9 Tips for Giving a Powerful TEDx Talk.
Updated: May 11, 2020
What I learned on my journey to the red dot.
On April 9, 2017 I gave my first TEDx talk called, “What children learn from the things they aren’t told.” Since then, I’ve been asked many times for advice on how to give a TEDx talk and what I learned.
I believe that’s what life is for — to share what we learn from our experiences with others. I also believe each of us has a story and an idea worth spreading. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to share mine and so in the spirit of “ideas worth spreading,” here are 9 of the most important tips I can offer you along your journey to the red dot:
Set an intention. Setting an intention is the first step in giving a TEDx talk. Intentions are powerful. Aligning with why you want to give your talk will infuse everything you do. I was very clear in my intention even before I considered applying to give a TEDx talk. Setting an intention helped align me with the confidence to give a talk from the TED stage. I believe when we set intentions, the Universe not only listens, but responds by helping pave a path.
Start speaking. Not many people know this, but the preparation for my TEDx talk began 2 years prior to stepping foot in the red circle. Even though I had an idea worth spreading, I also had a fear of public speaking. I joined Toastmasters to face my fear. For two years I was able to practice using my voice and develop a relationship with my message. I don’t believe in luck, but I do like what Oprah Winfrey says about it: “I believe luck is preparation meeting opportunity. If you hadn’t been prepared when the opportunity came along, you wouldn’t have been ‘lucky.’”
Research and apply. A TEDx event is an independently organized TED talk and they happen year-round all over the world. Most TEDx events have a theme and it’s important to do your research to find an appropriate event for which to apply. I discovered my TEDx event on Instagram doing a #hashtag search. The theme was, “Threads Undone,” and was about challenging societal norms — which was perfect for my core idea. It was also 6 months away. I recommend finding an event at least 6 months to one year away. Having adequate time to plan will only enhance your message and solidify the impact it makes.
Personalize your practice. I loved when our TEDx speaker coach, Kymberlee Weill, told us, “no one has ever been hurt from practicing their talk too much.” Most TED talks are about 18 minutes and are given without notes, so in order to practice I had to memorize what I wrote. I found an article highlighting 8 different memorization techniques. I used them all to find one I liked. It’s important to find a method that works for you early on. Recording myself on my phone and listening to the recording while hiking, at the store, driving, and even before I went to sleep really helped me. I didn’t memorize to regurgitate words, I memorized to become my talk. Once my talk was memorized, I practiced every single day, twice a day. Practicing in front of a live audience was also important. I’m big on energy and I wanted to see where in my talk I could feel if people were checked in or checked out. Practicing my talk gave me confidence. The more I practiced and integrated my talk into my being, the more confident I felt in delivering a powerful message.
Play with your talk. Working hard at something can be stressful. Going after anything worthwhile can bring with it unwanted stress. That’s why incorporating play is something both valuable and important. Playing with your talk will help it move from your head into your heart. One of my favorite things I did during my entire TEDx preparation was to dance and sing my talk. I set up a practice space in my living room and choreographed dance routines while giving my talk. Dancing my talk, singing my talk, running around my apartment screaming my talk became something I enjoyed and looked forward to doing. It helped ground me in my body. My neighbors probably thought I was crazy, but it was so much fun. I remember one time even catching a neighbor looking at me through their kitchen window. It was an awkward moment, but I thought, “okay, good, this is what it feels like to be looked at while being vulnerable.”
Visualize hugs and high fives. Visualizing helped connect me to the audience months before I was on stage. I imagined their facial expressions, what they looked like, and where they sat. I imagined their smiles when I said something funny and tears in their eyes when my words were emotional. “How do you want to feel when you walk off stage?” was one of my favorite questions asked during the entire TEDx process. I visualized myself feeling accomplished, exhausted from putting my all into the experience, and I visualized lots of hugs and high fives. Connecting with the energy of how you want to feel when you walk off stage helps keep you aligned with your original intention. It will also help ensure you get lots of hugs and high fives when you walk off stage.
Protect your energy. The day of the event is going to be chaotic. Chances are, you’ll have an early call time, you’ll have friends and family coming to support you, and you’ll feel excited the day has finally arrived. There will be a lot going on, so staying as centered as possible is extremely important. Our TEDx event had a green room where only speakers were allowed. Even though my family and friends were in the audience, I chose to harness my energy and remain in the green room. I didn’t want to take on anyone else’s nervous energy or get caught up in the activity of the day. Protecting my energy and staying centered was the best thing I could have done the day of my TEDx talk. When I walked on stage, I was calm, centered, and ready.
Drink water. Staying hydrated isn’t just important for your health, it keeps your vocal chords lubricated. I started drinking 2 liters of water per day about 3 months prior to giving my talk. Making sure I was thoroughly hydrated prevented me from having to clear my throat or from getting cotton mouth during my talk. There’s nothing more distracting than hearing someone speak with cotton mouth. Being properly hydrated also helps you feel healthy and look strong. Feeling healthy and looking strong improves your stage presence.
Eat food for a marathon. Think of approaching your TEDx talk like you would running a marathon. The food you put into your body will impact your performance. What you eat directly effects how you show up on stage the week going into your talk. During a cross-country cycling trip I did while in college, I learned very quickly that what I ate the night before always determined whether or not the next day’s ride would be more or less difficult. Everyone’s body is different, so listen to yours. Mine told me to avoid dairy the week prior to my talk. I’m glad I listened because my body never felt more clear than when I stood on the TED stage.
One last important tip I have for anyone giving a TEDx talk: surrender the outcome. Use each of these tips and put your all into the experience, but prayerfully let go the outcome. Putting 110 percent of your heart and soul into something and then surrendering the outcome isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. Believe me, I already had my interview with Oprah scheduled. However, when we attach an outcome to something, we energetically hold it back.
That’s not to say refrain from developing a marketing plan to promote your talk. I was very strategic and spent weeks sharing my talk with contacts, media outlets, and organizations I researched. Working hard to put your talk out in the world while surrendering the outcome helps your message get to where it will be of benefit most.
When someone receives your message free of outcome, its energy is pure and the ripple effects created will reach beyond where you could ever hope or imagine.
If you’ve ever dreamed of sharing an idea from the TED stage, reach for the stars and may each of these tips serve you on your journey to the red dot.
For more information on the TEDx experience, check out this valuable article by professional speaker Josh Shipp.
To help prevent homophobia and bullying, click here to watch my 2017 TEDxCSULB Threads Undone talk, “What children learn from the things they aren’t told.”