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A tale of two talks – what the Prince might have learned from TED

Not long after I had vacated the TED red dot, I watched the Prince Andrew interview. It occurred to me that he could have achieved a better outcome if he’d followed the most fundamental tenet of communication: the first mantra we adopt in my training room. No interview or presentation is ‘about’ the speaker (even when the questions are centred on your judgment/sexual conduct). It’s about and for the audience.

This became crystal clear to me during the preparation for my TEDx talk. Taking time at the outset to understand the audience enables you to resonate and empathise with them; it gives you the courage to edit out material which isn’t of value to them; it guides you to use appropriate language, and it is the biggest building block of confidence. Knowing, as you begin, that your content is tailored to them, empowers you to deliver it with conviction and with pleasure.

What else did I learn along the TED way?

  1. The transitions from one topic to another are vital in creating a sense of structure, variety and contrast (important in holding our audience’s ever decreasing concentration). But also, in helping us to remember the flow of ideas. Careful not to simply drift from one topic to another. Create instead moments of drama, challenge, humour.
  2. When rehearsing, be careful not to keep starting at the beginning and only getting a short way into the presentation. That’s why endings are so often so poor – they’ve never been rehearsed!
  3. There was a point when I moved from an ordinary rehearsal to a ‘dress rehearsal’ which meant I couldn’t stop or refer to my notes even when something went wrong, which it did. I had to plough on – find an alternative word for the one I’d forgotten; finish the sentence differently to how I’d planned; not fret if I left something out (the audience will never know or care). I found a subtle but important shift in mindset in these ‘dress rehearsals’. Instead of simply trying to remember the words, I found myself really connecting with the content in the moment and forming the sentences afresh each time. Knowing I could recover from mistakes made me feel more confident.
  4. The audience can’t see your nerves. On the rehearsal day for the TEDx event,  on the red dot, my legs started to shake. I was curious to see if it was obvious to others. I watched the recording back – no sign whatsoever of what I had felt……… And, funnily enough, it didn’t happen in the real thing.
  5. Stillness is absolutely vital in communicating confidence/gravitas/presence. This is physical and vocal stillness. Ie, speaking slowly, pausing, and keeping hand gestures/movement to a minimum. I would have liked to have been 10% more still in the real thing.
  6. Practicalities can dent or build confidence. Don’t leave them to chance. The microphone and monitors were not what I was expecting and so I had to adapt and modify my plans around notes and dress. I did this in advance of the event but if I’d had to regroup on the day, I would have felt less in control.
  7. With the clock ticking, my heart racing and adrenaline pumping, rather than thinking about my performance, I focused entirely on the content and the audience (and my desire to make a connection with them/share with them ideas which I cared about). It helped me to be truly ‘present’ in the moment.
  8. Watching yourself back is ghastly. But a post match analysis for every performance is extremely valuable.

So, I hope you find those tips and observations useful for your own presentations/communication. Andrew – are you listening?

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