If you’re like me, you’ve been told a number of things about why getting on a TED stage and delivering a talk that changes lives is not possible.
These myths have become so widespread that a lot of people take them for granted, even though they couldn’t be farther from the truth. If you don’t take them at face value, you’re already past the first blocks that prevent you from embarking on this journey.
Myth #1. "I have to be a great performer to do a TED talk."
Most speaker coaches will tell you that speaking is a performance. They are wrong.
In practice, speakers that are trained to focus on performance develop what I call “lecture mode”. The unconscious signal this performance style sends to the audience is “I am an expert, so I’m going to tell you what you should do”. This actually creates a disconnect between speaker and audience that is very tough to mend. And at the end of the day, this distance will stop you from getting the invitation to speak at TEDx.
So what can you do instead? Simple. Speaking that connects starts with listening, because at the end of the day, listening is compassion. Once you’ve listened deeply, then you can speak with compassion. That is how you can be present, connect with any audience.
Myth #2. “But you have to be chosen to speak at TED.”
A lot of people want to wait for their magical moment when they get chosen to speak at TED. But you know what? The reality is that the magic owl with the enchanted invitation letter is not coming.
The only way to get a TEDx talk is to work on getting a TEDx talk. You can either become part of the community - like I did so many years ago - or seek out events that you want to speak at, and there are specific methods for both approaches. You have to be proactive - you can’t just apply to one event and hope to get in. You might have to apply to five, ten or fifteen events until you get a catch. It’s like in acting - you get one out of ten auditions, but if you don’t go to ten auditions, you don’t find The One.
That said, there are many ways that you can prepare to maximize your chances. Before a recent TEDx event in Japan, a speaker dropped out in the last minute. In a matter of hours, the spot went to my student Rick. But that didn’t happen by accident. Rick had already perfected his audition video using the techniques I taught him, and he also had 8 weeks of preparation, so by the time the call came, he was prepared - he could jump at any opportunity at a TEDx talk. If he hadn’t done those steps, he would not have been able to speak at TEDx in Japan.
That is the difference. If you want to do it, you have to pursue it.
Myth #3. “I wasn’t born with the skills to be a good speaker.”
Prepare for a twist. This myth is true, but not in the way you might think. Because as it turns out, no one is born with the skills necessary to be a speaker.
If you have just one takeaway from this page, let it be this: Speakers aren’t born, they’re trained. Things like confidence, stage presence or “natural” charisma that other speaker coaches will tell you you should have or stop trying? These are all skills that you can learn, not abilities you are either born with or not.
Speaking is something that everyone can master. No matter if you choose to go it alone and create your own path, or to seek help and get there faster with tried and tested methods. I know this because I’ve seen many dozens of self-professed “non-speakers” turn into speakers with practice. I have also developed simple techniques to speed up the process of becoming a great speaker.
And the thing I mentioned earlier about being able to listen to connect with an audience? Listening is also a skill that you can hone with practice.
Myth #4. “There’s only one way to do a TED talk.”
A lot of people make the mistake of telling you that the most viral TED talks are the ones to emulate. But the truth is that those TED talks have become viral because their message came from the uniqueness of who gave those talks. The spark, the personal magic that you put into your talk cannot be replicated.
That said, there are a number of styles or ‘formats’ that TEDx talks can take, like The How-To, The Journey, The Entertaining Creative, The Industry Influencer or The Quintessential. You can use these or other tried and true formats, but only as a jumping off point - then you have to take the next step and make the talk your own as you progress on your speaking journey.
Myth #5. “I’m an introvert so I’ve been told I shouldn’t even try. I’ll never be able to speak on stage.”
There’s a lot of myths about what introverts can and cannot do, and speaking is one of the big ones. But if you set aside the stereotypes for one moment, you’ll see that many of the most viewed TED talks were done by introverts - Susan Caine, Bill Gates...actually we observed that 90% of TED speakers are introverts! And you know what? I am an introvert and most of my students have been, too.
Here is something about introverts that is true - introverts can take the time to really focus and hone their skills, including their speaking skills. What you need to stand and perform on a TEDx stage are all ones you can learn whether you are an introvert or an extrovert.
Myth #6. “I will never have enough time to master speaking.”
It’s often said that it takes ten thousand hours to master a skill. And it’s true that if you’ve already spent thousands of hours on mastering your field of expertise, you won’t want to spend an equal amount of time learning how to talk about it.
But here’s the thing. You don’t actually need to spend ten thousand hours on stage to be a great speaker. There are many ways to accelerate the learning process, including visualisation and so-called re-creation techniques.
Some of these techniques I’ve learned and know to work, while other methods I’ve devised myself based on my own 10,000-hour experience with speaking on stage. I know the entire process inside-out, and that’s exactly how I know how anyone can build up their speaking expertise fast, but without cutting corners.
Which brings us to the final myth.
Myth #7. “Everything has been said before. I have nothing new to say.”
People tend to hang up on this a lot, and I can see why. If you just look at the wealth of speakers, teachers, researchers and entrepreneurs that have done TEDx talks, you can feel so overwhelmed by the amount of topics that have been covered.
But at the end of the day, it’s not the topic of what you say that determines whether you have a right to say it. I always like to reframe this question by asking: “What do you bring to the table in this topic? What is your unique angle? What’s your special sauce? Who’s your specific audience?”
Even if you don’t know the answer to these questions yet, it many times only takes a bit of digging to find what can make your talks stand out. Your topic combined with your unique angle and style will always create something that has never been done before.
If there’s one thing all these fake speaking gurus have in common, it’s the deceit of wishful thinking. “You are either born to speak or not”, they say, “you either have the talent or not”. But even if they do convince you that you’re a “chosen one”, their system of how to become a TED speaker is ultimately up to how the fates roll the dice that morning. And that is because those gurus have never walked the walk. They may have been to TED but they might not have faintest clue as to how to teach what you have to do - or they may just not have been to TED at all.
In reality, getting a gig at TED does take work. There’s no magic pill. You do need to learn new skills and you do need to practice. But at the same time, there are many ways to both speed up the process and to make the whole thing efficient. And if you do it right, it will be a lot of fun.
I’ll be honest with you. You can go alone, trial-and-error style, and choose your own paths like I did when I first started out. But here’s the thing: with 5 TED coaching years under my belt, I know what has worked, and not only for myself, but the 108 people who I’ve coached to be confident TED speakers who change lives with their talks. You can take the slow route and get to where I am today in same time I did, but you might also find that years of experimenting with what works and what doesn’t might not be worth your time.
But if you’re at the point in your life when you know that life-changing TED talk is an arm reach away and you’re eager to get there NOW, if you want to spare yourself the failures and keep your momentum going, you will do yourself the biggest favour if you take the fast road and step on that red dot not in a matter of years, but a matter of months.