How to Give a TEDx Talk: 10 Tips to be Successful

It’s always been my goal to give a TED Talk, so when the opportunity arose at TEDx New Bedford, I took it and used what we did at Motivate Design (that is, user experience) to nail my speech.

How to give a TEDx talk

Without further ado, these are the hacks I used to design my presentation—the anatomy of a simple, beautiful TEDx Talk:

1. Pick the right stage to give your TEDx talk.

Initially, I figured I should focus on applying in New York City, where I live and work. The themes I came across included community, “What makes you, you?” and “Think smaller.” All of them were great, but they didn’t resonate with the idea I wanted to share. After researching some more, I found TEDx New Bedford. The New Bedford, Massachusetts, audience was extremely fitting: small-business owners, students, creatives, etc. Even more fulfilling was the theme: “UNBOUND: What happens when we explore beyond our limiting beliefs?” I knew it would be the perfect opportunity to be able to share my message on a stage with the theme that made the most sense.

2. Don’t skip the prep work.

Being selected for this kind of honor requires time and preparation. One of the best ways to make your application stand out is to have your talk align as closely as possible with the event theme and the audience you’ll be speaking to, while still making sure your message is unique.

3. Celebrate after you get accepted to give a TEDx talk.

Seriously, it’s about to get really hard. Remember: The acceptance was something you wanted, and come back to the ‘why’ when (not if) you start getting frustrated.

4. Practice makes perfect.

Ever wonder why the presenters seem so polished and don’t fill their speeches with “ums” or “uhs”? It’s because they wrote down every single word, memorized it, rehearsed it and nailed it. It’s not easy, but to give that polished talk, you have to put in the hours.

I hired a storyteller who really helped me find my voice and the vulnerability I needed to tell my story. A few of the other speakers, however, admitted they were going to wing it. Those same people seemed to bring the lowest energy levels in the theater. 

5. Work smarter, not harder.

While prepping and rehearsing my talk, I found myself randomly blanking on what line came next. Seeing a lot of black text on a white page can be overwhelming. For me, memorizing the lines one by one felt impossible.

My 5-year-old son heard me practicing and gave me a piece of valuable advice: “What if each section was a color of the rainbow?” he asked. So I segmented my talk into seven pieces and colored the font in each section accordingly. Whenever I drew a blank, my mind triggered the next color and the associated text. Once I applied this trick, the flow drastically improved.

6. Learn from feedback when practicing to give your TEDx talk.

When it came time for practice runs, I turned to my toughest critics. Standing in front of my Motivate Design team was surprisingly intimidating. Before me were 20 familiar faces I saw and worked with every day. But for some reason, I felt the pressure. I bombed the first dry run. I ended up scrapping the entire thing and rewriting it one week before showtime, because they were right—it sounded like a great TED Talk (or whatever I thought one should sound like), but it didn’t sound like me.

My team gave me honest feedback, but they also reminded me why I wanted to do this in the first place. Practicing in front of an audience you feel comfortable with will provide both support and, because you’re in front of people who know you so well, a highlight of what you’re too close to see.

7. Disarm your ‘I can’t’ voice.

“I can’t say everything I have to say in 18 minutes.” “I can’t memorize this entire speech.” Up until the point of the talk, “can’t” is a mindset that can be designed around. You just have to get out of your own way.

8. Treat yourself when preparing to give a TEDx talk.

When you’re preparing for something that creates fear and doubt, it’s easy to lose sight of the excitement and confidence living inside you. Meditate, eat your favorite meal, buy a new outfit—whatever it is that makes you feel good, do it. Engaging in fun activities will help you get into the mindset of your best self.

Another rehearsal wouldn’t prepare me—it would only make me anxious. So the night before the event, I went to the gym and worked out, hard. Then I did yoga. The exercises immediately instilled readiness and excitement in me, allowing me to shift my mindset from “can’t” to “can.” (And the new dress and shoes didn’t hurt, either.)

9. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Take this advice from my fellow speaker, Michael Rocha, M.D.: “Let go of the attachment to what happens after this.” He encouraged us all to just be in the moment onstage, rather than focusing on the future or what could happen next. Those words really resonated with me. It reminded me that this was an opportunity to share a message that was so meaningful to my life, and if I focused solely on that, others would be able to take it and run with it. I felt extremely lucky.

10. Ten seconds before you give your TEDx talk, take three deep breaths.

Minutes before my talk, I almost freaked out. But I ‘tough love-d’ myself instead, reminding myself that I chose to be there. I chose to give this talk, and now I was choosing to rock it. The ‘love’ was a set of three breaths where I reminded myself that the 1,000-plus audience was there to learn. This was just a bigger classroom than I was used to—but the most important student was my 5-year-old, and I should just speak to him.

To be honest, I’ve never been calmer as I approached the stage. Aside from the “Oh, I love that dress” comment from the first row, which made me smile, I was in the zone. And I nailed it.

This article was published in May 2016 and has been updated. Photo by Chaay_Tee/Shutterstock

Mona is the CEO and founder of Motivate Design, a UX design, research and staffing shop based in New York City. Motivate Design helps clients discover customer needs and design solutions that meet those needs. Through her experience, Mona developed the Reframework, an 8-step process that any company can use. She recently released an Amazon best-seller, Reframe: Shift the Way You Work, Innovate, and Think, that demonstrates how this process can help companies innovate and design simple, beautiful experiences. In addition to helping clients and other Fortune 500 companies feel unstuck, Mona is also a teacher at Parsons the New School for Design.

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