In April, I gave my first TEDx talk at TEDx Malvern. I learnt a HUGE amount in the run up to and during the experience, but I needed a bit of time to reflect before I could write this. I wanted to share with you what I learnt from giving a TEDx talk… it might just help you if you’re planning to give a TEDx talk or if you’re just looking to improve your public speaking.
What I learnt from giving a TEDx talk
For ease, I’m going to pop these in a kind of long bullet point form…
- Public speaking is not as scary as I thought. I’ve always told myself that public speaking is scary… because I have had a few public speaking brushes before and all made my heart pound a bit. This time, I genuinely wasn’t scared. Which was weird. On the lead up to it I was a little anxious, but from the point I got in the car to make my way there, I really wasn’t…
- I’m not as bad as public speaking as I thought. In my head, I had decided that I was not a gifted public speaker. And to be clear, there is PLENTY of room for improvement, I’m not denying this for a second. But I’m not bad. And the fact I have admitted to myself that I’m not bad has given me a huge confidence boost. Silly, isn’t it? We have the power to change how we feel about something so radically by shifting our perception from awful to ‘not as bad as I thought’. However, saying you’re not as bad as you thought, well, in my case, means I want to go on, learn more and do more. Saying I’m point blank terrible makes me want to run for the hills. So I’m not as bad as I thought. And I am happy with that.
- Break it down. If you think of the whole TEDx talk ‘thing’ as one big chunk, it’s overwhelming. Breaking it down makes me much easier. I thought of it in a number of different ways and tried to work on a bit of it regularly, so what to wear (parts one and two!) was one thing, the draft of the talk, recording the talk, learning and ‘performing’ the talk, writing the cards, preparing the slides, sourcing the images, etc etc. I even broke some of these into bits – so I had a very vague outline for the talk I was giving and then started to fill bits in… and leave bits to get more info on and come back to. If I’d thought ‘right – today I am doing all things TEDx’ I would have come unstuck quickly. Because while I knew who I needed to speak to and needed pics from, getting images takes time… not a long time but with time differences it does. Chipping away at it and breaking it into bitesized chunks was much easier.
- I can do slides. It turns out that I although I have seen a million (slight exaggeration) Powerpoint presentations before, I haven’t actually done one myself. I didn’t realise this until I started working on it and very quickly hated the design options available to me. I hated them so much that I designed every slide in Canva and imported it as an image into Powerpoint. So I don’t do slides in a conventional way, but I can do them.
- Slides should not make up your talk. I watched a lot of talks on Youtube before my TEDx talk and I found one theme in common with what I thought were the best talks. The slides were limited (in some cases there were none), enhanced the talk by adding images/video/key facts, and were clear and easy to read. The ones I disliked the most had the talk on them… I mean, why have someone read something to you from a screen? Of course, some more technical talks benefit from more detailed slides with facts, figures, graphs and charts. Mine wouldn’t have. And although I could have added more slides with more images, I was quite happy with what I did.
- Go with your gut. When I was talking through the slides with my Dad (who, turns out, has done loads of presentations using Powerpoint…) he was pretty sure I was putting over the wrong kind of thing. He said that images weren’t really right for slides. And they should be more dynamic than mine. Well I wanted images and I didn’t want crazy moving parts – it’s just not me. I’d also watched a lot of talks and realised that everyone is different and there’s no ‘right’ way. You do you. So I did me. And I was really pleased with what I’d done.
- What you wear matters. This is something I’m slowly beginning to realise. Your clothes aren’t just about how you look, it’s how they make you feel. I put a fair amount of thought into my outfit (and was ably assisted by Sophie Callahan and Karen McConnell) and I was pleased with how I looked. Looking at the pics taken on the night, I was cross with how my shirt creased at the front… I would probably wear something different in style next time because of this, but I felt confident and happy (and it did look really good before an hour’s car journey and an hour sitting down in a theatre!)
- Enjoy it, because it doesn’t really matter. Don’t think I’m being flippant here. I am incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity and TEDx matters a LOT, but I decided that enjoying it, to me, was important. This was also a bit deeper because if I worried myself stupid and told myself that it mattered SO much, I would have been scared of making a mistake. Of stumbling. Of losing my thought. This would make it a lot more likely that I would and, if I did, I would struggle to get back on track. When I decided that I would give it my best shot but, quite rightly, acknowledged that no one was going to die if I messed up, I was able to enjoy it and really think I delivered a much better talk as a consequence.
- Preparation matters. I felt fairly confident in what I was doing for many reasons – and one was the amount of prep I had done. I had had a fairly quite week to make sure I had time to prepare (thanks for the kick in that direction Emma Warren!) but it made a huge difference. I didn’t over rehearse what I was saying but I had a few good run throughs, had everything ready in plenty of time- I’d even allocated time to iron my shirt! Preparing things on every level helped me feel a lot more confidence for my TEDx talk.
- Cheerleaders. For various reasons, I didn’t know anyone at who attended the TEDx talk. There was talk of different people coming with me but I didn’t push the point and it didn’t happen – the talk sold out very quickly too, so that was quite a large factor. But you know what? It didn’t matter, because while no one was sat in the theatre, I have the BEST bunch of cheerleaders who were with me every step of the way on my phone. I had SO many lovely comments come through email, messenger and text during the day and had lots of messages asking how it had gone too. I think I was in the car for about 30 mins replying to everything before I started on my way back. That made me feel incredibly special. Your cheerleaders don’t have to be in the same room… or even in the same country!
- I want to do more of it. A rather unexpected result of my TEDx talk was that I want to do more public speaking… yeah, I was surpised too. As soon as the event had finished and I was outside chatting to some of the attendees, I was approached about giving other talks, so that was nice.
- You need to step beyond your comfort zone to grow. And to get that lovely buzz that’s a mix of pride, achievement and possibility. It’s a nice buzz.
- If plan A doesn’t work out, there’s a load more letters… and if you get stuck, ask for help. I had put a post on my Facebook page asking for a case study element for my talk. Whether I didn’t explain it properly or what, I don’t know, but none of the responses were what I needed. This was a problem as it really illustrated the point. It wasn’t until I was speaking to Sophie Callahan that the idea hit me. And I should add that it was her facial expression that gave it away. See, I was looking for someone in my local area who had connected with someone in a rural location through social media. Of course, the answer was looking me straight in the face – I was the perfect example. You know sometimes people say things are too obvious? Yeah – that.
- You can condition yourself. I started off being nervous and managed to feel excited. This was due to something Emma Warren, my lovely client and friend suggested. In essence, it was when you feel a pang of ‘Oh Christ, what have I done, it’s going to be awful’, do something to change the game. She suggested I rubbed my hands together and said ‘I’m so excited about giving my talk and sharing my knowledge with the people there – it’s going to be great’. Or something like that. Damn me it worked. I only did it twice… and then I struggled to get worried about it. Weird. But it worked!
So that’s a snapshot of what I learnt from TEDx. Although I feel that this could have applied to all public speaking and all of the above will definitely help me in the future.
If you’d like to see my TEDx talk, you can have a look at it here. I hope you enjoy it. And HUGE thanks to Jane at Confident Rider and her friend Vivre for helping me illustrate how incredible social media is…