TED is well known, of course, as the global phenomena with over 5,000 TEDx events over the last three years. TED – the larger non-profit — hosts two conferences themselves every year, one that is called TEDGlobal (in Scotland) and one that is simply known as TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. People vie to speak at TED in the same way actors vie to be at the Oscars.
Giving a TED Talk is often characterized as “giving the talk of your life.” But this one is even more significant for me: It’s my chance to redeem myself. I spoke in 2012 at TEDGlobal, but I wasn’t thrilled with my performance. I did alright, but I didn’t deliver a seriously kick-ass talk, and I hope to apply what I’ve learned.
When I was asked to speak again, I remember thinking, “This isn’t really happening,” because it seemed surreal. And now that it’s about to happen … I’ve been preparing differently.
Find your one idea. TED and TED-like venues ask you to distill your life’s work or experience into a 3, 6, 9, 12, or 18-minute talk in a way no one else has ever done. Simple, right? No, not really. Finding your idea is about finding a point of view that expresses your insight in a distinct way. In my case, I have three minutes, which means finding the most powerful expression of the idea. Because I like to write, I blogged it and made the headline the main idea: Sitting is the Smoking of Our Generation. You could discover your one idea by talking with close friends or colleagues. My TEDGlobal talk was about openness, but lacked a distinct point of view given the context of the venue.
Make the ideas transferable. Sometimes people tell a huge long story with one punch line after several minutes. It’s hard to follow the idea, even when you’re listening well. And sometimes TED gets dinged for packaging up easily digestible ideas, but the bottom line is this: Until you make an idea easily conveyable and sharable through compelling language, it doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t get spread. To make an idea transferable is not to dumb down the idea, but to clarify the idea. Speaker Cindy Gallop, who gave a four-minute talk on the TED stage several years ago, advised me to have no more than one supporting idea for each minute you’re speaking, which is dead on. Think one tweetable idea in every minute.
Don’t Impress, but Share. If you ever go on stage to impress, you’ll fail. This was the mistake I made at TEDGlobal. I wanted to be seen as smart and perfect, and so that made me stiff and self-conscious. But what makes someone want to listen to any speaker is about connection – and you get that through sharing your passion, and resonating with people (not talking at them). The audience can feel it when you are interested in impressing them, and they will resent it. Share what you know because it’s valuable and make it applicable beyond you. Tell the story of why you care as your context but focus attention on the idea you came to share, and the consequence of that idea to other people, and any broader context.