IT’S QUITE AN HONOUR to be asked to give a key note presentation. Clearly, it is a sign that your opinion is respected.
There’s an extra level of honour attached to presenting at a ‘TEDx’ event (note: presenting at a TED (no x) is for a future article). This double-honour is why speaking at TEDx is so stressful. Not only will a high calibre audience of 100+ witness your potential failure greatness, but millions may watch you online in the future. Take Simon Sinek, for example. His TEDx talk,‘How great leaders inspire action’ was filmed in September 2009, and was uploaded to the TED website the following May. His viewers trickled in, but then suddenly reached critical mass and today, as of writing, Simon’s TEDx talk has been watched 11,882,559 times! Yes, eleven million!!
A TEDx talk might be your, as Andy Warhol coined it, “15 minutes of fame” – or more accurately, 18 minutes…
A TEDx talk might be your, as Andy Warhol coined it, “15 minutes of fame” – or more accurately, 18 minutes, which is the official limit for all TED and TEDx talks. Alternatively, like Simon Sinek, it could launch your career. The beauty of the TEDx model is that almost everyone has a chance to be a speaker. According to the TEDx homepage, 78 TEDx events took place in 29 countries just last month. This year in Shanghai alone, seven events have already been held, with another six planned before Christmas. All you have to do is receive an invitation to speak.
Assuming you’ve received an invitation, how do you prepare for your 18 minutes of fame (or life changing moment)?
I’ve had the honour of presenting at two TEDx events – ‘TEDx HultBusinessSchoolSH‘ in 2012 and 2013 – and also attend as an audience member at ‘TEDx Shanghai‘ in 2012. Most of the presentations I watched were good, but few were great. So what differentiated a good from a great presentation? Here are the five most important considerations:
1. Know Your Audience
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the topic is more important than your audience. That is never the case. A company introduction to a group of visiting MBA students should not have the same content as one aimed at potential clients. MBA students would be interested in learning from mistakes, successes in market launches, and job opportunities upon graduation. Potential clients would be interested in quality assurance, price flexibility, and delivery schedules. The content of both presentations should be completely different.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the topic is more important than your audience. That is never the case.
Sadly, many presenters ignore their audience completely. Due to time constraints, and the human condition to procrastinate, presenters merely cut, paste and rehash previous PPTs, or worse still, roll out a previously prepared presentation. That was the case for Pi Qiansheng, former director of the Management Committee of Binhai New District in Tianjin, who bored 200 visiting VIPs silly with a presentation that not only was irrelevant, but was 45 minutes long!
So before you even open Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple Keynote, be sure to ask the TEDx organiser, “Who are my audience?”
2. Have a Key Message
At a typical TEDx event you will be one of 10 or more speakers. TEDxShanghai had as many as 18 speakers! Understandably, if you are the first speaker of the day it is unlikely that your audience will remember your presentation if you do not give them a ‘take home message’. Or in other words, a key message that is personal, actionable and beneficial.
“Are you talking to me?! Are you talking to ME?!” Aside from a famous line from the 1976 classic movie ‘Taxi Driver’, this is also a perfect reminder that you must talk directly to your audience. Your presentation must be related to their situation, their challenges, and their goals. Stop using the words ‘me’ and ‘I’ and start filling your presentation with ‘you’, ‘us’ and ‘we’. If you are talking to a group of students then link your talk to ‘passing exams’, ‘holding down a part time job while studying’ and having ‘student debt’. If your audience are entrepreneurs, link your talk to ‘managing cashflow’, ‘building a brand’ and ‘maintaining work/life balance’.
When Pi Qiansheng presented to the 200 visiting VIPs he completely ignored them. He never referred to their country of origin – Australia. He never mentioned the sister city relationship between Tianjin and Melbourne. He didn’t highlight his love of the Sydney skyline, or successful Chinese-Australians. Instead, he talked about himself, Tianjin and Binhai – and bored us all silly.
There’s no such thing as a ‘status report’ or ‘general update’ presentation. These two creatures belong in the world of e-mail. If you are only providing information, then don’t waste your audiences’ time by bringing them simultaneously together.
There’s no such thing as a ‘status report’ or ‘general update’ presentation. These two creatures belong in the world of e-mail.
