Can anyone give a TED Talk?

Can anyone give a TED Talk? An inside look at how ideas transform on stage.

– By Diana Ghidanac


It’s unlikely you will find a TED talk that lacks inspiration or motivation. I can’t help but to think that TED speakers are natural-born leaders. However, after sitting down with Ghislaine Coenegracht, the speaker’s coach for this year’s edition of TEDxAUCollege, I realized that what we see on stage is merely a reflection of the work devoted to figuring out the answer to one question: “Why am I giving this talk to this audience in this setting?”


After working for KLM and De Baak, where she trained others in both presentation, communication and leadership skills, Ghislaine started her own company. Her work is mainly based in Holland, involved with both small-scale and large organizations, including universities where she works with different nationalities. While she varies her work depending on the speaker and their presentation, her advice can still be re-implemented and applied towards constructing a TED Talk.  


As presenters, one of our main goals is to send a message across successfully. Sometimes our nerves get the best of us, so I inquired what speakers could do to improve on their nerves, and if it’s always noticeable during a talk.


G: (First tip, keep on breathing, exhale!) and ‘Practice makes perfect’. Don’t think that you can stand up and [always] be a great speaker. That’s for the happy few. You need to get the experience and think about how to deliver and structure the talk.


We get nervous because we focus too much on ourselves. We worry about our clothes, our expressions, and our movements, but what we need to do instead is change the focus back to the audience. Ask the audience to help you out, as Ghislaine puts it. Put the focus back on them and make eye contact, “… it’s sort of key to upcoming stress…”.


G: I think speeches will run best when you level with the audience. Neutralize it, level the connection you have with the audience. Don’t think that you’re the guru and act as the guru because the audience will feel “below” you, and after the speech they may say it was great but the next day they may think it’s so far out of reach…


D: What goes into the preparation of a TED Talk? What is the framework you use?

G: A good presentation and a good speech always depends on the four ‘P’s’.


The first is: Product, the actual speech, the content, what is the message you want to convey? How are you going to structure that? If you want to be very convincing, you can go for a round structure; start with a challenging question, get back with the challenging answer, at the end, and you can use the slides to help you.


The second is: Publicwho is your audience, and what are their expectations of your talk – that’s always important. [Think about how to involve them, which is why you should research on your audience] Start with a question, it can be rhetorical, but just get the audience thinking. Make your monologue feel and sound like a dialogue, that is the real trick of presenting….


The third is: Production. Where am I and how does the space look like? How far is my distance to the audience? Who is taking care of my slides? What is the quality of my slides? They should be structured, should support my talk but should not take away from me as a speaker. If something goes wrong you should be able to give your speech without them.


The fourth is the Presenter. Are you using your qualities? How am I standing there? How do my facial expressions look like? Do I use my hands? What about my voice?


Ghislaine works with the speakers separately to find out what method is best for them. An effective method to connect with the audience is to begin with a personal story. With regards to nerves, a simple technique we can all follow is breathing. A natural tendency for us when nervous is to breathe in, raise our shoulders and start speaking. Instead she asks speakers to breathe out, then begin speaking. This can help you calm down. Another good solution is to know the first few sentences by heart, because the beginning can be the most paralyzing.


G: It’s nice to start with your message, kind of like a shock-factor, and then pick it up later to make it clear. After the first minute your audience should think ‘wow’ or become very curious about what’s coming next. Whether it’s a personal story, a picture, or a strange question, make sure you raise their interest.


D: In your opinion, what makes a great TED Talk?

G: That’s a good question because you have so many different TED talks, and some don’t really qualify for the best presentation skills but in themselves are fantastic…the message is fantastic, and people are conveying their passion. A great TED Talk is pure PASSION. If that is visible, sensible and you can convey that message, then you are there!