I’ve worked with some amazing speakers over the last 10 years for TEDxEastEnd and other events I’ve organised for companies and charities. For the most part my experiences have been positive, working with dedicated speakers who take what they are doing seriously.
However, I have also worked with speakers who are determined to ruin their talk and speaking experience. Here is what not to do if you have been asked to give a talk – at a TEDx or other event:
1. Wing it
Preparing for your talk is the single more important thing you can to do to make it a success. However, I have come across plenty of speakers who say they don’t like to write down their talk or prepare. “I like to keep it spontaneous and fresh” is their attitude. Preparing for your talk doesn’t imply you are somehow lacking– in fact professional public speakers and the best speakers I have worked with prepare tirelessly and they rehearse their talk as much as they can. You can read more about this here.
2. Refuse to rehearse
I’ve had some creative (and sometimes insulting) reasons for not wanting to rehearse on stage – from speakers wanted to keep their material fresh or being afraid of censorship. Getting to rehearse under the same conditions that you will give you talk (lighting, sound, slides etc) is a fantastic opportunity – take it! Not only will you become more comfortable on stage, you’ll get to see how the lighting feels, how the clicker reacts and how you feel moving around the stage.
3. Refuse to send your slides in advance
It’s very tempting to keep working on your slides until the last minute. But this just makes you less prepared. Your slides should never be more important that what you’re saying. So finish them early and move on to practising. Sending them in advance also allows the organisers to test your slides and make sure everything is perfect – no one likes technical problems.
4. Read your talk
In the era of TED, this one goes without saying, but don’t read your talk and don’t read off your slides. Very occasionally you do see an example of when this is done well (e.g.: Taiye Selasi: Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local), so if you want to practice reading you can – instead why not use that time to find a way to speak without notes. Your slides can help you along, or a single cue card with the top 5 points of your talk can help you if you get stuck. It is also OK to look at a cue card for a statistic you want to get right, or to read a quote. But if you read your whole talk then the audience will wonder why they have to listen to you instead of just reading it for themselves.
5. Death by PowerPoint
Again, TED has helped hugely in changing attitudes around how to use PowerPoint and programmes like Prezi have made presentations more interesting. But in general, unless you’re pitching for funding or giving a highly technical presentation, think of your slides as a picture book to your talk – not a script your audience can read. Images, simple graphs, quotes or just a key phrase work wonders: they keep the audience anchored to what you’re saying without distracting or boring them.
6. Be late
Be on time for your talk. In fact, be early! I know this is hard (I’m notoriously late all the time!) but make the effort and get there with enough time to have a coffee/tea and relax before your talk. If you are late, let the organisers know and give them a realistic estimate of when you will get there so they can plan around you. How you manage time will show others – the audience or the organisers – how you respect them and how much you value what you are doing.
7. Badmouth other speakers
I’ve only experienced this once and it was really shocking. Public speaking is hard and for many it is downright scary! Respect other speakers, even if you think their delivery is lacklustre or you think they didn’t present their points well. Everyone has their own taste and style – sharing your negative opinions won’t endear you to anyone!
8. Be rude to the organisers
You’d think this goes without saying, but take this as a reminder. It is absolutely fine to tell an organiser if they are doing something unhelpful or if they have done something inappropriate. But what I’m talking about is taking out your stress on the very people who invited you to speak. Remember that the organisers are dealing with 100 things in the run up to, and during, the event. Be nice, be helpful if you can and if you’re stressed let them know and let them know how they can help. I’m the biggest advocate of speakers who communicate with me openly. At the end of the day the organisers will decide which speakers to promote or to invite back or to recommend for other opportunities. Leave them wanting to work with you again!
I’ve worked with over 100 speakers over the past few years and it is one of my favourite parts of my work. I’ve worked in depth with some speakers to help them create their talk from scratch and with others I’ve just given them simple feedback. In all situations my goal is to help people give the best talk of their lives and create something they will be proud of.
As an events producer, TEDx organiser and speaker coach I am always on your side – as is any other coach or organiser! The advice we give is not because we don’t have faith in you or that we’re trying to catch you out. Keep this in mind and you’ll have a great experience and give a brilliant talk!
Thanks to Alex Proimos for this image (https://www.flickr.com/photos/proimos/)