My first ever TEDx Talk and tips for delivering a TEDx Talk!

Courtesy: TEDx NTU

Akshobh Giridharadas

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Geopolitics & Diplomacy at Fletcher School, Tufts | Op-Ed Writer |TEDx speaker | Panel Moderator| Thought Leadership.

For those of you who relish global thought leadership, you would devour TED talks.

The Beginning:

Since it’s founding in 1984 (how appropriate that a platform meant to spread ideas was started in a year synonymous as the title of a popular dystopian novel), TED has seen an eclectic mix of subjects being discussed and some riveting intellectual discourse.

I was recently asked to pen my experiences of giving a TEDx talk (In October 2016) and a few practical tips to go along with it. So here are a few musings.

At the outset, I have to say I didn’t plan for it. I was fortunate to be invited by the good folks at NTU’s organizing committee. I have been a fan of TED talks since I heard about them in 2010. Nothing gave me more inspiration than listening to a good TED talk on the app after a hard day’s work. I remember going for my first TEDx talk in 2011, incidentally it was at NTU — which was the first ever TEDx event held there; and I remember coming back overwhelmed. The speeches were inspirational and reminded me that there was more I could do with my professional life. Plus, the banality of daily work at my then employers was so insignificant compared to the ‘ideas spread’ through TED and TEDx talks.

Practical Tips:

When I was first asked to give a TEDx speech, the humility quotient in my head went off. This was the world’s leading platform for public speaking, this event is ubiquitous around the globe and synonymous for hosting leading global thinkers and experts in their field. From Bill Gates, to Bill Clinton, to Sergei Brin and Elon Musk, all have spoken at TED events. The humility quotient in my head started silently admonishing me. These were people who started Fortune 500 companies and ran countries, surely how can you have the gravitas to give a TEDx talk? On a bit more reflection, I reminded myself of one of the best TED talks I had seen. It was about two women who had forged an unusual friendship. One had lost her son in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11 2001, while the other was the mother of a pilot who was convicted in the heinous attacks. And this was how they formed a friendship based on trust, love and understanding. These individuals weren’t setting the world on fire by sending rockets to the moon, or finding a cure for cancer, but they’re sharing their story, their experience, this was their ‘idea worth spreading’.

And that’s what TED is about, an idea worth spreading — it’s not about who you are, but what you have to say and the way you say it. So I felt passionate about a subject and hence I wanted to address it.

On the day, it was a full audience of 1600 people and despite never having had any stage fright as a kid, this could be daunting for anyone. I simply told myself, you have fifteen minutes. These are your fifteen minutes. You have done LIVE TV interviews, plays and panel discussions before, but in all these instances you have shared the stage with one or many other people. These 15 minutes are purely yours, uninterrupted and you have the ears of 1600 people and many more watching live stream and perhaps many others who will watch the post production. So how often do you get this opportunity? So own it to the best you can. Go up there and be passionate and confident about what you have to say. People may agree or disagree, but that comes later, much later. These fifteen minutes are yours, you can’t change the world in fifteen minutes and it’s grandiose to even think you can, but fifteen minutes is enough for an idea worth spreading.

Remember it’s not everyday you get invited to do a TEDx speech, this keeping in mind that even if your job involves a lot of public speaking. So make the most of this opportunity. My unsolicited advice is think of one thing: impact. How can you deliver a speech that can have impact and resonate with audiences not just in the auditorium, but the many more who will watch the post produced video afterwards?

To have impact, it’s best you deliver a topic you’re passionate and simultaneously knowledgeable about (the latter I am guessing is a foregone conclusion since the organizers would have invited you to speak assuming you have some subject matter expertise).

Remember, presenting a TED talk is different from all the other presentations. The catch is, especially for some academics (and organizers of TEDx have relayed this information to me) — tend to get very pedagogical. This could be in the way they deliver the speech and the materials they present.

Remember, your audience is not your classroom. They are an an erudite, intellectually curious bunch, and hence attending TED or a TEDx event. Some of them, maybe most may even be far intellectually superior than some of the speakers. So giving them a classroom style lecture will be counter-productive.

When it comes to slides, this can very well be the difference between a memorable and a forgettable talk. Don’t inundate your audience with information overload. That is keep the slides simplistic, minimalist in terms of words, graphics, facts and figures. Use one word slides to relay a message if you need to. The real passion has to come from you, slides are merely a catalyst to enhance your talk. So don’t lose sight of that. Pictures work wonders, especially pictures of your own personal story.

Also, if the talks are about impact, try getting the audience to empathize with your message. Hypothetically if you’re passionate about global warming and climate change — don’t inundate your audience with percentages and data of harmful UV rays. But instead, show them what global warming is to their lives and make them to relate to it. Perhaps bring out some ice, a snowball (if you’re lucky) or a Popsicle to illustrate some form of melting. Show a slide of a polar bear struggling to find ice to stay afloat on. Perhaps show pictures of how folks living next to the ocean, should worry about rising water levels.Never lose sight of the empathy quotient. This will find more emotional empathy and resonance with your audience, than data and figures that people can and will get online.

Also remember, that this is your TED talk — your story, so tell your story. Narrate your experiences, your epiphany, your moment that moved you to realize what you now want everyone else to realize. People can find information on global warming online, but what they don’t know is why it matters to you and why it should matter to them. Make them see through your empathetic lens.

And lastly, remember the central idea of TED — that is ‘ideas worth spreading’. What is your idea worth spreading? Start with that when you plan your talk. Stick to the central idea, and end with the central idea.

(For what it’s worth — this is the post produced link of my TEDx talk. Thanks again to the good folks at TEDxNTU —

Remember, time is money and one currency that no one gets enough of. So what do you want to convey to an audience that is giving you their attention?

Think about that at all times!

Geopolitics & Diplomacy at Fletcher School, Tufts | Op-Ed Writer |TEDx speaker | Panel Moderator| Thought Leadership.

Originally published at on June 15, 2017.




A journalist by profession. He writes about business & finance, geopolitics, sports & tech news. He is a TEDx & Toastmasters speaker. Follow him @Akshobh

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Akshobh Giridharadas

Akshobh Giridharadas

A journalist by profession. He writes about business & finance, geopolitics, sports & tech news. He is a TEDx & Toastmasters speaker. Follow him @Akshobh

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