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5 lessons from a killer TEDx talk

By March 25, 2020May 13th, 2020No Comments

You know how many people get nervous sharing their ideas in front of an audience?

Hey!  Have you seen Zara’s awesome TEDxMelbourne talk, The Epidemic of Over-Seriousness?


Well, a talented artist friend drew this fabulous visual guide to it:


It reminded me how proud I am of Zar for delivering:

a.  an AMAZING and heartfelt talk that positively impacts lives… and

b.  a dynamic presentation that expressed with masterful simplicity, one of our core values at Humour Australia (HA!)

Good Humour = a Good Life!

Zara’s TEDx talk was stuffed to the brim with good-humoured advice for getting more out of our work and lives and now she’s  coaching others to become more confident, charismatic and compelling communicators. Whether it’s in a one-on-one situation or one-to-millions the great news is, the techniques Zara describes in this talk for living a more good-humoured life also apply to the world of speaking!

It’s also why she’s become one of the most loved,  sought after and recommended speaker coaches in this country. Every day I have the great pleasure of sitting in our office and listening to her inspiring people all over the world to share their ideas, insights and unique perspective on life… in more interesting ways.

Many people compliment Zar on her work in this TEDx talk… what they didn’t see however was the MANY hours of HARD work it took to be stage-ready. I have the pleasure of watching this ‘communication shaman’ craft and build her presentation and thought you might appreciate 5 quick tips from one of the greats that will help YOU to become a more impactful speaker able to inspire any audience, every time. Exciting!

1. Great speaking is (mostly) made behind the scenes

The number one thing that lets down most of the presenters we see and work with is their lack of practical preparation.  If you’re a professional speaker, (like any pro comedian) you need to be constantly writing, riffing, talking, assessing and re-writing your material.  No audience wants to know that you’ve written your speech of course and the art is to craft your talk and then disappear the ‘script’ as you bring it to life in a natural and organic way. As an audience we want to believe that you are sharing this information for us… and only us! So there’s a great deal of work that goes into shaping your talk waaaaaaaaay before you step foot on stage.

This may surprise you, but if you’re a corporate presenter, throwing a few slides into a ppt (or having someone else do it for you) and mumbling it to yourself once or twice (if you’re lucky) IS NOT going to give you the best results!  The only way to really deliver a positively remarkable talk is to do what Zara suggests all of her clients do and that is to WRITE OUT LOUD.

We write differently to the way we speak, so it’s important to not only walk your talk… but also to TALK your talk. Talk it and write it simultaneously. Then, once you’re happy with the structure and stories – rehearse it by talking it out loud over and over and over again.   And remember, it’s just a great conversation you’re having with your audience and you have those every day. So make it interactive with plenty of provocative questions to keep your audience engaged.

2. You need the magic three: Heart, Smart & Fart 

Many of you know we were lucky enough to create a short-form children’s animation series called ZuZu & the SuperNuffs that was seen in 90 countries and 16 languages.  Super exciting! Like everything, the genesis of that happened years before and, as Zara mentions in the introduction to our current book What is a Nuff? – I first drew the character of “GoodNuff” on July 5th, 2005… so some great ideas take time! In 2007, we pitched our idea to Nickelodeon Australia’s Land a Pilot competition and were nominated as the first runner ups. Again… just a little bit exciting! And interestingly the winning team (Monkey Stack) ended up being our animation partners on the TV Series and are still our dear friends to this day.

At the time Nickelodeon stated that they were looking for a series with  Heart, Smart & Fart.  This awesome mantra resonated with us on many levels, mainly because we’d been doing it since starting our careers!  Put simply, it means to give your content integrity, authenticity and passion (Heart). And when it comes to connecting with another human being, the best orators know how to speak FROM the heart TO the heart.

Next, you need a little edification. Science, research, case studies, a good intelligent argument to back it up (Smart)!

Finally, because when it comes to success in life we believe you need to be capable not overly serious… so to ensure you have a healthy appreciation for fun and a deep respect for the silly… that’s where you need a light-hearted approach (Fart).

