Public speaking has been cited as the number one fear of Americans, but whether you’re pitching to a VC firm or just talking to a small group of people in the office, it’s a pretty big key to success. The point is, we all have to do it–so we might as well try to get good at it.
The good news, according to Chris Anderson, the curator at TED Talks (who has been helping people become master presenters for 30 years), is that giving a good talk is coachable. Phew.
Here are a few things to keep in mind, according to the TED Talks expert:
1. Don’t get too technical.
As Chris Anderson puts it, “You start where they are.” One of the most successful talks he has curated involved a complex new biotechnology called Crispr. It would’ve gone over almost everyone’s head, but instead the speaker likened the tech to a word processor for DNA.
If you dive in with technicalities and niche verbiage, you’ll probably have the audience drooling in boredom. Instead, think about taking your audience on a journey; know where you will begin, how you will get there, and where you will eventually want to go.
2. Make your idea worth sharing.
The motto of TED is “Ideas Worth Sharing,” and it also applies to any sort of speaking you do.
Anderson says the key to any good presentation is the ability to brighten someone’s day. Even if you’re sweating bullets, if you can think of an actionable way to help out the audience, your speech will make a splash. Try to think of at least three ways to improve the readers’ day to start, and let it snowball from there.
3. Practice makes better, not perfect.
Now that you know what you want to say, you need to figure out how you’re going to deliver the talk. Anderson outlines three choices here: read it from a script, bullet point your main ideas, or memorize it from beginning to end. Reading from a script is essentially banned at TED and should be elsewhere, too, that is, if you want an audience who is actually listening. Anderson confirms that the most well-received TED talks have been memorized word for word.
With enough practice, you will be able to glance at your notes occasionally for needed reminders, but will be able to deliver a talk that is lacking in awkwardness and filled with engagement and flow.
4. Stop fidgeting. Your body is saying just as much as your words are.
The most common offense that Anderson has seen with TED Talks speakers in the beginning phases of their training is fidgeting and moving their bodies unnecessarily–swaying from side to side, playing with a pen in their hand, shifting their weight from side to side.
By taking baby steps to get rid of your fear of public speaking, you too can overcome this. Training yourself to simply stand still and to rely on hand gestures for emphasis can make a world of difference.
5. When it comes to multimedia, less is best.
With all of the technology available to us today, it seems nearly obligatory to have multimedia to accompany our presentations. Keep this in mind: It’s not necessary. In fact, some of the most popular TED Talk speakers did not use media at all. If you take one thing away from this article, please let it be this: Do not use your slides as a substitute for your bullet point notes, and do not repeat out loud what is written on the slide–your audience can read it.
6. Be open to feedback.
The team at TED Talks starts helping their speakers put their talks together at least six months in advance. Anderson cautions, however, “The tricky part about rehearsing a presentation in front of other people is that they will feel obligated to offer feedback and constructive criticism.”
Feedback can be blistering, but it’s the only way to truly improve–even if you’re a TED speaker. A starting recommendation, although it may be painful, is to practice with a friend. You will be utterly shocked at how much you have to work on after hearing their thoughts, but better off because of it.
7. Give your listeners a reason to care.
As Anderson puts it, “If the idea only serves you or your organization, then, I’m sorry to say, it’s probably not worth sharing.”
Remember, persuading others is a two-way street. Whether you’re talking to your team or an investor, it can’t be all about you. Even if you do have an angle, put yourself in the audience’s shoes for a moment. If this isn’t something you’d want to hear in your free time, it’s time to revise.
You’re an interesting person, and I’m sure you have plenty to talk about besides your latest pitch. Don’t worry about making the hard sell–if you offer something of value, it will come naturally.