How to Create and Deliver a TED talk

TEDxUofW Stage


Yesterday, May 3, I drove up to Seattle’s UW Tower to deliver my first TED talk at the third annual TEDxUofW.

TEDx events are independently organized, officially licensed, and designed to spark conversation and connection through local TED-like experiences.

How to be Invited to Share a TED talk

All TED events are managed by a committee, including one that oversees the speaker selection. Often, committee members have some ideas on who they would like to attend and speak at the event. However, all of the events also accept nominations for speakers as well, especially those who fit their specific theme. Obviously, it is much more difficult to get an invitation to the TED global stage, but the nominations are open to the public through their official website.

It’s usually a little easier to get an invitation to the TEDx because there are fewer nominations and committees favor speakers with a local connection and impact. To find upcoming events in your area, visit the TEDx event listing site. If you have “an idea worth sharing” and it fits the theme of a local event, you can reach out to the committee and submit a proposal. The more narrowly you can define the idea (keep it simple, memorable, and leave a profound impact), the better. TED committees care more about your ideas than your resume, so focus on an idea that would be interesting to their audience, that fits their theme.

Creating and Delivering a TED talk

TEDx and TED talks follow the same rules. Some of them include:

1. Every talk must be less than 18 minutes
2. Speakers cannot have a commercial agenda (promoting their own products/books in a commercial fashion)
3. Speakers cannot read their talks
4. Talks need to be factual and realistic
5. No inflammatory political or religious agenda

If you watch several TED talks, you can get a pretty good feel for the general style presented – as well as how speakers can incorporate their own personality into them. In fact, I would recommend finding and watching videos from your specific TED or TEDx conference that you can get a feel for the stage, personality, and history of the event.

When you are accepted to an event, you’ll be given a copy of the TEDx Speaker Guide. You’ll then be asked to submit an outline for your proposal, which the committee may help develop. Often, they’ll ask for a preliminary version of your talk (delivered in person or via video), which might receive further comments or recommendations. The same will be done for your slides, if you plan on using any during your talk.

Once your talk is set, you will need to rehearse it over and over again.

Not only will your committee ask you for the length of your talk, but you will be expected to deliver it within seconds of that promised length. Every speaker is given a countdown clock and they cannot exceed the time (nor fall too short of it). Many events expect speakers to finish with 3-5 seconds on either side of their target time. The only way to deliver this kind of consistency is plenty of practice (I recommend using a countdown clock during your rehearsals).

Also, even if you create your presentation slides in PowerPoint, you will not be able to rely on the “notes” section. Some TED events allow a presenter view, some only offer a mirror image of what is being presented to the audience. If you have the latter, you will need to intimately know the order of your slides and won’t be able to rely on notes or previews to assist with pacing you talk.

When delivering your TED talk, here are some tips:

1. Focus more time and energy on delivering specific points rather than specific words
2. Keep your “idea worth sharing” clear throughout the entire talk, it should come back to one idea that makes the audience reflect, engage, and talk about
3. Spend as much time thinking about your delivery as the content being presented
4. Use emotion to drive your stories: your talk should have a “personality”
5. A little humor goes a long way
6. Have a contingency plan if your plan is moving more quickly or slowly than expected
7. On the morning of the talk, do some vocal warm-ups to keep your voice strong and clear
8. Have fun – don’t worry if you don’t get all of your points in (the audience won’t know if something was left out)

My Experience on the TED stage


The TED event was a lot of fun – not only was I able to work with a group of volunteers who were passionate about making an impact on their community, but I also had the privilege of being able to share the stage with some very inspiring speakers as well. There were many opportunities to connect with the audience, to spend more time elaborating on thoughts in a less formal way, and to hear other perspectives as well.

For me, TED was as much about the preparation as it was the day of the event itself. The process of learning how to condense a speech into a rapid-fire/high impact delivery, crafting a slide presentation that is an aid rather than a crutch, and from hearing about many approaches to the topic provided a wonderful opportunity to grow as a speaker.

I definitely had fun on stage – time moved much more quickly up there than the many rehearsals of my talk. And even though I was speaking about a rather serious and complex topic (racism), I wanted to interject levity into it because that can sometimes dismantle complicated ideas.

It also seems that the audience enjoyed the talk as well:

TEDxUofW tweet

It was my first TED event as a speaker, and I certainly hope it won’t be my last.


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