The Secret to Giving a Great Talk

The Secret to Giving a Great Talk


What are the elements that make an incredible TEDtalk – or any inspiring speech or talk, for that matter?

As another edition of TEDxAmsterdamED looms on the horizon, we asked Joni Bais, director and co-founder of Great Communicators, and Jessika Lynch, curator and co-founder of TEDxAmsterdamED, to share what makes a great TED talk. Between the two of them, Bais and Lynch have selected and/or coached dozens of successful TEDx speakers, presented workshops, written content for, and worked with many other speakers to create, shape, and present their talks on various stages and events.

The two recently met for coffee to answer the question: how do you put together a great TED talk?

1. Start with your End In Mind

What do you hope the effect of your talk will be? What do you hope people will do? Feel? Change? As a result of your message?

With a nod to Steven Covey who coined the phrase, “starting an activity with your End in Mind helps you quickly get on track and stay focused,” says Lynch. “Determine from the very beginning what your idea is and the key takeaways you want to give people.”

Bais adds some questions to start by asking yourself: “Why are you giving this talk? What can you share that is bigger than you? Think of it as your legacy – by giving this talk, what do you want to leave?”

Your talk can have an obvious End In Mind and build up, or a more subtle one, but generally there is always a solid core of any great TED talk.

2. Make it YOURS

You might have done some pretty amazing things at your company or workplace. In fact, we’re going to assume that you have. But even so, a great TED talk is not your company’s; it is 100% yours.  “Even if you own the company and the story has to do with how you got to where you are today,” says Lynch, “it is your passion and drive, and the unusual, anecdotal, inspiring things that happened to you on the way there, that turn your story into a great TED talk. That can make you vulnerable – and that’s ok!”

Rather than re-counting the steps of a story, “make sure you bring in your own emotions and make it real,” says Bais.  “One thing that separates a TED (like) talk from others is that the audience is looking for your realness, the deep connection you make with them.”

As an additional preparation tip, Bais advises her speakers that there is no such thing as ‘too much practice.’ “Let the story sink into every cell of your body – it will only gain authenticity that way, not lose it.”

3. Find what makes it worth spreading

TED’s tagline is “Ideas Worth Spreading” and when curating TEDxAmsterdamED, Jessika is focused not only on the speakers themselves, but also the ‘spread-ability’ of their story.

“Some of the most watched TED talks can sum up a spreadable, memorable idea in a single sentence: ‘Schools kill creativity’; ‘We need to start talking about shame and vulnerability’; ‘Introverts should be celebrated,’” says Lynch. “Most stories contain an idea worth spreading; just keep it simple and clear to be heard. As you create your talk, focus on that idea as your framework and keep connecting your content back to it.”

In addition to just spreading, Bais encourages speakers to consider the longevity of an idea: “What idea can last for years, generations? Imagine: two generations later your talk is being watched. Where are you taking them?”

4. Practice being Present

It sounds simple, we know. Yet being grounded and ‘in the moment’ is often one of the hardest parts of presenting a talk to nail down for a speaker. According to Bais, this is rarely written about but in her experience, one of the most critical elements of preparing to give a great talk.

When coaching speakers, Bais takes great care to help them feel a deep connection with the moment they are in, and the audience that is right in front of them. “It’s not about just being in the middle of your talk; it’s about being right there, in that room, with those people, today, on this stage,” says Bais. She recounts a few situations where she needed to focus on this with speakers who were struggling. In one case the speaker wished to really “feel” his talk. When conventional methods weren’t working, Bais took him to a boxing ring and had him give his talk while passionately taking swipes at a punching bag. (“Not surprisingly,” adds Lynch, who knew the speaker and sent him to Bais, “he went on to nail it on stage!”)

TEDxAmsterdamED speakers are all individually coached by both Lynch as well as by Bais and her team at Great Communicators. The resulting talks can be watched live on March 26th 2015!

Jessika Lynch founded TEDxAmsterdamED with Nephtalie Demei in 2011 with the mission to open education issues to a wider audience and make education understood as a topic that affects the shaping of our future. Jessika has attended numerous TED workshops and the annual TED main event in California. In addition to organizing TEDxAmsterdamED, Jessika has a communications background and creates speeches and content, coaches speakers and helps craft authentic stories for people and companies. She has two kids, is married to a teacher, and reads endless articles on innovation and invention.

Joni Bais is director and co-founder of Great Communicators, and known for her passion for “freeing stories.” Relying heavily on her intuition, an eye for form, and sharp analytical skills she is able to break barriers and get to the core of any story. Her team’s mission is to bring out the best in every speaker they work with, and to help even the most experienced professionals grow in both performance as well as presence. Great Communicators has experience working with a huge variety of presenters and speakers ranging from diverse TEDx talk-ers to captains of industries to politicians. 

Great Communicators has been a partner of TEDxAmsterdamED since the organization was founded in 2011 and has successfully coached most of its speakers.

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