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6 Things Great Speakers Always Do

The secrets to becoming a better speaker, and how you can someday give your own TED Talk.


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We all want to be better speakers. Maybe, in our secret heart of hearts, we'd like to give a TED Talk. Maybe we'd like to be a TEDx speaker.

So I asked an expert for advice on how you can become a better speaker; someone with a great track record of getting her clients to their goal of a TEDx... and then leveraging that talk for even greater success.

Tricia Brouk is former Executive Producer of TEDx Lincoln Square in NYC and the host of Speaker Salon, an eight week, invitation-only program—identifying ideas, crafting talks, and improving performance—that culminates in a performance for speaker bureaus and influencers in the speaking and publishing business.

So yeah: She knows a lot about helping people become better speakers.

Here Tricia's tips for 6 things you should always do, 5 things you should never do... and then some ways you can become a TEDx speaker.

5 Things Great Speakers Always Do

1. Always earn the gift of the audience's time and attention.

Make eye contact. Smile. Captivate by having confidence. (Which comes from relentless rehearsing.)

Let your ideas flow through you.

Focus on earning the gift of the audience's time and attention and they'll want to earn yours.

And then you both win.

2. Always find a idea you're passionate about -- but also make sure you're credible.

If you want to take a big stage, the most important thing is to have an idea you are passionate about -- and credible about.

For example, I'm passionate about the Food Network... but I would not call myself a chef.

If you have an idea you love talking about, it's important that you are credible. Caring is not enough. You must be able to establish your authority as a person we should listen to. Maybe that's education. Or research. Or your unique experience.

Whatever it is, you must be credible -- otherwise why should we give you our attention?

3. Before you choose a topic, always answer two key questions: Why it matters to you... and why it matters to the world.

If your topic only matters to you, we won't be able to relate to it.

For example, the mother and brother of one of my speakers from TEDx Lincoln Square were murdered one Christmas Eve. Her talk was about forgiveness. It was important to her.

While most of us can't relate to having a family member murdered... we can all relate to needing to forgive someone. Her talk connected the dots between her unique experience and a broader experience we all share: How we can all transform our lives through forgiveness.

Your audience must be able to see themselves in your talk; otherwise your words will be just be information... information without impact.

4. Always rehearse the experience you will have.
The worst thing you can do is rehearse alone in front of a mirror. You'll think you have your presentation down cold... but the moment you get in front of an audience your body will betray you: Your palms will get sweaty, the butterflies will hit, you'll start thinking about anything and everything else... and you'll forget what you plan to say.

Start by exposing yourself to mild stress. Give your talk to your family. Then increase the stress a little; give it to some friends. Then give your talk to colleagues.

You simply cannot rehearse too often and for too many people.

Why? The more you rehearse, the more things that will go wrong... and the more prepared you'll be when you're onstage to deal with what might go wrong. And the less nervous you will be, because you will have adapted to the stress of speaking in front of people.

Think of it this way: The audience doesn't want to see you practice your speech. They want to see the result of the countless hours of practice you put in ahead of time.

5. Always craft your speech as a conversation.

If your talk sounds like a script, or a book... your audience can just read it. Your presentation must be a conversation: One with your point of view and your style.

So infuse your personality. Infuse your voice. If you're funny, use humor. If you're not funny, don't try to be.

If you speak in slang... that's how your talk should sound. If you speak in the King's English in real life, that's how your talk should sound.

Commit to being you. Don't try to "speak like a "speaker." Speak like you.

6. Always harness the power of movement.

Words matter, but so does movement.

Video yourself. Or rehearse in front of people who will be honest about what you're doing right -- and doing wrong. If you tend to flap your arms, you need to know that -- and you need to break that habit.

5 Things Great Speakers Never Do

1. Never apologize.

If your slides don't come up right away, don't apologize. We'll wait. If your mic doesn't come up immediately, don't apologize. We'll wait.

If you need to pause for a moment because you've lost track of what you want to say next, don't apologize. Just pause. We won't know you lost track. We'll think your pause is planned. We'll wait.

If you're comfortable with silence or stillness... your audience will become comfortable with silence or stillness.

2. Never take a stage without knowing your audience.

Because if you do, they'll realize it immediately. And you'll lose them.

The audience's attention is a gift. It's your job to be prepared to earn that gift.

3. Never pitch from the stage.

You can and should inspire... but you should never pitch. Or sell.

If you inspire people from the stage, they will want to spend more time with you. And that will ultimately drive them to your business. (If that's your goal.)

That's why it's so important to infuse your talk with your personality and your point of view. Show us who you are and if we like you, we'll want to spend more time with you -- and do business with you.

But if you hard sell... we won't.

4. Never confuse anger with passion.

Passion that comes across as anger shuts an audience down.

Global warming is bad, but yelling, "Turn your lights off!" at an audience doesn't work. Explaining why, showing why it matters, showing why you care and therefore why we might want to care... we'll be inspired by your passion.

But not your anger.

And one last thing...

5. Never use air quotes.

They work for Dr. Evil.

They don't work for you. Or me.

Or anyone else.

Want to Give a TEDX Talk?

You need to be credible to take a stage, but then doing so will further increase your credibility. If you've written a book and create a companion talk, a TEDx stage can elevate your credibility and give you -- and your book -- much wider reach.

Inspire people, show people who you are... and they will naturally gravitate towards you and your ideas.

So how can you get on a TEDx stage?

First, realize that we want you to reach out to us. We want you to succeed. We want to introduce you to other TEDx organizers that might be a better fit for your topic or your audience.

So start by getting to know the organizer.

Then, vet the organizer. It is as important for you to vet us as it is for us to vet you.

There is a massive rule book TEDx organizers are required to follow, but if you're a first-time organizer and don't know how to run a camera and have good sound and lighting... that can be a disaster for the speaker.

Not all events are created equally. Always vet the organizers to ensure you choose the right event for you.

Then, learn by observing. For example, I don't let my speakers go home after they speak. They stay. They watch each other. They support each other. They see what works, they see what doesn't work... by osmosis, they get better.

For a speaker, feedback is everything. Feedback helps you know what lands and what doesn't.

If you can't be part of a Speaker Salon, find ways to create your own community that will take you out of being one person alone onstage and into a supportive environment where you can take risks, learn from your mistakes -- and be supported along the way.

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This post originally appeared on Inc. and was published August 15, 2018. This article is republished here with permission.

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