Dispatches from TEDActive: Veteran TEDx organizers share advice on preparing speakers for the big day
TEDx’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.
TEDxCentennialParkWomen — Photo by lorikay Photography
In the last two years, I have learned more about leadership through leading groups of volunteers than during my entire 20-year corporate career. Leading volunteer teams is a humbling experience from which any leader can benefit. As the workplaces of the future move from command and control hierarchies to networks of alliances within and outside organizations, these sort of experiences help us develop the traits each of us need to learn to lead in the future.
On Dec 1, I was part of an all-volunteer team that pulled off a TEDxWomen event called TEDxCentennialParkWomen. Within three months, we did our legal set-up, curated nine amazing speakers, found sponsors, venue, created a website, brand identity, marketing, PR, social media platforms, concluding with our inaugural event launch with about 100 people participating. We didn’t charge for tickets. Team members had not worked together before. They had full-time jobs, businesses, families. Most of our meetings were virtual. No one was paid to do anything. Were we all on drugs? If so, I’ll bet some companies want that prescription!
Here are the 5 leadership lessons I learned from this experience:
1) Organizations must serve individuals – For true engagement to happen, leaders must find a way to help people achieve their personal goals through the organization. Some volunteers jumped in because they saw the opportunity to express their own beliefs through our mission (“to educate, inspire, and empower women in all aspects of their lives”). Some jumped in because they saw this as a way to learn new skills, to express their strengths, to get exposure, to make new friends, connections, and contacts. Not everyone’s motivation was the same. I needed to understand each individual’s motivation and find a way for the organization to fulfill it. This is a flip of the assumption I had in corporate America: People (including me) are here to serve the organization. We need both for engagement to happen.