Want to know what it’s like to give a TED talk? Typically, people practice for weeks on end. In February, I had the unique opportunity to give my own TEDx talk at TEDxPSU and only had two days to prepare.
In February, 2016, I launched a petition called Stand Up to Altria to get my business school to drop Altria, the parent company of the largest tobacco company in the US, as a corporate partner. A couple of days after launching my petition and writing a blog post about it, Steve Garguilo, a Penn State alum, and Alex Murdoch, from TEDxPSU, reached out to me and helped me secure a speaking slot at the upcoming conference. With an exam the Friday before the conference, I only had two days to plan my talk, write it, and practice it. Here’s what I learned from the experience and what it was like giving my first talk.
1. You should watch a lot of TED talks before you give yours.
It’s no secret that there’s a distinct style to TED talks. The most impactful talks grasp the audience’s attention from the get-go. TED talks are all about telling a story that makes an impact on the audience and puts them in your shoes. You want the audience to make you feel as passionate about what your talking about as you do. In the days leading up before my talk, I watched several hours of TED talks. If you’re looking for a talk that has a great narrative, my favorite is Bryan Stevenson’s “We Need to Talk About an Injustice.” It goes down in TED history as having one of the longest and loudest standing ovations.
2. It’s important to consider if you want to use powerpoint slides or not.
Depending on what you’re speaking about, you may or may not want to use slides. I prefer not to use slides because it distracts the audience from what you’re speaking about and introduces the possibility of a technical failure or a possible mistake on your part. Bryan Stevenson does a great job of introducing statistics in his talk while maintaining a great narrative. If statistics are needed to get your point across, then it might be good to use them. Just remember, if you do, avoid the bullet point as much as possible – they kill presentations.
3. Write out your whole TED talk.
Some people rely on on notecards, but I found it really helpful to write out my whole talk. When you write out your talk, you get a complete idea of the story you’re telling the audience and you’ll have a better idea of how long your talk will run than if you were to just outline it.
4. Practice practice practice.
Most of your preparation time is spent constantly rehearsing your talk. Between the two days I had, I spent about 12 hours running through my talk and making sure it was timed to perfection. Most talks run over 10 minutes, but since my talk was slotted in at the last minute, I was allotted 5-6 minutes.
5. The “green room” is an intense place.
The green room is where all of the speakers sit back, await their turn to speak, and watch a live feed of the stage. Keith Edwards, one of the TEDx speakers at TEDxPSU probably put it best:
Ever wonder what a TEDx green room looks like? It a room full of nervous smart people all talking to themselves in the same room together.
— Keith E. Edwards (@edwardsk14) February 28, 2016
Yeah, that’s accurate.
6. Your heart skips a beat when your name is called.
When your name is called in the green room, you become nervous as hell. You walk from the green room to a room next to the stage where they mic you up while someone is onstage giving their own talk. You continue to pace around and mumble your talk to yourself as a last ditch effort to hopefully not make a mistake.
7. You won’t see a single thing when you step out onto the stage.
Since I was last minute addition, I didn’t have a chance to practice my talk on the stage and I didn’t know what it would be like. When you walk out after being introduced, you can’t see a single thing. The lights are so blinding that it takes a few seconds for the audience to come into focus.
8. You’re on the clock
From the second you start speaking, a clock that’s only visible to you at the foot of the stage starts counting down. As long as you practice your talk long enough, it should come as muscle memory and timing won’t be an issue. Most people tend to speak faster when the time comes to give their speech.
9. You’re your biggest critic
When you finally get a copy of the video, you’re going to criticize everything you do. From the spots where you should’ve paused, to the places where you spoke too quickly, you’re bound to find something that you can improve on.
With all of that said, enjoy my TED talk. It was honestly one of the most intense moments of my life. Please feel free to leave a comment below or hit me up on Twitter at @patrickcines. Also, be sure to check out Steve Garguilo’s incredible Udemy class on how to give a TED talk and the presentation of your life.