations, I waited until just 36 hours before the event to rehearse in front of friends. Not good.

I fell into a trap of thinking I had to memorize it first. But by then, I had become too attached to the material and had little time left for major changes. That made everything more stressful than it needed to be.

Keep working on it till it’s authentic.

I’ve always confused spontaneity with authenticity, figuring that practice would somehow make my talk feel artificial, literally “scripted.” Now it’s clear that was just an excuse to avoid work I found uncomfortable.

The truth is that it’s hard to be yourself when you’re struggling to recall what to say, particularly on camera. There is no substitute for putting in the time to memorize your material - to know it so well that it’s a part of you and you can offer it naturally.

Make it fun.

Perhaps this seems obvious. After all, it would be hard for the audience to enjoy my talk if I seem anxious and miserable on stage.

Yet, I almost failed on this point entirely. In my rehearsal just before the event, I was practically somber. I was so focused on not losing my place that I lost myself. My small audience had to tell me to “Put more of you into the talk.”

I tried making the talk a bit lighter, and even got a laugh on my second slide, but I have a long way to go before I can relate to this kind of audience like I relate to people in my other talks and in my every day.

Your second TED talk

Yes, the process was uncomfortable (and worse) at times, but going through it unlocked learning and possibilities, including the chance that I’ll be better next time - and less anxious.

Whether you’re about to deliver a TED talk or make a video or give a performance in your own living room, treating it as a learning experience is liberating. It might even be fun.

At approximately 4:03pm on Saturday, April 9th

I’m asking for a rather strange favor. My friend and coach, Eve, would call my request a bit “woo-woo.” That’s our way to describe mystical things we can’t explain but we think just might work.

Mystical - and maybe it works

This Saturday afternoon, I’ll be on stage at a TEDx event in New Jersey, delivering the most important presentation of my life.

I’ve been increasingly anxious about it for months. Though I’ve given many talks, this one is more like an 8-minute movie than a regular presentation. I’m acutely aware that every mistake I make will be amplified on video.

So here’s my woo-woo request. If you’re reading this before 4 o’clock this Saturday, would you think a positive thought for me? Perhaps send me a mental message encouraging me to act like myself instead of The Presenter. Or wish that the audience receives my talk as a gift and not an imposition. That instead of being nervous and tense, I project humility, openness, and happiness.

I’ll be sure to provide a detailed update next week. In the meantime, please #BringTheWoo.

Thank you!

Working Out Loud: The TEDx Talk

I'm excited about this. The talk will be on April 9th at TEDx in Navesink, NJ, and the title is “Working Out Loud: The making of a movement.” The story I plan to tell won’t be about me or the book or even the practice of working out loud.

The story will be about something much bigger. 



The talk

The theme of the event is “Makers” and the organizers want to “explore the essence of creation.” In the case of working out loud, the thing that caught their attention is how we’re trying to spread a set of positive behaviors and are beginning to help a wide range of people and organizations around the world.

Here’s a description from the TEDxNavesink website:

“Stories of successful movements and movement-builders can be daunting as well as inspiring. The path can look so straight and assured in hindsight. At the early stages, though, the process of building a movement is fraught with uncertainty and a wide range of everyday crises. How do you start? How do you deal with the uncertainty at the early stages?

This is a story of Working Out Loud. Its aim is to help millions of people build better careers and lives, but will it? Examining it closely in its early stages can help other aspiring movement-builders know what to do and what to avoid.”

The movement we’re making

What’s the point of this movement and why would people want to be a part of it? A few months ago I wrote about where Working Out Loud is heading.

“Collectively, we will help millions of people develop the practice of Working Out Loud.

We’ll do it to help individuals access a better career and life,

to help the work of organizations be more effective and fulfilling,

and to make the planet feel like a more connected, humane place.” 

The key words in that statement are “we” and “collectively.” In my talk, I want to celebrate the people who are taking a step for themselves and those helping to spread the practice. I want to inspire others to take a step too, not to follow me but to lead in their own way.

As the event organizers asserted: “We’re all makers, and sometimes we choose to make a difference.” I want to help more people make that choice - in their own lives and in the lives of others.