How to prepare a winning TED-style talk (2/3)

This is the second post of the series “How to prepare a TED-style talk”. In the previous post you clarified your message and developed your own content.

Today we look to develop your unique Voice.

But before we start, remember that the December Fundraisers campaign is on. Here’s what it is about: as you know I want to help changemakers and impact leaders multiply their impact. Many of them are campaigning for great causes in charitable organisations and December is the best month for the big fundraiser events. That’s 3 months away. Which is also the time it takes to prepare a powerful talk to move audiences to action.

So I decided to put some time aside to help 8 changemakers and impact leaders craft a great talk for their December fundraiser.

If you are interested or know someone who might be interested, please register your interest or get in touch by tomorrow 15 September and tell me about the cause you are supporting!

Now let’s dive in today’s subject, fine tuning your talk and developing your unique voice

#3 Develop Your Unique Voice

In this part you are going to develop and refine the first draft into a final script for the talk.

You will

  • give it a proper structure
  • get rid of superfluous content and repetition
  • find how YOU want to express your ideas

Most TED talks share a similar structure, that I recommend to follow, at least to start with. Then you will be able to apply your touches to it. Here it goes.

A TED talk is typically composed of the following sections:

  • Introduction, attention grabber
  • About you, who you are
  • Stories to develop the context
  • Build tension in your stories
  • Introduce your idea or solution
  • Expand on it with more stories
  • Involve the audience in it
  • Envision a better future
  • Recap and closing
  • Final forward looking statement

Don't worry if you don't have all of these in your first draft.

Work on it rearranging the content to get some flow in it and make it similar to the structure we just discussed. Similar, it doesn’t need to be identical.

Add content where it feels discontinuous. Use the structure above as a guideline, but don't become obsessed with it.

What you are looking for is flow.

One very critical part is the introduction or attention grabber.

You want to tell a story with some unexpected twist, to raise the interest of the audience for what will come next.

It's more art than science, so keep trying different approaches to find the one that feels more natural to you.

Run the attention grabber with your friends or colleagues to hear their opinion.


I'd bet that when you finish the structure, your talk will be extremely long.


Now you will start pruning it to reach the right length.

Which is...

The right length.

If you are preparing a TED talk there is a maximum permitted length of 18 minutes. A longer talk simply won't be published.

If you are preparing a talk or a speech for your mission and not for TED, you can make it longer, BUT

TED have set that limit because they know that people attention span is short.

Actually the attention span is getting shorter year after year.

That's why in the TEDx talks I produce, I require a maximum length of 15 minutes.

In fact there are several excellent talks in TED history which are shorter than 10 minutes.

I'd suggest to aim for 15 minutes at most.

That is about 2,000 words. Short, huh?

I had some speakers who wanted to cram a lot of content in those 15 minutes, and they planned to speak faster.

Bad idea.

An extremely important component of your talk is pace. How fast, or slow you talk.

You can and should modulate speed to create tension or expectation (by talking faster or slower).

A slow pace can have the effect to raise the attention of the audience, and you want to leverage that!

Besides, when you are on stage you tend to become a little slower than expected.

I had a great speaker with a great message, who insisted to use the full 18 minutes allowed by TED for his talk.

Only thing, on stage he rambled on for 22 minutes! No need to say that his talk was not accepted by TED.

So, stick to 2,000 words at most!

Remove all the unessential stuff for your objective.

Ask yourself, "what does this add to the talk?" and prune without fear.

Ask yourself, "how could I say this more efficiently, with less words?" and boldly change it.

Ask yourself, "did I say this already?" and slash content at the stroke of your pen. (OK, OK I got lyrical here!)

Your Own Voice

We're making progress! Now you have a well structured talk of 2,000 words, congratulations!

The last touch to the final script – which will take you several iterations, mind you! – is to fine tune your voice.

By "voice" I mean the way you say things in your script.

How does the script sound now?

It's probably still a bit bumpy here and there.

You don't like how it sounds. Totally normal.

Here's where the support from a coach can help you immensely, but we can do something also here.

For every part that does not sound right, that does not sound "you", look for alternative ways to say it.

Forget that you are writing a talk.

How would you tell it to me in a face to face conversation?

Or just tell it to a friend or a colleague. How does it sound when you say it naturally, unscripted?

That's your voice. Nurture it.

Now keep going.

  • Go back to revise the structure
  • Always keep an eye on length
  • Keep developing your voice

Edit it all.

And again.

And again.

Till you get to your final, final script!


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