If you’re a regular at industry conferences you will no doubt be an expert at sitting in a room whilst someone talks at you for a day, or, if you’re lucky, longer. The typical conference speech is invariably too long, too PowerPoint heavy and lacking in personality.
At the other end of the spectrum we have arguably the best conference speeches in the world – TED Talks. So what can you learn from TED, even if you feel that your industry is a million miles away from the gloss and idealism of high-tech TED?
1. Place your audience right at the centre of your talk
The very worst conference speech has nothing to do with the people in the room. A fire-blast of information that you want to say, but that bounces off the back wall because nobody wants to hear it.
To think in a TED style, start your preparation with one person in your audience at the centre; someone who you want to help or inform. Ask yourself what do they want to hear? How do they feel about your topic? What could be the most fascinating thing you could tell them? If you can please one person, you can please more. And that’s when you start to write a conference speech that could be genuinely TED worthy.
2. Give them ONE idea worth spreading
This is TED’s mantra and it’s extremely effective. If you share one main idea, or have one clear thread running through your talk, the audience are much more likely to take away and remember your talk.
In the internet era nobody is lacking information. It’s not valuable any more to spout everything you know. What we value is clarity and practical simplicity. Which is why you should spend most of your preparation time honing down your ideas into something that’s clear and simple, rather than trying to sound clever.
3. Light up your idea with every tool you’ve got
Once you have your idea worth spreading, think about ways to bring that idea alive. Rather than just telling us, which tends to make us react ‘so what?’ or ‘that’s obvious’, do your best to show the audience what you mean. Illustrate it through:
- Stories: Maximise the characters and the action, minimise the ‘he said, she said,’ details. So many TED Talks are based around some form of story, e.g. the one about Ric Elias surviving a plane crash.
- Props: Used in the right way, 3D props are much more interesting than pictures (e.g. Hans Rosling’s boxes representing population growth)
- Humour: Nothing raises the audience’s attention more than a good laugh (e.g. Ken Robinson’s TED Talk classic)
- A diagram: A well thought through diagram helps us understand exactly what you’re on about, like Simon Sinek’s brilliant Golden Circle
- Play: Have fun with your audience, involve them if you can. The result can be magnificent, like Ben Zander’s talk on classical music.
- Metaphors: If you’ve got a dry or complicated subject, a good metaphor will help everyone understand. Jill Bolte Taylor’s entire story about having is a stroke is also a metaphor for the right versus left side of the brain – her ultimate message
4. … Whilst keeping it simple
Remember that we’re looking for clarity, so you don’t need to throw the kitchen sink, a story about the kitchen sink and a joke about a story about the kitchen sink at your audience.
Look to maintain a clear narrative that has a few really powerful key moments. These should be moments that you can stick all your power, passion and silence behind, so the audience really know what’s what.
Less is more peeps, less is more.
5. Prepare, but don’t kill it
There’s nothing worse than an under-prepared conference talk, but an over-prepared conference talk can come a close second. I get that you want to do it right, but be sure to leave enough space in your talk for people to enjoy it.
That’s what speakers like Brene Brown and Ken Robinson manage really well- they give us the impression that the talk is spontaneous, even if they’ve spent hours preparing.
6. Take us oon a splendid journey
TED talks, like great conference speeches, give the audience the feeling that they’ve been on a journey. It could be a journey of discovery, an emotional journey, or a logical journey from one point of view to another. But a journey there should be; that’s how an audience know they’ve got value from your conference talk.
7. Enjoy it with every bone in your body
I constantly see audiences moaning that a speaker was too dry or didn’t want to be there, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard an audience complain that the speaker enjoyed their talk too much!
So whether this is your first time doing a big conference speech, or the fortieth time this week, live your material, enjoy your words and soak up the spotlight.
When you love what you do it becomes infectious.
And that’s when TED are more likely to come knocking…