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How to Have a Great Experience as a TEDx Speaker

Updated on May 14, 2016
Kathy Stutzman profile image

Kathy Stutzman has a passion for creating meaningful connections. Author, facilitator, leadership coach, public speaker, workshop trainer.

Be a Compelling TEDx Presenter

Have you wondered what it takes to be a compelling TEDx speaker? What goes on behind the scenes? How do TEDx speakers make it seem so easy? And, with all eyes on you, how can it possibly be fun? It is a great honor to speak at a TEDx and while it can feel like a daunting responsibility it is a remarkable experience. This article features five strategies to help speakers have a great experience with their TEDx talk.

I was honored to be asked to speak at TEDxHoracePark and while overwhelmed at the responsibility, I was determined to absorb and enjoy the entire process. As a result, it was an exhilarating and life impacting experience for me. This article describes five strategies that helped me fully embrace the process and have a memorable and fulfilling experience.

Kathy Stutzman TEDxHoracePark Speaker Walking The Walk

It is critical to be genuine when speaking at TEDx. Tell your story, share your experiences and have fun in all you do. Here I am learning from street girls about their daily lives so I can tell their story.
It is critical to be genuine when speaking at TEDx. Tell your story, share your experiences and have fun in all you do. Here I am learning from street girls about their daily lives so I can tell their story. | Source


As I drove to a coaching session for the TEDxHoracePark 2015 class of speakers, I reflected on how much has changed for me as a result of my TEDx talk last year. The impact of the lessons that I learned influenced me in ways that I never anticipated when I accepted the invitation to speak. And, while I learned a lot, I also had a great time. It was exhilarating, challenging and thought-provoking all in one experience.

The TEDxHoracePark organizing committee has it together; they are a passionate, curious and exceptional diverse group of thinkers who all add a unique perspective to the event. That diversity of thought around a common vision, “Brain Food” creates an environment that supports and challenges the speakers to be their best. And of course, the TEDx framework provides guidance and structure so that there are multiple ways for the audience and speakers to engage.

Hosting a Public Television Show Was Less Nerve-Wracking Than Presenting at TEDx

Kathy and co-host Tim Ruzek interview Alisa Ruediger for On Q Latitudes, Germany on KSMQ Public Television
Kathy and co-host Tim Ruzek interview Alisa Ruediger for On Q Latitudes, Germany on KSMQ Public Television | Source

5 Tips to Enhance Your TEDx Speaking Experience

The preparation for speaking at a TEDx is rigorous, vibrant and challenging. TEDxHoracePark speakers have weekly coaching and mentoring sessions, opportunities to meet with a drama coach, speech coach and multiple opportunities to practice in front of a variety of audiences before the big day. The stress and anticipation of taking on the task of being a TEDx speaker was out-weighted by the sheer fun of the entire experience. I learned so much during the process and would encourage anyone to take the leap to be a TEDx speaker.

Five strategies to have a great experience as a TEDx speaker:

  1. Become a storyteller.
  2. Give your audience the credit they deserve.
  3. Saturate your practice audiences with diverse views
  4. Practice practice practice.
  5. Be yourself AND have fun.

Here's how to make that happen...

Become a Storyteller

Hang up your “Subject Matter Expert” hat and become a storyteller. I know, I know, I know…you are the subject matter expert…and most likely, that is why you are being asked to speak. This is the lesson that was the most difficult for me to understand, then accept and finally embrace – and it is by far one of the most important lesson I learned. Plus, being a storyteller is so much more fun than being a lecturer.

As subject matter experts – we know it all, we have our own vernacular, our own brand of talking, and we are filled with expertise that we can’t wait to unload others. Give us a microphone and a platform and set us loose so we can impart all of our knowledge. Just writing this my eyes want to glaze over. There is not a lot of room for someone (the audience) to be curious when you already have all of the answers.

TEDx is about the productive collision of relationships, interactions, curiosity and ideas. There is a reason that there are live audiences. As a TEDx speaker, you want to invite the audience into your story, build your case in a way that has them wondering how they could apply your skill, your product, your idea; how they could benefit from your situation. Step outside of your subject matter expert persona and give yourself permission to tell a story, to share your idea and invite others into that story.

There are many resources available to help you convert your expertise/presentation into a compelling story that is conducive for the TEDx framework. Find several and read them. As a subject matter expert and a public speaker, I thought I knew it all. All I had to do was explain everything so that the audience could understand.

I could not have been more wrong. Some of the books I read were really difficult to read because they felt counter-intuitive to what my “SME” brain was saying, however, paired with several of the following lessons, I finally began to embrace the concept of telling a story and shedding the SME skin. It took a lot of pressure off and the final result was became a fun and compelling story.

