Sally on TEDx stage

Five Presentation Lessons I Learned Giving a TedX Talk

I’m a speaker and presentation coach.

Most people assume that because of that, I don’t get nervous.

Ha. Of COURSE I get nervous!

If I’m not nervous, I get nervous about not being nervous!  Nerves tell me I care, that I’ve invested myself, that this matters.

And there’s probably nothing in the speaking realm that feels more like it matters right now than a TED (or TEDx) talk.

A few facts: 

  • The TEDx YouTube channel has nearly 10 MILLION subscribers (Compare that with the TED YouTube channel that has 8 million)
  • And we can all probably name TEDx talks that have gone viral – borne from the same sort of unassuming TEDx event that I spoke at in October. Most famously, Brené Brown’s inaugural TEDx talk about vulnerability…. it’s a favorite, especially BECAUSE she had no intention and no idea it would catch fire like it did. Or, Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” talk – launched a career!  (And these are just TWO of the HUNDREDS of talks – just like the one I gave – that were transported out of the live-theater moment and into the minds and hearts of millions of people through video.)
  • And, even back in 2012 there were 13,000 talks – and nearly 1,000 are added each MONTH. Whoa.

I know I’m not the only one with a TED talk on their bucket list of talks to give!  (Obviously! See above stats.)

But I think there are powerful presentation lessons for ANY of us, who – whether or not we make it to the TED stage – want to take their message to a broader audience.

So I thought it might be helpful to capture a few key presentation lessons I experienced by giving a TEDx talk – as both a coach and a speaker.

5 Presentation Lessons I Learned From Giving This TEDx Talk:

#1: PRACTICE – in the right way.

 preach about practicing to anyone who will listen.

I say things like, Stop obsessing over the slides, stumble-through, and get on your feet! (You can read all about my “stumble-through” methodology here.)

When people are facing down a high-stakes talk, they tend to fall into two camps of preparation:

  1. Procrastinate, JAM it all in at the last minute, and then show up unprepared/scared/too nervous to enjoy it
  2. Over-practice (or, more accurately, practice incorrectly) – and show up memorized, in mechanical mode, hanging desperately on to their plan and oblivious to the needs of the moment.

For this talk, I was going for – and prescribe – a 3rd option: INTEGRATION, i.e., when the content is IN you, not just your head, and you know it so well you can deviate from it as the moment calls for it.

Doing that requires you to spend a LOT of time flexing lots of different muscles so you are ready.

And I sure did spend a lot of time prepping. Even understanding and appreciating “the process” -it was a bumpy ride.

  • A month before the talk I had a script that I was pretty happy with and started doing my famous (…ok, not at all famous…) walk-n-talks.
  • Then I started seeking feedback on the content.
  • Then I changed it all.
  • Then I went back to some of it.
  • Then I panicked and threw it all out, convinced I didn’t know anything and I had no business talking about any of this.
  • And then I just made some decisions and committed to them, because I was tired of all the changing and my heart and brain couldn’t handle it any more.

That was 10 days before the talk.

Yes, that’s right – the queen of telling everyone to leave the content alone and practice kept mussing with her content in pretty significant ways up to 10 days before her talk.

(OK, truth time: I was changing my ending the MORNING OF. But I wouldn’t recommend it. Do as I say…)

I’m going to write more specifically about the preparation in a future post, but here are some of the things I did right and that you should do to practice in the right way:

  • Get yourself a coach (ahem: hi!). I asked a friend of mine to coach me whose work I admire greatly – and who I knew would be able to walk with me in the ups and downs of the process.
  • Get on your feet sooner than you’re ready. I say stop at 80%…you will keep changing it (see above), but getting on your feet helps you discover what needs changing faster.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition (repetition, repetition!). Repetition!
  • Share it with others before you get on stage. I held two “practices” for people outside my family. And then my kids and husband were the lucky beneficiaries of the other 100 rehearsals. Bless their hearts.
  • Give yourself more time than you think you need.

Like many things in speaking, we hold in tension these two opposites:

to be prepared enough to let go of what you prepared.

Give yourself lots of time, because the process cannot be short-circuited!

#2: Focus on the People You’re Serving

One of the best ways to let go is to focus on the people in the room. (I talk about this in the talk here.)

Because I’m a presentation coach who speaks, I find myself on both sides of the proverbial 4th wall.

Walking into the theater that day, I was a speaker, feeling nervous – thinking way too much about this being on YouTube – and trying to zen it out, with only a little success.

I wasn’t quite reaching the state of Zen I wanted…until I met my fellow speakers, David, Kari and Ayan. They asked me all about my coaching, and ideas on how to handle certain things, and shared their own concerns and fears. And suddenly – I got to be coach. And I relaxed.

