I recently had the great privilege of preparing and delivering a talk at the TEDxBoise 2018 event. It was a fabulous and exhilarating, but in many ways, a grueling experience. I am still digesting some of the things I learned and trying to apply it to all of the other public speaking gigs I have coming up in the next few months. I thought I would share some things I learned.
You Know Waaaaaay More Than You Can Say in 18 Minutes
TEDx is about new ideas, a new way of looking at things. The knowledge I have about various topics, gathered over 35 years, could fill a massive library. I had to look at that knowledge in a new way. What could I glean from what I know, and put into a powerful presentation, one that would motivate and inspire? We all know that the listening attention span is shorter than the amount of information we can share. How can we hold an audience's attention and still provide a powerful message? And do it in 18 minutes or less? This lesson makes me think about other types of presentations that I do. Do I try to bore the audience to death with a massive amount of information that they can never absorb in one setting? Or do I offer chunks of information, in small bites with time to digest it?
What Are You Really Trying to Say?
Thinking about my TEDx talk required me to sit back and really think about the core message. I was not just passing on bits of information, I was trying to inspire listeners to do something about an issue I am passionate about. That requires careful honing of the core message. I had to really dig down to the central idea. That made me think: why don't I do that in every presentation? Am I just spouting off things I know because that is the same thing I have been saying for decades and it rolls easily off the tongue?
Powerful Words Require Careful Thought
So I knew if I wanted my message to be a powerful one, and not just some boring drone going on and on, I needed to spend some quality time just thinking, pondering, sitting and filtering the message. In order for words to pack punch, they need to be carefully thought out. The only way to do that is to spend a lot of time thinking about the message. When I am speaking to groups, what is my core message? Am I trying to move people to action? How do I spur that momentum? I will need to think more deeply about that in each presentation.
It's Not Like Giving a Speech
To give a TEDx talk, you have to be prepared to go on a stage, with a live audience, and massive numbers of cameras, sound techs, lighting, etc. for a live taping of your talk. And do it without notes, without a powerpoint that subs for your notes, and without the crutch of a podium or anything to grab on to when you lose your train of thought. So it is not like giving a speech. There is no podium, no teleprompter. Nothing to remind you if you lose your train of thought. To do that requires giving up the security blanket of the normal speech accompaniments. Preparing for a talk in this way made me think very clearly about what I could say, and how I could say it, without having to worry about notes or crutches. It is a much more powerful way to connect with an audience, and so I need to think about how I can use this when I talk to groups.
Images Are Often More Valuable Than Words
With TEDx, you can use a slide show, but it cannot be just the notes for your speech. Very little text, mostly images. Why? Because images are more powerful than words. Images accompany your spoken word, and can evoke powerful emotions and reactions. Images can get a point across more emphatically and effectively than just saying the words. In my talk, I focus on the power of the anonymous elbow, that person who cannot come forward to tell their story. Using the image of the anonymous elbow helped to illustrate both anonymity and ordinary, to underscore all of my points. I will continue to use this technique of the power of the image in future presentations.
Flow, Flow, Flow
As I mentioned, in a TEDx talk, you have only 18 minutes. You have no notes. You have a powerful message. The success of this kind of talk depends on whether the points flow seamlessly from one to the next, like the flow of a powerful river carrying the listeners along with it. I learned from my coach that you can take points and map them out, then rearrange them to make the points flow from one to the next. Not only does this help carry the audience, but helps the speaker, because when the flow is natural, the thoughts come one after another without much effort. Flow is important, and a great tool I can use to improve my own public speaking.
Practice, Practice, Practice
As I said, 18 minutes, no notes. Once the message is crafted, and the flow determined, there is no substitute for practice, practice, practice. You practice your talk in your head at coffee shops. You practice at home getting ready for work. You practice in your living room with the remote and the powerpoint images. You write it on notes cards, or whatever will help. Practice, practice, practice. The TEDx process is grueling, months of meeting with your coach, rehearsals, dress rehearsal. This is a technique I don't use as much in my other public speaking, (probably because if you are using notes, powerpoints with massive amounts of text, etc. you don't need as much practice) but which I will use more often. It is a much more powerful way to deliver a message, because if you are engaged with your topic and it flows seamlessly, your audience will be more engaged. That requires practice.
Which brings me to the next piece. Do you believe in what you are saying? Are you passionate about the message? I found as I was preparing for the TEDx conference that I was passionate about making sure that the audience heard my message. I wanted to inspire others to think about the issue of harassment not as a problem "out there" but an issue we can all touch and influence in a positive way. I want to bring that passion to all of my public speaking.
Connect to Your Audience
In preparing for TEDx I had to think about connecting to an audience that would be made up of people I did not know, whose backgrounds were wildly varied. I am used to speaking to groups of lawyers or HR professionals, even business executives. That made me think about the language we use in our insular HR/legal world. When we talk about retaliation, what does that mean? I had to come up with ways to express it using common images that everyone could relate to, like playing ball on the playground. Or when talking about aligning ourselves with the elbows, using images from childhood games like Red Rover. This lesson will carry over into my future public speaking. Who is this audience? What are their interests? What language do they speak? How can I connect to everyone, and help them hear the powerful message I want to convey?
One of the most important lessons for me from TEDx was that each of us has a unique personality and a unique message. I shared the stage with twelve other amazing humans, and each person delivered their own message in their own style, with their own personality, and in their own voice. There is power in that. When people see you as real, genuine, and really believing in yourself and your message, they hear you. In all of my public speaking, I will make every effort to be real and genuine, and uniquely myself.
There are, of course, many other small little lessons learned from my TEDx experience. I would highly encourage anyone who does public speaking to go through this process, because I truly believe it will make me a better speaker.