Creating a Bridge to Infinite Possibilities

Your audience is curious and seeking new perspectives. As a TEDx speaker you can build the bridge from which their imagination can launch.
Your audience is curious and seeking new perspectives. As a TEDx speaker you can build the bridge from which their imagination can launch. | Source

Give Your Audience The Credit They Deserve

Your audience is intentionally and thoughtfully participating in a TEDx event, whether in person or viewing on-line. They come expecting great things, and more importantly, they come to be moved, to be invoked into action, connected with meaningful ideas. They have shown up expecting thought provoking ideas, and in the case of TEDxHoracePark, they are seeking “Brain Food.” No pressure huh?

As a devout follower of TED and TEDx, I was nearly crushed by this notion of what I was expecting from myself. After reaching out, reading and participating in discussions about TEDx talks, I developed these guidelines to help take the pressure off:

  1. Perspective - determine the voice (perspective) from which the story will be told.
  2. Clarity - get clear about the message of your presentation – what is the call to action?
  3. Space – create space within the talk for the audience to find themselves.

In other words, you don’t need to tell them everything you are thinking or wanting to convey. Pick a few key concepts, a little bit of your thought process and let them fill in the blanks for themselves. Give them credit for being imaginative and intellectual.

You don’t need to tell them what or how to think, just share your perspective and let them settle in to the story on their own. When I embraced that concept, I felt a huge burden lift. My TEDx became more fun to conceptualize, almost playful.

TEDx audiences are curious and smart people, our job as TEDx speakers is to inspire, influence and impact in thought-provoking ways that challenge and invite the audience to engage. There are many resources designed to help you engage the audience. I used an invitation, an imagery and peppered a few questions to actively engage the audience.

Once you have settled on your perspective and start to frame the story you will discover ways to invite the audience into your TEDx presentation. The next strategy is important to help you hone your story and create clarity on your audience invitation.

A Chapter of This Book Was Inspired by Another Speaker at TEDxHoracePark

Saturate Your Practice Audiences With Diverse Views

Practice audiences??? Although I am a public figure, activist and host of a television show the idea of live practice sessions wreaked havoc in my heart. It was almost a deal breaker, I don’t mind extemporaneous speaking and can do media interviews at the drop of a hat, but an intentional, practiced presentation??? With people who don’t know me? And those people will give feedback publically? My palms are sweating just thinking back to that conversation with the TEDxHoracePark coach/mentor with whom I was working.

And then I realized (or I might have been told…) this wasn’t about me. This is about creating a great TEDx experience. Diverse practice audiences are an important test to determine if what you think you are saying is really coming across to others with different perspectives. Once I got over the initial trepidation and saw the value of the feedback, I became a firm believer in this step in the process. I can’t recommend it enough.

Diverse practice audiences can look as different as the perspectives. Here are a few of the audiences and venues that make great practice audiences:

  1. Write a detailed presentation outline and ask 5 people to read it and comment.
  2. Practice your presentation in front of a few friends.
  3. Practice your presentation in front of a few family members (different ages).
  4. Convene a group of people who are interested in the topic and practice your presentation.
  5. TEDxHoracePark invited diverse community members to sit in on practice sessions.
  6. Sitting in a practice group for other TEDx speakers will give you a deeper sense of perspective for your own presentation.

Each of these practice sessions can build on each other. And as your presentation becomes more and more refined, it is a good idea to bring it back to the earlier reviewers and get feedback about the new direction.

Receiving feedback is as important as deciding what to do with the feedback. Not all feedback and comments need to be incorporated – this is still your story, your perspective your TEDx presentation. Balance comments and feedback by being clear about what you hope the audience will take away and maintaining your unique voice.

Listening to the Feedback is Vital

The practice sessions are designed to help you be the best TEDx speaker possible. Listening is important, however, be certain to maintain your own perspective.
The practice sessions are designed to help you be the best TEDx speaker possible. Listening is important, however, be certain to maintain your own perspective. | Source

Practice Practice Practice

You cannot practice too much. I can guarantee you, that the more practiced you are, the more relaxed you are, the more fun you will have. Take some time and watch TEDx presentations, you can tell which speakers practiced…they make it look easy.

Being a TEDx speaker is not easy, practice makes it look easy. And, if it looks easy, your audience will enjoy it more. So practice practice practice. You will be glad you did and so will your audience.

Be Yourself AND Have Fun

Even the speakers who are telling the most complex, serious and difficult stories insert their personality, make us laugh, make us cry, evoke energy, and incite passion. Even though you are now uber practiced, when you are finally on that stage giving your TEDx presentation – it is the first time your audience has heard it – and you need to tell it like it is your first time too.

Sink yourself into your story, feel your words, remember your excitement, your emotions, and your inspiration – pepper the story with you, your personality your ideas and vision. The audience has come to hear you, to be moved, inspired and motivated by you. And yes, while that is an enormous responsibility – you are a TEDx speaker – which means that you are up to that responsibility – and you can do it.

Be you, tell your story, invite the audience into your story, call them to action, and engage them. Use your passion and energy and be yourself. And most of all have fun.

The Power And Responsibility of One


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