Tips for TEDx Speakers from Someone Who’s Been There


Sara Curry of Bikram Yoga Portsmouth shared "On the Mat to Recovery" at last year's TEDxPiscataquaRiver event. Here she offers advice for all future TEDx speakers. 

Sara Curry

Photo: Sara Curry "On the Mat to Recovery" TEDxPiscataquaRiver, May 8, 2015 at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth NH. By Michael Sterling Photography.

1. Prepare in advance—way in advance.

When I was asked to speak at TEDxPiscataquaRiver’s 2015 event, I planned to do what I usually do: mull over some ideas for a few weeks, write down some key points I wanted to address and speak off-the-cuff the day of the event. This works great when I’m lecturing on yoga to people who love yoga and are invested in the process for two to four hours. This doesn’t fly for an 18-minute TEDx Talk.

You have only 18 minutes to speak to people who may know nothing about your area of expertise. You need time to cut, edit and hone your speech so that you have maximum impact in minimal time. I made edits to the speech two days before presenting it when I found a more concise and effective way to convey the same point. 

2. Do what the TEDx team tells you.

You seldom see sub-par TED Talks and there’s a reason for that. The organizers are great at what they do, so listen up. Get your abstract in on time. Write your speech before the end of March. If they send you videos, watch them. If they offer a Skype run-thru, do it. If there’s a dress rehearsal, show up. If they tell you to practice in front of varied audiences, do it. Do what they advise. You may be an expert on underwater basket weaving, but they’re the experts on developing inspiring presentations.

3. Practice. Practice. Practice.

I know it was annoying when your high school coach told you there are only three ways to get good at basketball and they all start with P, but she was right. You cannot practice this presentation too much. If you’ve run through your speech a half dozen times, you’re not ready.

You need to memorize the speech forward and backward so it will roll off your tongue. The last thing your audience wants to watch is you searching your mind for the sequence of topics on stage or trying to remember the wording of a quote. Once you know the speech like the back of your hand, you can use that information to present a performance that will move your audience.

Practice it, memorize it, time it, record it, listen to it, and repeat. I used the voice recorder on my phone to record it at home and listened to the speech back as I drove to work each day. This will allow you to hear spots where you’re speaking too fast, and you can learn how to present your information in a way your audience can best receive it.

4. Give this speech to anyone who will listen.

Did I mention I love public speaking? I’ve always enjoyed it. It’s a lot of fun to get to talk about a subject I know and love. It has always come fairly easily to me.

Once I got on board with the TEDx process, I planned to practice my speech alone until I had it memorized, and present it to the world on the 3S Artspace stage. Then I received a video from the TEDx team about the art of mastering public speaking and I realized the gig was up. I actually had to prepare like everyone else. I wasn’t some special public speaking expert who didn’t need to prepare like the rest of the world.

I walked and practiced while waving good morning to the other parents on the circle at my kids’ school. I gave the speech to my husband. My kids knew the opening by heart. I gave the speech to friends who came over for dinner. I presented it online to a panel of people I’d never met and couldn’t really see on the screen. They told me I was talking too fast and needed to add pauses so people could react to what I was saying. I presented it to my family, and my mother rewrote the ending that same night.

5. Don’t practice that day.

Every single study done on performance, presentation and test-taking shows that studying the day of has no positive effect on performance. In fact, studies show that sleeping on information improves your performance the next day.

So, DO NOT RUN THROUGH YOUR SPEECH ONE MORE TIME the morning of the event. This will only amplify your anxiety. If you did the work and prepared in advance, it will show on stage. If you didn’t prepare, one last run through will only make your attempt worse. 

Before you go to bed Thursday night, run through the speech one more time. Get a good night’s rest. When you wake up, have a good breakfast, get some exercise, shower and make your way to 3S Artspace. The work is done. Now you just have to go have fun! 

Trust yourself. You’ve got this. You know your topic. Remember the wise words of Mr. Rogers. “I like you just for being you.” You’re gonna be great!

6. Get present before you step on stage.

We undermine our success in public speaking by planning or worrying about how the presentation will go. “Will I remember the story about Gramma Cepp? Can I get the wording of that tricky quote?” To do our best, we have to operate in the now.

Before I walked on stage at TEDx 2015, I closed the door in the green room and practiced this breathing technique. This pranayama exercise helps in several ways. First, when you are controlling your breath for six seconds in and six seconds out, it automatically forces your attention to your body. While your mind can dwell in the past or the future, your body is always in the present moment. Attuning your attention to your body will drop you right back into the now so you can use all of your skills to perform your best.

I also love this version of pranayama before performance because it helps to loosen the muscles in the neck, shoulders and upper back that tighten up when we get tense. In addition, it helps to loosen the muscles in the chest and rib cage so your trunk is open and ready for public speaking, singing, teaching or performance.

Thanks to 2015 TEDxPiscataquaRiver speaker Sara Curry for this helpful advice! For more information about speaking at a TEDx event, or for information about speaking at TEDxPiscataquaRiver, visit our Speaker Information page.