Tips for giving great presentations: my experience as a TEDx speaker coach

The global TEDx phenomenon brings us amazing speakers offering thought-provoking talks. But not all were natural public speakers. I was a TEDx Perth speaker coach for 4 years, helping speakers find their story, structure their presentation and handle nerves.

In a series of blog posts I share with you some of the most important things I learned.

Here are my five tips for getting started on a great presentation:

1. Use the long walk to the red carpet
It feels like a long walk from the wings to the famous TED red circle but it is really only a few seconds for the audience.  Use that walk to prepare yourself: check you are breathing, notice your posture, and take in the stage and the audience.

2. Find your passion
Why is the subject you are talking about so important to you?  What was it that inspired you to work in this field? Talk from the heart so the audience can see your enthusiasm, rather than telling them.  Tasha Broomhall‘s caring compassion came through in her TEDx tale of mental wellbeing. She didn’t need to give us a list of reasons why thinking about mental health is important: we could see it.

3. Nerves are normal
The rush of adrenaline before you go on stage can give you energy and motivation.  It can also make you feel rubbish!  Rather than trying to get rid of nerves, give yourself permission to be nervous and get used to it. This way you avoid feeling nervous about being nervous! Check out the venue in advance and imagine 600 people listening to your every word. Allow yourself to feel those nerves so they don’t jump out and surprise you on the day.

4. Strong introduction, strong close
If you nail two things in your talk make it your introduction and close. Capture your audience’s attention in your opening lines with a taste of what to expect from you.  And finish well, so that you are remembered long after you leave the stage.

5. Instead of saying ‘um’ – pause
Martin Hagger, sports psychologist, transformed his TEDx talk overnight (literally) by removing ‘um’ from his speech.  How did we do it?  Firstly, we identified that he was saying um – many people don’t realise habits, which shows how valuable it is to have someone critique your presentation before you go live.  I then suggested he pause and inhale each time he found himself on the verge of ‘uh’ or ‘um’.  What feels like a pause as long as eternity when you are in front of an audience is a mere second for those watching.  Pause can even add drama, suspense or an air of confidence.

After all the hard work coaching the speakers, it was rewarding to sit in the sold-out Octagon Theatre at the University of Western Australia for the 2012 Perth TEDx event.

Not only did I enjoy seeing talks from my own students come to life (including that of Kate Raynes-Goldie, who makes games that change the world) but I listened to former WA premier Dr Carmen Lawrence describe the precious heritage value of our Kimberley; Andra Kins shared her perspective on public art; and Andrew Jaspan spoke of ethics in journalism via The Conversation. All their talks are available at TEDx Perth.

To learn how speaker coaching can help you share your vision with the people you most want to know, email

Published by rachaelwest

Strategic Speaker Coach | Founder | Engineer

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