These are my totally unauthorized recommendations for anyone who has been asked to give a Ted talk, regardless of your field or how big the platform. In truth, these steps could be applied to almost anytime you want to motivate and inspire a group, but let’s keep it to Ted Talks for now.
1. Have the desire to communicate something on which you are both passionate and knowledgeable.
Just being knowledgeable about something does not make a great Ted Talk. It barely makes for a decent academic lecture. In the same respect, being passionate about something also doesn’t guarantee that what you have to say is meaningful. Without substance, it is just a mess of emotion and gauzy language. Even with both passion and knowledge, however, you still need that desire to communicate. The best speakers are the ones who yearn to bring their ideas to other people, to share their passion, knowledge and wisdom with the world. Those are the ones who are the easiest to coach and who do the work with a kind of courageous and generous spirit that inspires the audience to both listen and to change.
2. Simplify your core message into a sentence that a smart sixth grader could understand.
This is not about reducing your argument or dumbing it down. If you think that making it simple is taking the easy route, then you haven’t really tried it. Your first 75 attempts will probably be nowhere near where it needs to be. This is where your knowledge and passion are really tested. If you can’t simplify your message without using jargon, it is just possible that you don’t have one.
3. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
It’s not a lecture, it’s a conversation. This is probably one of the most important pieces to giving a good talk. If you want to make an authentic connection with an audience that is experiencing you both live and online, you will need to be fully present. There is no place to hide. If you try to use your expertise as a shield from criticism, you will come across as arrogant. If you try to get the audience to validate you in your talk, you will seem needy. There is no space for talking down or talking up. You have the platform and only those with the courage to speak with honesty, humility and respect will be successful at making an impact. Vulnerability isn’t about weakness. It is not about trying to protect your ego from criticism. It is the opposite of perfectionism. It is about being present and real. It is about caring more that you connect with your audience than about seeming important. Do the work. Practice a thousand times before getting up there. Then let it all go and just trust that you are enough.
Slides or no slides. Important degrees or no important degrees. It doesn’t really matter.
Connect. Be real. Keep it simple and trust the desire to communicate what you know and love.