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Professional Speaking 101: What You Can Learn from TED Speakers

One of my favorite things to do when I have some free time is to surf and watch videos on TED.com. If you’ve somehow missed the TED Professional Speaking 101: What You Can Learn from TED Speakersphenomenon, you should know that the site features 20 minute presentations from some of the world’s top thought leaders. Speakers for TED events are selected on an invite-only basis. You can learn a lot about being an effective professional speaker by watching these powerful videos.

Here are some of the lessons from the TED speakers:

Practice is Essential

Speakers for TED must keep their content to a maximum of 20 minutes, which is incredibly hard for most of us to do. Because of this, most speakers PRACTICE their presentations over and over again before stepping on stage, which ensures their content fits in the time allotted. Preparation also comes in handy if nerves kick in. When you are well-prepared and have most of your material memorized (or at least the opening and closing, which is what I personally try to do), your knees may shake a bit, but your brain goes on auto-pilot and you won’t miss a beat.

Content Must Be Captivating

Storytelling is the most important element of an interesting presentation. All of the TED speakers tell interesting stories to engage the audience. Also note that some use Powerpoint slides and when they do, only a few slides are used and they aren’t over-loaded with text. Simple is the name of the game here.

Must Have a Clear Purpose and Flow

Most of us are used to speaking for an hour, so when it comes to shrinking a presentation into one-third of its original size, it can be quite challenging. TED speakers know to first define a purpose for their content and develop a logical flow of information, meaning the presentation has a beginning, middle, and an end. Like a good novel that reaches a climax, speakers should aim to do the same.

No Theatrics Needed

For years I struggled with the idea that perhaps I needed to be more theatrical on stage. There are many speakers, especially in the motivational speaker category, who really know how to put on a show. That might mean dancing about the stage, juggling, or dramatic gestures and physical movement. But I’m not a motivational speaker and these antics never felt like a good fit for me.

Watching the TED videos was a great reminder that speakers don’t have to get on stage and put on a show. In fact, an authentic audience connection is far more important, and you can see this as a common thread throughout the TED site. I recently put this theory to the test when I gave a presentation at the annual National Speakers Association conference. Talk about pressure—I was scheduled to speak to a room full of professional speakers! After my session, which had about 100 attendees, the feedback was overwhelming. They loved the content, but more importantly, I received many comments about my authentic and engaging style. I have settled into a comfortable place where I deliver content with passion, but without fanfare. It seems to be working. Most TED speakers follow the same recipe.

By the way, rumor has it that in 2013 the TED organizers will be open up the opportunity for speakers to apply to speak on the influential TED stage. Watch for more details as they are announced!

Here are some of my favorite TED videos: