Preparing for a TEDx Talk: A How-To With 10 Essentials

susan-vignette-2Preparing for my TEDx talk next month on how to lift depressed feelings without using pills has reminded me of many lessons I have learned over the years about performance, lessons very relevant to how to prepare for a TEDx Talk–and for that matter for any kind of public speaking.

As soon as I think about performing, my thoughts zoom straight to the violin teacher who taught me from when I was 11 until I went off to college. The late Dorothy Bales, whom we addressed as Mrs. Bales, taught me first and foremost the importance of daily practice.

At my audition to study with her, Mrs. Bales informed me that if she was going to take me on as her student, I would have to agree to practice an hour a day.

Did I keep my end of the agreement perfectly? No. But did I practice at least an hour most days? For sure yes. The result: Being a successful violinist no doubt was a boost that helped me to be accepted for undergraduate studies at Harvard. In addition, now, more than 50 years later, I still enjoy playing music, both on my violin and on guitar which I learned quite easily in high school because of already having skills on a stringed instrument. Most importantly, I learned the importance of practice for any kind of performance, and I learned how to practice.

BAck to my TEDx preparations—Mrs. Bales also taught me about preparations for performing, both in auditions and in performance situations:

1. Focus especially on preparation of a strong beginning and a powerful ending. The first notes give the performer confidence, and engage the listener from the outset. The ending is what your listeners most remember.

2. Divide the presentation into chunks. Practice each chunk alone. Then combine two side-by-side chunks. Put together sets of chunks, until the full presentation flows easily.

3. Perform with conviction, enthusiasm, and lots of relaxed yet strong energy. This point delights me. In high school, when I would audition for an orchestra, I often won seats quite above how well I actually could play. Looking confident and performing with gusto can be almost as important as technical expertise. Remember, a TED or TEDx talk is not an academic lecture; it’s an enthusiastic sharing.

4. Enjoy yourself as you play/say your performance. The more fully I enter the flow zone, the more that the audience is likely to slip into and go with the flow along with me.

5. Focus your talk on something that feels meaningful to you personally. In my TEDx talk I share information about lifting feelings of depression that I wish I had understood and been able to offer my parents when they were still alive.

My brother-in-law Karl also long-ago gave me invaluable speech-giving advice. Karl gives many talks to physicians. Turns out that who the audience is matters little. How you structure your presentation matters a lot.

6. Make just three points. Oh no! In this talk I offer four prescriptions! Since the first two are short, will four work?

7. For every point, give an illustrative example. Hmm… With just 10 minutes, I have time for just one case example. I’ll give illustrative examples of each all from the same case. It had better be a good story!

Ajit George, the affable head of TEDx Wilmington, has been sending preparation suggestions to those of us whom he has chosen to present at his up-coming event. Ajit has repeatedly (which I appreciate) emphasized the importance of reading books about TED talk preparation. He also has stressed the importance of watching videos of many effective prior presenters. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth a million.

From following Ajit’s excellent advice I especially treasure two critical elements that seem to characterize the best TED presentations:

8. Tell stories. Phew. I pass on that one. Many thanks to the therapy client who gave me permission to use her case, with name and identifying details of course changed to protect her confidentiality.

9. A TED or TEDx presenter makes just one main point, one “idea worth sharing.” The three subsidiary points and their illustrations all augment this one point.

10. Practice. Then practice more. When you practice, use the full enthusiastic style that you are aiming to use in the actual presentation. Practice on your own. Practice in front of friends. Get their feedback, incorporate it, then practice in front of more friends.

How does this 10-point formula work? We shall see . . .