Attach your PPT to an e-mail and press ‘send’. But if your boss does ask you to give such a information filled presentation, ensure that you have an action. At work, your action could sound like this:
“By the end of this presentation you will increase the budget…”
“By the end of this presentation you will continue to support…”
“By the end of this presentation you will start to use…”
If there is no action from an presentation, then it is just a glorified e-mail.
That brings us back to TEDx. The audience doesn’t want to be bombarded with information, only to be left hanging on what this all means. If they simply wanted information, they’d ‘Google it‘, and save everyone the hassle. Rather, the audience wants to know ‘what to do now’. With this new information, what should we do differently, or continue to do the same, in the future?
The easiest way to test if your TEDx talk has a clear action is to visualise the audience ‘doing it’. The statement, “By the end of the presentation you will know, think or believe…” is not a strong action, because knowing, thinking and believing are all invisible actions. Instead use ‘use’, ‘go’, ‘buy’, ‘send’ or any number of other active verbs. Remember, ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’ are two completely different conditions – just ask a parent of a teenager!
“What’s in for me?!” This expression is so popular that it even has it’s own internet meme: WIIFM. This is the question your audience will be asking themselves the moment you open your mouth. So don’t disappoint them. At work, your benefit could sound like this:
“…you will increase the budget so that the team hits our yearly sales targets.”
“…you will continue to support the Dongguan plant because it will be able to provide savings of 15%“
“…you will start to use the new finance system because it will you save you time in claiming expenses.”
In a TEDx presentation deciding upon a single benefit is more challenging because you will have 100+ audience members to please. Furthermore, your online audience could easily number in the thousands (or millions). Simon Sinek’s presentation has a clear benefit – it’s in the title itself!
With a personal, actionable and beneficial key message you will be memorable, even with 10 or more presentations between your talk and the post-event after party!
3. Be a contrarian
A contrarian is someone who takes a position that is opposed to the majority, regardless of how unpopular it may be. In a 1997 unreleased ‘Think Differently’ advertisement narrated by Steve Jobs himself, he says:
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the trouble makers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They are not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing that you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things. They push the human-race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones that do.”
Popular TED and TEDx do to their audience what Apple has endeavoured to do to its customers – make them think differently. So don’t get on stage and tell your audience the bleeding obvious. Challenge their mindset. Make them laugh, get angry or cry. Better still, do all three.
4. Swap Stats for Stories
Tables and graphs might dominate your typical business presentations, but they’ll kill a TEDx talk. Instead, fill your 18 minutes with stories, your own or others – as long as they are deep, colourful and told with passion. Your audience will not only remember a story they’ll retell it. The motto of TED is “Ideas worth spreading”, after all.
If you need a reference point for deep, colourful and passionate stories watch a couple of ClarkMorgan Insights.
5. Practice – 6 hours at least
As previously mentioned, TEDx talks are stressful. Incredibly stressful. On the day of your big event your heart rate and blood pressure will increase. Your hands might begin to shake and you might sweat profusely. These are all normal. They are ‘fight or flight’ signs and symptoms created by the sympathetic nervous system – that part of your brain that you can’t consciously control. What you can control, however, is your length of practice.
On the day of your big event your heart rate and blood pressure will increase. Your hands might begin to shake and you might sweat profusely.
By practice, I do not include the actual sourcing of images, typing of text and tinkering with PowerPoint transitions. I mean a full start to finish rehearsal of your talk. Set your laptop down in the largest room in your house. Use a ‘clicker’ to jump through the slides, and then rehearse, word for word, what you will say on each slide. To help you, write a script in the ‘notes’ section under each PowerPoint or Keynote slide. And then practice. Ten times is not enough. You should rehearse your entire presentation 20 times at least – that’s 18 minutes x 20, or six hours! An hour a day of practice, over six days, will ensure that when the MC introduces you to the audience, your mind doesn’t go blank. On the day, you will have no chance to read, but this earlier focus on details and the repetition will allow habit to override nerves.
Being asked to speak at a TEDx is an honour only, and not evidence that you are already a great presenter. As author Malcolm Gladwell states in his book ‘Outliers’, it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to make a master. And so if you’ve not been practicing presentation skills for two and a half hours a day, on average, over the past 10 years then you certainly need to heed my advice. Many careers, and millionaires, have been made by a powerful presentation. Now it’s your turn.