Jennifer Purdie is the youngest American to run marathons on all seven continents, including Antarctica. When presenting, she subtly challenges her audience as she describes how she endured extreme sea sickness, dehydration, glaciers, mud, sideways rain, and attacking birds, to complete the Antarctica marathon in a little over six hours. Jennifer reveals that she completed this marathon and many others because she visualizes ahead of time as many things as possible that could go wrong, and then visualizes overcoming them. She invites us to do the same as we take on our goals.
Not long ago I attended a TEDx in San Diego. Jennifer was one of the 23 speakers. It was a full day of amazing speakers, stories, visuals, and insights. I melted into the experience of each talk, but took some time to look at TEDx critically as a presenter. What could I learn to make my presentation skills better?
- Give a Talk, not a Speech
TEDx is a day of talks, not speeches. There is a subtle casualness to the presentations. Not unprofessional, but friendly and approachable. Speakers with choreographed gestures and stage movement seemed awkwardly out of place. A speaker coach once told me to “speak to one, and look to all.” My day at TEDx reminded me of this adage. Each presentation could have easily been given across a dining room table as a friendly conversation. Talk to your audience as if you were talking to just one person. Give a talk, not a speech.
- Have a Through Line
In his book, TED Talks, Chris Anderson says, “The point of a talk is … to say something meaningful.” It should give the audience something to hold onto. Too often, we design our talks bullet point by bullet point. As a result, our talk is a disjointed list of ideas. Instead, we should design each talk in whole. There should be a connecting theme, or “through line,” that attaches each story and point in your talk. Think about your presentation and see if you can define your through line in fewer than 15 words. Then make sure every point and story in your talk supports the theme.
- Visuals Should Enhance your Talk
Of the 23 speakers I saw that day, only five used visuals. And the visuals were used very sparingly. The visuals used were primarily pictures. In fact, I can’t recall seeing any words on the slides. This reminds us that people can use too many words on their slides. Slides should not be used as speaker notes. When creating your slides, always ask, “Will this enhance the experience for my audience?”
- Don’t Give an Eight-Minute Talk in 15 Minutes
As you can imagine, watching 23 speakers in one day can make for a long day – even longer when talks go longer than needed. I saw 18-minute talks that should have been 12 minutes. I noticed where stories diverted from the theme. Be willing to remove that funny and fabulous story when it does not support your through line. Plan your talk to take the least amount of time needed to share your idea.
Many speakers, myself included, think they can walk on stage and give the perfect talk. We can’t. While rehearsing often seems taxing, it is the simplest way to enhance your talk. Rehearsing does several things. It gives you the opportunity to hear your talk and get rid of the clutter. It also increases your confidence and helps you to give your talk without notes or a script. Of the 23 speakers I saw, not one used notes. Take the time to rehearse.
Take a Lesson from Jennifer
In her talk, Jennifer encourages us to think about what could go wrong and prepare for it. What if your visuals don’t work, or are out of order? What if you forget your opening line? What will you do with a heckler, or a question you can’t answer? Don’t just visualize doing your presentation perfectly, but visualize what could go wrong and prepare for it.
To learn more about TEDx and TED Talks, read Chris Anderson’s book, TED Talks, or visit ted.com. Good luck!