TED Talk Assignments?! The Kids Will Be Alright

When I was in school, I had to write a lot of essays. This was great practice for thinking logically (and becoming a speechwriter!), and I hope that essays haven’t gone the way of the rotary telephone.

But today, TED Talks are also being assigned in class.

So I sometimes hear from students who have sophisticated questions — like this one:

A Letter from Australia…

HI, I’m a year 9 student involved in a group project to deliver a TED-style speech on minimising the impacts of hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons due to climate change. The case study we have chosen is hurricane Maria that hit Puerto Rico late last year. My group wants to present an engaging piece but we are not sure of how to start. We would like to include a lot of facts and information without boring the audience. And we want to develop a strong awareness and use an analogy but we can’t think of one that is most suitable and catchy.”

…and the TED Talk Advice I Sent Back

Dear [Student],

It sounds like you and your group have picked an ambitious and exciting topic!

Here are two posts that I would suggest you read. One is about how to create a TED talk, and it’s more free-flowing in its approach. The second post is about using the Instant Speech format to build a presentation. (That’s also what Chapters 3-6 of my book Speak Like Yourself…No, Really! are about.)

Surprisingly, it doesn’t really matter what format you choose for your talk, as long as things fit together and flow in a conversational way. This means, don’t try to force things into your talk. Instead, build your talk around one idea, and then add the facts, figures, stories, etc., that help bring your idea to life.

Your Opening Can Be the Last Thing You Decide On

Whatever format you choose, though, it’s best to wait and write your opening last.

That’s because it’s hard to open a talk you haven’t written yet. Once you have the body of it pretty clear, you will know what works for your opening; and then, ideally, you can revisit and pay off the opening in your close.

Openings that work well for TED talks (and other speeches) include:

    • A heartfelt story that has meaning for the person presenting it
    • A question that engages the audience (“Have you ever felt like…?”)
    • An invitation to imagine something (“Think about a time when…”)
  • A surprising statistic (“Did you know that….”)

In the case of your talk, you could use any of these approaches. You could:

  • Begin your talk with a story about one person who was caught in Hurricane Maria.
  • Or ask the audience a question that brings up the feelings of being caught in a life-threatening disaster (“Have you ever had to run for your life with only the things you could carry?”)
  • Or invite them to imagine what it would be like to, for example, live without electricity for six months, or to sleep in a home whose roof has been blown away, or lose your home to a hurricane.
  • And there are many mind-boggling statistics about what happened in Puerto Rico

Think about Your TED Talk’s Overall Flow

Another good public speaking trick is — in the body of your talk — to go from a very specific focus (Hurricane Maria) to a more general focus (the many impacts of climate change) to then offering your thoughts about solutions.

Then, you circle around to your opening and close the circle with the big idea you want your audience to take away (“If we work on this together, maybe we can prevent another tragedy that leaves thousands of families homeless”), and you have a speech.

Image by Rawpixel | Unsplash

Have fun with this!

And if you need help with speechwriting or coaching for your delivery, be sure to contact me!

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Categories: TED and TEDx Talks
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