Just starting out in speech? Here are several tips from the world’s greatest public speakers to level up your skills. ⬆️
Have you ever wondered how exactly TED Talk speakers are selected? 🤔 From thousands of talented academics, athletes, and adventurers, all with unique backgrounds and stories, these individuals must have some kind of secret to a successful speech on the red stage. Well, wonder no more—here are five tricks of the trade that you can use to supercharge your own public speaking.
#1: Capture your audience from the first sentence.
A great speech stands out right from the start. In Maysoon Zayid’s exhilarating speech “I Got 99 Problems…Palsy is Just One”, she uses self-deprecating humor to memorably introduce her condition, announcing, “I have cerebral palsy. I shake all the time. Really, I’m like Shakira meets Muhammed Ali.” A little laugh from the audience goes a long way. 😅 But she doesn’t stop at the punchline: Zayid makes herself relatable by fleshing out real anecdotes from her life. And just like that, the audience is charmed.
Another attention-grabber? Amy Cuddy tries a hands-on approach in her speech on body language by calling on the audience to move physically. 🙌 Right away, they’re engaged to take action, which is one of the end goals of public speaking. Perfect!
Try this yourself by opening up with a joke or two, and then talking about an experience of your own. Just make sure it’s relevant to your topic—don’t lead your listeners on a tangent! ⚠️
#2: Put yourself in the audience’s shoes.
Did you know that great speeches are like an intimate conversation? 🗣️ Far too often, novice public speakers blindly write about a topic without regarding their recipient. If you’re addressing a crowd of teachers, they probably wouldn’t know the specifics of HTML. Always assume that your audience doesn’t have the same background knowledge as you do—and that’s why you’re there!
Aim for a genuine connection over content. 🤝 If your words can move someone to laughter or tears, you’re on your way to becoming a role model for everyone, young or old.
When writing “The surprising science of happiness,” TED speaker Dan Gilbert used the art of breaking down psychological research into everyday concepts we all understand. To mimic this, try delivering your speech to a friend or family member. You may be surprised at how much you need to simplify, simplify, simplify!
#3: Make it interactive.
Who says you’re limited to just your voice? Variety is the spice of life! 👀 By harnessing the power of all three types of communication—verbal, nonverbal, and written—you can maximize the potential of persuading your audience. In a great example of creativity, James Veitch revolves his talk entirely around a humorous email exchange between him and a scammer named “Solomon.” 📧 With over 60 million views, this witty performance is one that’s sure to inspire.
When rehearsing your speech, mix up your hand gestures, talking speed, and position on stage. Even something as simple as a twinkle in your eye can make a world of a difference. 😉
⚠️ This doesn’t mean you need the fanciest slide decks, visuals, or props to support your speech. Your body language and other nonverbal cues are the foundation of an unforgettable message—the bells and whistles come later.
#4: Be authentic to who you are.
While watching these great public speakers, it’s important not to lose sight of your own personality when delivering your speech. According to Professor of Psychology Daniel Gilbert at Harvard University, a common trap people fall into is replicating the speaking styles of Martin Luther King Jr. or John F. Kennedy, even if they sound entirely different.
Sir Ken Robinson stays true to his character in his speech “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” Because he is a professor in day-to-day life, Robinson recognizes that he may not display the same charisma as a CEO or businessman when presenting to a large crowd. But that’s okay! He uses this opportunity to show off his witty side with stories about his children and profession. 👪
Use language that you feel comfortable saying. Use hand gestures that feel natural to you. At the end of the day, authenticity moves an audience. Be yourself, and the rest will fall into place. 😊
#5: Visualize yourself as the best speaker you can be.
Are you ready to take the next step in public address? No matter the amount of experience, some speakers may feel held back by nerves, stress, or self-doubt. 😟 Think about the last time you hesitated at an opportunity to share your thoughts. Why did you feel this way? Were you worried about how others might see you, or the outcome?
This is where the power of visualization comes in. Believe it or not, this is the “secret” that the best TED speakers all know, and it’s incredibly easy to try yourself! One method is called process visualization, which is where you imagine an ideal sequence of events that will happen during your speech. 💭
“First, I will walk up to the podium and take a deep breath from my diaphragm. I will look around at the audience and make eye contact for several seconds with each of them. I will smile and remember my first sentence, and then start.”
Just think about it: once you’ve walked through the whole scene in your head, all you’ll have to do is repeat familiar actions during the real deal. And if something ends up not going as planned, don’t sweat it! Rational visualization will help you in this case. Try reasoning with all of your worries and anxiety—what is the worst thing that could actually happen? Not much, apparently.
“If I forget to say a word, what will the audience do? They likely won’t even realize my fib. If I take a breath and keep on going, they’ll still be interested in what I have to say.”
See how a little bit of rationale can put things into perspective? It’s amazing what the human mind can do. Along with practice, these two methods of visualization can level up your public speaking from good to great. 😍
By now you may be wondering if you can ever grace the red TED stage, or present in front of a class without feeling the all-too-familiar butterflies in your stomach. Well, after mastering all of the above tips, which come directly from the best speakers in the world, you can! The sky's the limit when it comes to what you can do with your new public speaking powers. 🦸
Just remember that it takes perseverance and practice, practice, practice. After all, TED speakers weren’t born gifted—many of them trained with professionals for years and years before even grabbing the microphone. Where can you seek help as well? LeadYouth has plenty of resources such as video courses, mentors, and blog articles to help you build confidence in public speaking. ✨
Capture your audience with an engaging hook. Examples include jokes, life experiences, or a call to action for the audience.
When writing your speech, keep it simple and know your audience.
Make your speech delivery interactive by exploring nonverbal aspects, hand gestures, or even multimedia presentations.
Stay true to your speaking personality.
Visualize yourself delivering your speech.
Try It Yourself!
Write a 3-5 minute persuasive speech about a topic you’re passionate about. Don’t forget the interesting hook and storyline! 📝
Brainstorm how you can spice up your delivery using the three parts of communication and/or multimedia.
Rehearse your speech based on the tips from these TED speakers.
Deliver your speech to an audience with no previous background knowledge.
Afterwards, interview them and ask if they felt a genuine connection.
Revise your speech and repeat as necessary. 🔁