Public speaking can be a lot of things: Terrifying, nerve-wracking, or quite often– strangely inconsistent.
Sometimes you’re standing in front of a crowd and you feel like you’re on a wave. The energy is right, the tempo is there, and you’re completely nailing it. But other times, it’s like you’re watching yourself crash. Your voice slows, your tongue feels heavy, and your mind races in circles looking for your next sentence. You feel stuck.
While there are innumerable tips to improve your public speaking, one has been right under our nose all this entire time, just not in the way you would think.
TED Talks have been the go-to place for everything from entrepreneurial knowledge, to historical fun facts. But did you know it’s also a treasure trove for public speaking tips?
By examining a TED Talk, you encounter more than just fun facts and interesting characters. You also learn about the tempo, stage presence and speaking style of the world’s greatest leaders. A TED Talk has all of the great components for public speaking success. And with literally over a decade worth of material, there’s plenty of learning you can do.
But luckily for you, you don’t have to comb through hours upon hours to jot down notes before your next presentation— because I already did it for you.
Here are 15 secrets you can pick up from some of the most legendary TED talks.
1. Turn Nervous Energy Into Good Energy
Try watching a TED Talk with the sound off. You can almost hear the story simply by observing the speaker’s movements and hand gestures. The big TED stage is the perfect size for walking around and gaining solid movement that matches the speaker’s tempo.
Instead of fidgeting at a podium or focusing on your body — move naturally! Sure, you don’t want to pace back and forth, but by freeing your body to be natural, your mind relaxes and you’re able focus on something other than the nervous inner dialogue of “Am I being still enough? How do I look?”
Turn that nervous fidgeting into momentum by getting rid of the podium and exploring the stage.
2. Focus On Your Breath
While breathing and meditation are a frequent topic in TED Talks, they can also help with your speaking, too. When we become stressed or anxious, our breathing becomes shallower.
This automatically makes us feel anxious, and if anxious while speaking, we become short of breath. To counteract this, focus on deep breaths when you feel a burst of adrenaline.
3. Use Your Tone to Strengthen Your Message
Tone and inflection are a huge part of public speaking. Don’t deliver big news in a monotone voice, or deliver any serious news in a “too excited” type of way. Focus on keywords, and repeat important phrases to add emphasis.
Some speakers go through a script and tag what each piece of news means. This allows them to focus on how their tone can strengthen their message.
4. Beware of Repetitive Movements
The best talks are dynamic both in content as well as tone and tempo. However, you should beware of motions that are too repetitive. When we repeat motions, it’s an instinctual “lulling” mechanism. Just like rocking puts a baby asleep, if we rock or sway on stage, it causes an instinctual lullaby pattern in the audience’s brain.
Walking around the stage is great! But don’t pace! Similarly, stepping forward and backward is great, but don’t rock. Be sure to move with purpose. Maybe come closer to the audience when your presentation calls for it, or stepping back during overview portions. Be aware of how you move.
5. Give People Time to Learn Your Accent
Everyone has some form of accent. Even if you think you don’t, every voice is unique. If you have a distinctive accent, don’t worry! TED speakers come from around the world, and they’ve certainly shown us how accepting audiences can be to unique accents.
The recommendation here is to keep your opening sentences slow, and a tad over-enunciated, so that the audience has time to adapt to your speaking style and voice.
6. You Have 7 Seconds
Most audiences choose their level of interest within the first seven seconds of your presentation. Therefore, make an impression! Whether it’s opening with the “meaty” parts and then describing how you got there, or opening with a relevant story, the opener certainly does matter.
7. Scripts Kill Confidence
It’s great to have an outline, but a script — not so much. While this certainly depends on the speaker, many find that using a script can really kill the natural flow of a presentation. This is because your mind is more focused on rehearsed lines, than delivering information in an organic and practical way.
Seeing a speaker ad-lib, or go on a quick tangent, puts the listener at ease and really gives a fun, casual spin on a speech or presentation.
8. Get Hydrated 15 Minutes Before
One great aspect about Ted Talks is vocal sound. The sound quality of the speakers is always incredible. And while this can largely be attributed to a professional sound crew, one way to ensure good speaking tone is through proper hydration.
Drink water, but the key is to drink water 15 minutes before. Why? Because if you go into the talk with your mouth too wet, the microphone is going to pick up on the “clicks and clacks” made by the moisture.
9. Focus on Something Outside of Yourself
Before going on stage, it’s imperative to remain calm. One trick that many of the TED Talk speech coaches recommend is “focusing out”.
Instead of drifting off into your thoughts and thinking of the speech, “zoning out” means to pick something around you and just focus on it. Maybe it’s the color green, so you then look around the room to see how often you can find the color green.
This simple trick eases the mind, and helps you hone in your focus, without focusing on your presentation material.
10. Move, But With Purpose
We’ve already covered the no-no’s of swaying, as well as the power of turning nervous energy into physical energy.
However, don’t forget that your body is also part of your presentation. Explore the stage with your movements! A frantic intense part of your story? Walk across the stage as you speak. The resolution of the story? Lower your voice and approach the audience at the front of the stage.
Adding movement is just is important as tone, tempo and content.
11. Smiling Makes You More Trustworthy
Studies have shown that smiling makes you more relatable. The same can be said for TED Talks! Talks in which the speaker was smiling, not only made the speaker seem at ease, the talks had a very authentic and casual feel to them. This was true even when the content was technical or sensitive.
12. It’s Not “What” You Say But “How” You Say It
Inflection matters, as does speed and tone. Think of your presentation like a song — not a pop song on the radio, but a classical movement. There’s going to be parts that are meant to be spoken soft and slow, while there are other parts meant to be quick and exciting.
Pace yourself, and familiarize yourself with the various modes and nuances in your voice and delivery.
13. Don’t Forget, The Audience Likes You
At the root of everyone’s public speaking fear, is the fear of not being accepted. But we can’t forget that the audience wants to see you win. They want to hear your ideas, they want to see you have fun. Even if they don’t agree with what you’re saying, they’re still very much on your team.
14. Be Okay With The Unexpected
It’s going to happen! Your mic will cut out at the climax of your presentation, you may forget a word, or your slides may spiral out of order. But just laugh it off, or react appropriately. These things are bound to happen, so when they do, don’t let them ruffle your feathers too much. This is all about enjoying yourself and making connections.
15. Psych Yourself Up! Don’t Put Yourself Down!
A lot of times our inner dialogue can be our biggest enemy, maybe without even knowing it. We internally think all of the ways our speech can go wrong. However, you can bypass this by psyching yourself up.
Will it seem forced at first? Sure, but keep at it, and it’ll pay off. Simply tell yourself, this is going to be fun! Or, just 15 minutes to tell my story and we’re done, let’s do this!
These are just a few things we can learn from watching TED Talks, as well as reading about their team, their process and their most legendary presentations. There’s plenty more you can learn as well, by simply checking out some of your favorite TED Talk topics.
The recurring theme here though is simple, having fun. Whether it’s a presentation for work, a research study for school, or even a toast at a wedding — you’re there to tell a story and to take the stage. Enjoy yourself!
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