About one year ago, I had the opportunity to be on the TEDx stage. The process of getting there was methodical, stressful, and pushed me beyond my comfort zone. Here are a few tips on how to successfully prepare for your TED talk.
For those who don’t know me, I did my TEDx on how opportunities are everywhere. After my close family friend, Louis had passed, I wanted to honor him. I raised $40,000 for the National Alliance on Mental Illness to help other teens struggling with mental health and started the mental health online community, 18percent.
Before I came up with what I wanted to speak about for my TEDx, I followed a series of steps. I had an idea of my topic, but did not know the message I wanted to deliver to the audience. The process to speak on the red dot was a methodical one. Here are the 10 steps I used to prepare for my TEDx.
1. Write Your Ideas Down
You likely have an idea of what you would like to speak about, but before your topic is set in stone, start writing. Don’t think about organization, sentence structure, or much of anything. Just write down the thoughts that pass through your head. From there, you can create a loose outline, but it’s essential to write down all your ideas, stories, interactions, anything that comes to mind. Don’t be hard on yourself. The organization comes later.
2. Think About the Message You Want to Leave with Your Audience
After you write down your free flow of thoughts, observe the common threads. From all of these points, what is it that you are really want to share? To give some background, after Louis passed, I raised money over the course of two campaigns with the help of Louis’ father, Fred. Soon after I co-founded 18percent with my best friend, David.
I wrote down the stories and the interactions that led up to the creation of 18percent and the process of raising money for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The most challenging aspect was thinking about what I really wanted to share with the audience. This process took time. I wrote down my key takeaways, and asked myself what I wanted to focus on — mental health, passion, opportunities?
Synthesize your ideas into a message you want to drive forward. The point I was trying to deliver was that in life you have opportunities everywhere. In my case after Louis’ passing, I connected with individuals like Derek, Louis’ father, David (you can view the talk towards the bottom of the article for reference). I wanted to share that it is up to you on how you approach the situation. You can either pass on these opportunities or take them by the horns. Of course, when you take the opportunity, it can lead to a huge impact. For me, it led to impacting 1000s of lives. The stories and the interactions were these opportunities that led me down this journey. The point I wanted to get across wasn’t about mental health, how much money I had raised, or about 18percent. It was about the impact one can make. I wanted to share my journey, motivate others, and ignore the inner dialogue that can often hold you back.
When coming up with your message, ask yourself why. Why do I want to share the story? What makes it so special to me? What do I want to teach people? This can take a few days or even a couple of weeks to determine the point you want to leave with the audience. Brainstorming and bouncing ideas off of friends or family can also help you come up with a message.
3. Write Your Script
At this point, you have a ton of thoughts on paper. Start organizing them into a coherent script. It won’t be perfect and you can move around sections in the future, but it’s essential to get these ideas into a script so you can begin the memorization process. It may feel choppy or scattered at first, but give it time as your script will soon evolve.
4. Deliver Your Talk on Camera
Once you come up your message that you would like to leave with the audience and have written a loose script, deliver it. Even if you haven’t memorized your talk, deliver it on camera. You’re going to go off the cuff at times, which may lead to points being incorporated into your talk that you haven’t even thought about. This is what happened to me. I memorized about 40% of my talk when I first delivered it. What was important was that I knew what I wanted to deliver, but I wasn’t confident nor did I feel ready to deliver my talk to people, especially to people I didn’t know. That’s what I did, I was taped on camera and delivered my talk two times. I came up with new lines during this practice session and I left out many lines that I simply forgot, but overall it went great. I got rid of the initial jitters and it helped shape my story, allowing me to come up with new lines that I had not thought of previously. These lines would then be incorporated into my script.
5. Back to the Drawing Board
After you deliver your talk, watch your recording. Write line for line what you said on camera. Incorporate the new lines into your script and just build off it. Keep working on your script until it is about 85% complete. This should take you a few days to get to this point after you first delivered your talk on camera.
6. Record Yourself
By this point, you should have memorized most of your script. It’s okay if it’s not fully memorized. Begin to record yourself on video. I recommend propping up your phone and deliver your talk over and over. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Afterward, watch your recording. Observe your delivery, speed, and even where lines seemed forced. Afterwards, remove or adjust these lines. Print out the script and add comments in the margins. You can even write in the margins where you would like to slow down, speed up, or how you would like to deliver a specific line. Practice a few more times until you nail down your script.
7. Watch Yourself Closely
By this point, your script is 95% complete and you are now observing yourself on camera. Watch yourself closely with a similar critique as if you were watching someone else on the TED stage. How is your body language? Your delivery? Anything that needs to be critiqued. I would also recommend watching other TED talks and observe them. Take notes and incorporate them into your talk.
8. Practice in Front of a Small Group
Practice in front of a small group ideally in person and in front of people that you may not feel comfortable with. So instead of asking your close family members or friends, ask a work colleague or an acquaintance. It’s important to share you story with people who may not know it.
The first few times delivering your talk, your hands are going to be clammy and your delivery may be shaky. I became most confident when I presented in front of a group of three people. If people give you feedback, take it with a grain of salt. You can still make changes to your script, but adjust only if you feel necessary. You don’t want to lose the meaning, but perhaps your audience sees something that you may not be aware of when delivering your talk.
9. Practice in Front of as Many People as Possible
By this point, you have almost nailed it. You want to build confidence and deliver your talk in front of as many people as possible. If you can deliver in front of a huge audience, take the opportunity to do so. One of the most daunting experiences when presenting your TED talk is that you won’t be able to see people under the lights. If you can reproduce that setting, that will only help.
10. Record and Listen
Keep listening to yourself over and over again. I practiced my TED talk in the shower, on my morning commutes, and even rehearsed it inside my head. I wanted to know the talk inside and out.
One week prior to your talk, I recommend not making any changes.
It’s a Process
As you can see formulating your TED talk takes time. If you skip steps, it may jeopardize you on stage. Unfortunately, I cannot share my talk since it is against company policy, but I did the talk at a gala to raise money for eating disorders. If you have any feedback, questions, or comments feel free to reach out. Doing a TEDx was one of the most meaningful moments in my life. It built my confidence, allowed me to better overcome fear, and it became a fun story to share. Remember, you know your talk best. It’s yours, so just share your heart and have fun through the process. And yes, it will be scary and at times you will doubt yourself. It’s all part of the experience.