• Amba Brown

Public Speaking: Tips from TED

Updated: May 21, 2019

Public speaking - the number one fear in the world. Ranked above sickness, heights and death. It makes no sense to the rational mind; we've never heard of an injury from presenting. But, despite any rationale, the idea of having all eyes on me automatically tells my body to run and hide. So of course I said yes when asked to speak at a TEDx Event in Singapore this September.


After all, Monica Lewinsky, Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln, (just to name a few) all overcame these fears. Surely we can too?


As I began mentioning to friends that I'd been invited to speak, I kept being told to read one book - Ted Talks by Chris Anderson. (Image below)

I bought it, read it (as fast as I could), and as promised, the way I look at my upcoming talk shifted. I now sit more towards the excited end of the ‘excited-petrified public speaking scale’. For anyone else needing help with public speaking - this book's worth the read.

Anderson takes you on what feels like a personal public speaking course, where you can learn along side the greats including Elizabeth Gilbert, Ken Robinson and Tony Robbins. He also assures the reader that many of the other well-known TED speakers also overcame the same fears.

But more than this, he teaches the basic skills and points out what to do and what not to do while on the stage. He makes it clear that we aren't expected to be born with Martin Luther King Jr.'s presentation skills. But that if you do want to deliver a great speech, you are expected to put in a lot of effort. You must know your field, refine your words and then practice, memorise and practice more.

Here are my 7 top takeaways after reading the book.

1. A good speech will take a great deal of work

Anderson makes it very clear that the recipe for a great speech is time and effort. While it might appear that the speakers we love the most are effortlessly talking on stage, the trick behind their convincing ideas is a cleverly crafted and rehearsed speech.

2. Vulnerability & nerves act opposite to how you might think

When we think about feeling vulnerable or nervous on stage, we automatically label it as bad. Anderson argues the opposite. He explains this relatable human emotion helps to build a connection with the audience.

3. Build the speech with a bunch of arrows leading to one single idea

All information in the speech should be targeted towards your intended idea. Stay focused and be selective with what you include. Speak as if every word counts, and as if every sentence is trying to achieve the same key takeaway.

4. Nerves get the best of all of us

Human fears lesson when we learn that others share the same experience. As mentioned above, Anderson normalises this fear and also provides some great tools which help get the nerves under control.

5. If you don't know what to do with your body, do nothing

One of the most awkward feelings for a new speaker is the moment when you're on stage and realise you have limbs that you have no idea what to do with. Anderson suggests if you don't feel comfortable walking while talking, don't. Stand still, straight and tall, and confidently deliver your speech from this point.

6. Memorising isn't enough

A whole section of the book is devoted to the debate of delivering a memorised speech verse giving it on the fly. While the debate is too detailed for this short section, my main takeaway is if you're going to memorise it, you must know it well enough that you can recall it effortlessly even with distractors around you (like with the radio on in the car).

7. Start & end with a bang

If you're not yet feeling the pressure, the comment that you must open and end with a bang will help escalate these feelings. While all parts of the speech are important, the opening is your opportunity to get the audience interested and your ending is how they will remember you.

To read more about giving a killer presentation check out Anderson's article written for The Harvard Business Review.

Happy public speaking!

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