10 Public Speaking Tips I Learned After My TED Talk
Oct 28, 2023
Growing up, I was social and outgoing, but I was never fond of putting on a show, even in smaller settings. In my high school years, I hosted several online and offline events that improved my public speaking skills.
Shortly after moving to the Netherlands, I got a speaker slot at a TEDx event happening at the University of Groningen. Funny enough, I'm a first-year student at the university myself, so the pressure from age discrimination was definitely on. Plus, my family and friends were in the audience, making it infinitely harder.
I could not mess this up. After endless practice, I learned more from this singular experience than from all my past speeches combined.
1. Don't overload your slides
Speakers often use their slides to drive attention away from themselves to ease the pressure. Don't do that. Visual aids make the talk more engaging, but people come to watch you, not your Canva slides.
You should only include what is necessary to make the audience follow what you're saying. Don't include sentences, use graphics to enhance the experience, make it visually appealing and do not write paragraphs!
2. The more is not the merrier
As a speaker, it's natural to want to include as much as possible in your talk to increase its value. However, this is a terrible mistake. With each section, imagine if you could only use one sentence to convey the point; focus on that and eliminate the rest.
When I began writing my talk, I structured it more like a lecture. I dedicated a few minutes to introductory topics that would fit my talk. However, I later realized that I would only get the audience's attention for a short while, so I should cut to the chase.
3. Don't eat your words at the end of a sentence
The start of a sentence is arguably the hardest part. Raising your voice after a pause that felt like an eternity is no joke. However, we all know that you should start your sentences with a strong tone to engage the audience.
What many ignore is how they finish their sentences. I also used to confidently begin my sentences but get quieter as I progressed. Ending your sentences with a firm tone will make your talk considerably more memorable.
4. Power pause
I understand how long one-second pauses can feel on stage; however, maintaining a slow pace and pausing at the right moments can significantly enhance your talk.
Another speaker that night even had a habit of counting to five in her head before she begins her next sentence.
Retaining information while listening to someone is not easy, especially given the declining attention spans among younger generations. You must give your audience a chance to process your statements before you move on.
5. Talk about personal experiences
We live in a time where it is easier than ever to find information on any topic you desire. Your audience will not want to listen to you for 10 minutes to save them the hassle of a Google search. Base your talk on your personal experiences and provide a unique angle.
6. Perfect your body language
You may be the speaker, but your body language does the talking for you as a person. Learn the art of engaging your audience with gestures, movements and facial expressions.
For example, slouching, having crossed arms, negative facial expressions and avoiding eye contact can hurt the audience and lower your credibility in their eyes.
7. Avoid "umm's" and "uhh's".
Although this is a hard habit to break, avoid using "filler" words when you speak. Train yourself to be comfortable with pausing when necessary. It will make you appear more competent and comfortable, which makes it more likely for your audience to pay attention.
8. Don't memorize your talk, understand it
You shouldn't read off anything during your talk, even small flash cards. It lowers the quality of your talk. There is just a different feel when a speaker genuinely understands his talk and delivers it as if it's a regular conversation.
You have to structure your talk in a way where each sentence reminds you of the one after so that even if you were to talk without preparation, you would still follow the same order.
9. Be likable.
I don't mean to alarm you, but in my experience, audiences tend to be more alert to a speaker's flaws than their strengths. If you come across as boring or arrogant, the audience will likely discard your talk immediately, even if it's actually good.
Be humble, friendly and engaging. If the audience can relate to you, they will be far more inclined to listen to you.
10. Use strong statements
As much as you hate to face the fact as a speaker, people have narrow attention spans. They will probably not remember much of your talk. So, use strong statements that provide a takeaway from your talk, even if the supporting sentences aren't present.
For instance, I structured my TED talk around ten principles I implement daily to give myself direction. Even if people spent the duration of my talk on their phones, likely, they would still remember the one-liners I used for each principle.
Similarly, I concluded my talk with a story that led to a quote, "Life is good." The audience might not remember my story, but they will definitely remember how it ended!
Remember, a great speaker embraces imperfections and performs regardless. Practice, get comfortable and never lose sight of the purpose of your talk.