Lessons Remembered

Public speaking, your priceless asset

Several weeks ago, I was having lunch with a friend and we started talking about public speaking, specifically ways we could improve our own. I started thinking back to what I had done to prepare for talks I’d given in the past. I also reflected on my reasons for wanting to deliver excellent talks. I wanted to craft a message and deliver a powerful series of ideas that would get my true fans talking and thinking critically about ways we can solve challenging problems together. I also wanted to tap into the benefits of public speaking: positive influence, idea sharing, and cross-cultural connection.

After thinking for a few moments, I gathered my thoughts and shared this advice with her. First, practice your talk in front of a mirror and/or with a recorder. Second, read the book TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson. Third, apply the lessons learned from the TED Talks book to your talk. Fourth, rehearse your talk in front of friends, family, their friends, and especially with people who may not be familiar with your work.

The advice about practicing makes sense but why recommend a book? Fact: it’s hard to find quality and trusted public speaking resources that will actually help you. However, the TED Talks book offers practical advice on public speaking and tells you what elements will help make your talk memorable and engaging. For example, one of my biggest takeaways from reading this book was the importance of your throughline (i.e., your main point). Anderson writes “Since your goal is to construct something wondrous inside your listeners’ minds, you can think of the throughline as a strong cord or rope, onto which you will attach all the elements that are part of the idea you’re building.” Without a strong throughline, your talk may not convey all that you wish to your audience. Another takeaway was the power of rehearsing in front of an audience (even if it’s small) as many times as possible. While I didn’t initially understand the value of rehearsing, Anderson put this into perspective for me when he wrote, “If it’s worth Bill Gates’s time and Susan Cain’s time and Tracy Chevalier’s time…to rehearse for a major talk, it’s probably worth your time too.” Rehearsing makes us ask for our audience’s feedback in a low stakes setting so that we can rewrite our talk (parts or all) in order to make the final work our best yet. The book offers many other tangible suggestions from the TED team and lessons learned from people who have given popular TED talks.

Public speaking isn’t a new tool or way of sharing ideas, however, when well planned and executed, it can be a conversation with your audience and a way to engage people in new ways of thinking. By reading the TED Talks book and doing the work it suggests, you’ll improve your public speaking and give your fans an unexpected gift: value. See your next talk as your next opportunity. You’ll soon notice how public speaking can become one of your most influential and priceless assets.

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