Dispatches from TEDActive: Veteran TEDx organizers share advice on preparing speakers for the big day

imageTEDx’ers brainstorm at TEDActive. (Photo by Kris Krug)

This week, hundreds of new and veteran TEDx organizers have assembled at TEDActive for a week of collaboration, insight, and ideas worth spreading.

With all these TEDx’ers in one place, there’s an abundance of advice for new and prospective organizers being thrown around.

In an effort to share these insights with the world outside TEDActive, we’ve asked three experienced organizers one question: “What are the most important steps to preparing TEDx speakers for the stage?”

Below, key points from their advice:

From Mike Lungren of TEDxKC:

  • Tell your speakers from the get-go that they can’t give their usual, canned talk.
  • Never let them prepare like they’re giving a talk. Instead, make them think about it like they’re at a dinner party and telling the one story of the night that makes the whole table pause.
  • Tell them that when they step on stage they should feel comfortable to let a beat or two go by, take a breath, and anchor their feet before beginning.
  • Force your speakers to break from linear narratives. Just because their story starts in one place, doesn’t mean their talk should.

From Wardah Jamil of TEDxPhoenix:

  • Set key milestones for each speaker.
  • Ask for their full stories first, then push them to focus on the one or two most salient points.
  • Hold several rehearsals through video conference.
  • Get them on stage to rehearse at least once the day before the show.
  • Give every speaker a personal liaison dedicated to boosting their ego and calming their nerves.
  • Provide a green room with snacks, drinks, and access to their liaison. In other words, make them feel like real rock stars — confident and special.

From Ruth Milligan of TEDxColumbus:

  • Set a high standard for yourself. The event is ultimately your product and you should feel proud of the talks that you’re putting out.
  • From the beginning, establish that it’s going to be a fluid process — your speakers first draft will not be their last.
  • Use polite persistence. Stand for the quality that you expect from your speakers.
  • Get tough when you need to. Don’t be afraid of big egos. And be honest when you smell failure. If you feel that you need to cut a speaker, do it.
  • Record, transcribe, edit, repeat. Few people write like they speak and speakers that start by scripting will likely end up sounding unnatural on stage.
  • Go to where they are. In other words, guide speakers to their own deep insights. Don’t force them in a box of your design. Sometimes you’re a speaker coach and sometimes you’re a personal therapist.
  • When a speaker sounds too rehearsed, they’re not done rehearsing. Make them let go of their strict plan and rely on the fact that they understand their idea better than anyone else. And if they still don’t feel confident, make them fake it ‘til they make it.
  • Remember that no artist (or artist-type) will ever feel that their talk is done. You can only make them feel comfortable with an unfinished product.

6 TEDxTalks to change education

Why don’t traditional schools foster innovative thinking? Do kids leave school equipped with the passion for knowledge, penchant for teamwork, and creative energy needed to face the hefty challenges ahead? These 6 TEDxTalks tackle these questions and suggest some clever changes.

Play, passion, purpose: Tony Wagner at TEDxNYED

Tony Wagner outlines how an overemphasis on individual achievement, hyper-specialization, and an aversion to risk have stymied inventiveness and describes what teachers and parents can do to sow the seeds of creativity.

Old technology for a new education: Neil D’Souza at TEDxAmsterdamED

How can students prepare for a world where every job requires basic math and science ability as well as the skills to navigate a computer, when their teachers don’t have the equipment, nor knowledge to instruct them effectively? Engineer Neil D’Souza has a solution: inexpensive, easy to hack, computers built for learning with access to self-learning online teaching tools — and he’s already bringing them to schools in need.

No more easy answers: Adrián Paenza at TEDxJoven@RiodelaPlata

At school, you’re guaranteed clean, concrete answers to the problems you’re given. Real life isn’t so accommodating. Adrián Paenza exposes how schools privilege students with definite goals and the effects that has on society. (In Spanish with English subtitles)

Labels limit learning: James Nottingham at TEDxNorrkopingED

When a student is pegged as a certain kind of learner, that label often becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. James Nottingham presents a clever new way to grade each student against themselves to start measuring personal progress, not relative talent.

What Kindergarten should be: Doris Fromberg at TEDxMiamiUniversity

Even though children develop their imagination, their basic social skills, and even discipline during structured playtime, too many pre-schools can’t afford to take the time to play. Doris Fromberg breaks down the ideal goals for early childhood education and the institutional reforms it will take to get there.

Don’t let global conflict into the classroom: Jeff Cruzan, Ph.D. at TEDxMosesBrownSchool

It’s easy to get up in arms over the fear that your kids won’t be able to compete with students in other other countries. But, as Jeff Cruzan explains, the rush to shape curricula to boost comparative test scores can have disastrous effects — turning “teachers into instructors” and making science and math incredibly boring.

From disaster response to disaster prevention: Rachel Kyte

"We have to move from a tradition of response to a culture of prevention."

With the effects of climate change and a rising world population already being felt around the globe, the effects of natural disasters are only getting worse. Rachel Kyte calls on governments around the world to start preparing for the worst before it’s too late. (Filmed at TEDxSendai.)

Each week, we choose four of our favorite talks, highlighting just a few of the enlightening speakers from the TEDx community, and its diverse constellation of ideas worth spreading. Browse all TEDxTalks here »

Rebrand democracy: Rita Clifton

Rita Clifton shares what democratic governments can learn from the way powerful brands engage with their customers, and lays out three qualities that every good brand — and government — should have to succeed. (Filmed at TEDxHousesofParliament.)

Each week, we choose four of our favorite talks, highlighting just a few of the enlightening speakers from the TEDx community, and its diverse constellation of ideas worth spreading. Browse all TEDxTalks here »