What I learned from giving a TED Talk

Exactly a week ago, my TED Talk  about Colour in Faith, a project about countering fear through social practice art was published. The talk is less than twelve minutes long but it took me a lifetime to prepare for it!

Those twelve minutes were prepared over months and days of working with my colleagues at Well Made Strategy, the TED curatorial team and wonderful Broadway choreographer Danny Mefford. I’m going to save you a lot of time and share a few useful tips from my experience.

1.Everybody loves a story

Suffering is part of the human condition, and triumph over suffering is the coveted and sweet part of the human experience. Although there are many ways to tell a good story, the simplest structure is: a person with a challenge finds a solution that allows him/her to reach a new equilibrium. Presenting the seemingly unsurmountable challenge early in your talk holds your audience’s attention until they see the resolution of that challenge. This simple trick is how our Emmy-award winning sister company Well Told Story reaches millions of people across East Africa.

2. Lose the speech voice

When speaking publicly, many people have an instinct to switch into an altered persona and use a “speech voice”.  Audiences though connect best with authenticity. One of the first pieces of advice Danny Mefford gave me was not to try and be like anything, but to be myself.  Closer to the day, the TED team emphasized that we should use a conversational tone and not worry about projection and volume – the mic takes care of that!

3. I sweat, you sweat

Humans are sympathetic and will mirror emotions and gestures. As long as you are nervous, the audience will feel nervous for you. This splits their focus between what you are saying and their worry for you.  In advance of the talk we were coached to pay attention to where we feel tension in our body and to deliberately let go of that tension – whether in the shoulders, legs or stomach. Mirroring takes place to such an extent that when a speaker, say, clears their throat, people in the audience will do the same. So, do whatever you can to relax.

4. Stand like you have gold coins under your feet.

Contrary to what you may have heard, moving too much, can be too much.  Some people bounce around out of enthusiasm or sway out of nervousness. Too much movement can be distracting and a repetitive movement can lull the audience. A grounded speaker is much more impactful. A great way of doing this is to pretend you have coins under your feet. If you do move, move deliberately. Take a step and stand in your new position. Own each gesture and own your space.

5. Breath

You risk speeding up or losing the end of your sentences because you’ve lost your breath. The incredibly calming and charming TED speech coach Ori Luzia, taught me a simple trick he calls 8-4-7. Take a breath in for eight seconds, hold it for four and then let it out for seven, but don’t do this too many times or you fall asleep!

I communicate for a living but preparing for TED took more than a decade of speech writing, policy advocacy and peace-building, to a completely new level.

These are just a few public speaking tips. We can give you many more at a Well Made Strategy master class:

The dos and don’ts for a narrative that really holds people’s attention

How changing pace and pitch can build emotion and engagement

How you can use silence to draw people in

And much more

We’d love to help you make the best case for having the greatest impact in whatever field you work. Contact me on nabila.alibhai@wts.co.ke

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