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.