Professional SpeakingIf you observe babies, you’ll notice one of the first ways they learn is by imitation. This goes for everything from learning to smile and other facial expressions, to sounding out words, to getting dressed and brushing teeth.

Imitation is also important for more advanced skills in life, including professional speaking. If you can first imitate what successful speakers do, and then alter it to fit your own unique style and brand, it can be an effective way to hone your technique.

One of the best sources out there for viewing professional speakers “doing their thing”—not to mention truly phenomenal content—is If you’ve somehow missed the TED phenomenon, you should know that the site features 20 minute presentations from some of the world’s top thought leaders. Speakers for TED events are selected on an invite-only basis.

Here are some of the lessons from the TED speakers:

Practice Is Essential

Speakers for TED must keep their content to a maximum of 20 minutes, which is incredibly hard for most of us to do. Because of this, most speakers PRACTICE their presentations over and over again before stepping on stage, which ensures their content fits within the time allotted. Preparation also comes in handy if nerves kick in. When you are well-prepared and have most of your material memorized (or at least the opening and closing, which is what I personally try to do), your knees may shake a bit, but your brain goes on auto-pilot and you won’t miss a beat.

Content Must Be Captivating

Storytelling is the most important element of an interesting presentation. All of the TED speakers tell compelling stories to engage the audience. Also note that some use PowerPoint slides and when they do, only a few slides are used and they aren’t over-loaded with text. Simple is the name of the game here.

The Material Must Have a Clear Purpose and Flow

Most of us are used to speaking for an hour, so when it comes to shrinking a presentation to one-third of its original size,
it can be quite challenging. TED speakers know to first define a purpose for their content and develop a logical flow of information, meaning the presentation has a beginning, middle, and an end. Like a good novel that reaches a climax, speakers should aim to do the same.

No Theatrics Needed

For years I struggled with the idea that perhaps I needed to be more theatrical on stage. There are many speakers, especially in the motivational speaker category, who really know how to put on a show. That might mean dancing about the stage, juggling, or dramatic gestures and physical movement. But I’m not a motivational speaker and these antics never felt like a good fit for me.

For me, watching TED videos has served as a great reminder that speakers don’t have to get on stage and put on a show. In fact, an authentic audience connection is far more important, and you can see this as a common thread throughout the TED site. I recently put this theory to the test when I gave a presentation at the annual National Speakers Association conference. Talk about pressure—I was scheduled to speak to a room full of professional speakers! After my session, which had about 100 attendees, the feedback was overwhelming. They loved the content, but more importantly, I received many comments about my authentic and engaging style. I have settled into a comfortable place where I deliver content with passion, but without fanfare. It seems to be working. Most TED speakers follow the same recipe.

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