It helped me get my brain off of ME, and on to the amazing people I got to share the stage with – and also the heart and core of my message.

I love cheering people on – coaching them to a place where they feel confident and excited to share their message – and holding that as part of my role back stage really helped me get into the right mindset.

And then I went out on stage and said the same thing.

That is the trick: yes, we want to bring ourselves fully to the stage; but to do that, we have to give ourselves fully to the audience.

And, bonus: it’s a great distraction from your nerves!

#3: If You’re Gonna Talk About It, You better WALK It, Too.

There’s nothing like standing up and talking about something to make you suddenly wonder if you have any business talking about it.

The biggest compliment I have taken from this talk was people saying to me, “YOU are an UN-speaker!”  That means the world to me, because honestly – it’s what I AIM for, and often fall short of. I’m up there talking about big ideas: Authenticity, Connection, Risk…and the speakers who do those things well LIVE those things, too.

So when I say I aim for authenticity, connection and risk – I am saying I’m aiming for it in my LIFE, not just on stage. I might be an “expert” at building these things in other people – but I myself often struggle to bring myself fully to any given moment. I read Brené Brown’s books voraciously, too, because I know I need to dig deeper, step towards the tough stuff (not away from it), and be bold in the face of a risk.

But the act of saying it out LOUD puts us on notice. Standing up challenges us to stand by our words.

You bet your bumpkins the photo credits are right. And I’m still nervous about this stat I use at the beginning because there are a few different ones out there. And at one point I refer to something Brene says… and though I’m SURE she said it, I can’t seem to find the quote anywhere… and well, that’s mine to rise or fall with.

I am now accountable to this talk in a very real way. (eeeeeeeek)

Not just about the facts – but about the message.

Un-speakers walk their talk, and live their messages authentically. If they don’t, they will quickly get discarded, tossed aside, forgotten about, left without impact.

Whoo-boy! Yep. Real.

We gotta walk our talk.

#4: It Lives On as a Video

AUGH, this is a hard one for me to accept, and to have learned. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the live aspect of speaking. That’s my jam, and the magic of the audience-speaker connection is literally what this talk is about, because it requires us to show up, see, and be seen.

But this talk will live on as a video. That is the new reality. So some things matter in a slightly different way than when we’re live in the room: how we look, what we wear, how we sound and where we look – because you see it ALL, more up close than getting a general SENSE of someone like you do in a live setting.

And I wish I could tell you I look at this without any judgment about how I look or sound or where I look… but I don’t.

Oh well.

The sound is out of your control. Where the cameras are and what angles they’re using are out of your control.

But what you wear, how you move and where you look are not.

This talk will live on as a video – so create it live on as a video.

#5: Remember – this is still just a talk.

But TEDx video viral-mania-lottery talk can wreak havoc on the brain of a to-be (and present) TEDx speaker.

I walked into the Paramount Theater in St. Cloud, Minnesota – a beautiful space! – and thought… This is just another talk. No big deal. I got this. 

But then our event coordinator jumped in and said, “Are you all ready to give the talk of your lives?!”


Now, let’s be clear: this COULD be the talk of my life! But it’s most likely just a talk to the 300 people in the room that day and a few hundred people who find it online. (Although, this is what Queen Brené Brown said to herself after her talk went live… and millions of views later she’s on Oprah. So, who knows?! OPRAH, I’M HERE FOR YOU!)

But ‘the talk of our lives’ mindset doesn’t help. We can’t control the viral-ness of videos.

These talks are a gift. And we have no idea what the world will do with these gifts. It’s not our job to worry about it.

Which is what I’m telling myself right now, as I share this.

This is both the talk of my life – and just another talk. It’s both.

So as I send this out into the world, I feel nervous. Because I care. Because it matters.

And yet – it doesn’t.



And, because I’m a presentation coach as well as a speaker, I can’t help but analyze this talk a bit.

How do I feel about it? Mostly good. Like anyone, I get caught up in nit-picking (why oh why didn’t someone tell me to put on some more lipstick, and ARGH I repeated myself a few times and SHOOT I didn’t land that joke very well, and I haven’t yet figured out how to end this puppy well…)

But then I remember my message.

The point is not to impress you (though, truthfully, I hope I impress you).

The point is to connect. 

So, I would be sooo so so so so grateful if you could watch – and then connect. Reply here and let me know what you thought. Share it with others, and encourage them to move beyond perfection to connection. Share it with someone you know who speaks, or is afraid to. Share it with someone who wonders if they BELONG on “stage” – leading.

Because we do. We all do.