A great talk has all three: Heart – Smart – Fart. Simple hey, yet incredibly effective and Zara teaches people every day how to include all three elements into their presentations and lives. The result is a highly engaging talk that inspires positive action.

3. Inspiring visuals will support your speaking

As the artist behind the scenes, I can tell you that this TEDx performance was our first powerpoint that relied heavily on licensed imagery.  We all know that a “picture is worth a thousand words” so why, in this time of 4K and UHD TVs, are we still using clipart, low res imagery and too much text on screen?  If we’re reading, we’re not listening and even if you’re using Google Images, set the damn image size filter  to “large” puh-lease (sorry I get passionate about this one!)

ONE IMAGE per screen is the best approach(mostly). Next, delete those extra words, remove any titles and remember that slides are a visual journey for your audience, not an autocue for you!  If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, locate Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen – it will change the way you approach presentations for the better & forever.  We now have an iStockphoto account (Getty Images)  that allows us to quickly source, license and download imagery for use in presentations and to repurpose it for use online – not the cheapest option, but highly recommended.

Think visually. Use your slides as a way of creating an emotional connection with your audience. As Zar says ’emotion creates motion!’ Meaning, we need to be mooooooved to act by feeling an emotional connection to the content we’re hearing. Beautiful or even confronting imagery is a great way to supplement engaging stories.

4. Nervousness is Selfishness

Zara & I are polar opposites in many things – one is nerves before we go on stage.  Even though we’ve delivered over 10,000 appearances on stage, radio and screen to a collective audience well over 10,000,000 – pre-performance anxiety is still something that Zara grapples with and she works hard to calm her heart rate and breathing before going on…

Whereas I can often be sitting in the audience chatting to someone seconds before I’m to go on stage and then grab my mic, do a SELF-intro, AND all whilst pulling faces at the person I was just chatting to and having a whole lot of fun!  #totesprofesh

But nerves can get to the best of us and regardless of how experienced you are, performance is not a natural state.  Brain scientists will tell you it comes from our ancient tribal mind – so being outside the group, with all eyes looking at you, usually meant you were about to be either abandoned or eaten!  NEVER a good thing.

Philosopher Eckhart Tolle says; “Nervousness is selfishness” It’s a provocative statement that means if you’re worried about yourself and letting that little voice in your head take over with unhelpful worry (“Am I humiliating myself?  Do they like me?  Are they listening to me?”)…  if you’re worried about how you’re being received you’re not thinking about the people you are there to inspire. It’s not about you… it’s about them and when you shift your focus to simply bring value and wisdom to your audience, you take all the pressure off yourself.

5. Things won’t always go right – and that’s a good thing.

The best possible reason we can give for over-rehearsing your content is that when things go wrong as they often will,  you still need to be able to deliver a positive result for your audience and roll with the punches.  In Zara’s TEDx talk, you may notice that the whole thing is shot from one angle… just below boob level (or as she describes it “breast cam!”)

That’s because despite there being three cameras on stage that day, two failed to record her (live) talk – resulting in the one (way too low) angle. She received many ‘helpful’ YouTube comments like “SHE’S GOT BIG BOOBS!!” and whilst it meant that the technical crew were running around on the day trying to make the cameras work, Zara was able to calmly continue her talk, focusing on the audience and ignoring all the other ‘noise and clutter’.

Things won’t always go right – so unless you’re 100% confident in your material and can do it backwards, underwater, with a mouth full of marbles, on a stationary bike… chances are you’ll be flummoxed when things stuff up and that’s what your audience will see.  Give yourself the best possible chance; write out loud, prepare,  re-write, rehearse and just for the fun of it… rehearse some more.

The more you prepare the more you’ll be able to be fully present with your audience. The secret to great performance is doing the work and then DISAPPEARING the preparation so you’re able to simply stand and deliver. And finally, the more you enjoy the process of delivering impactful information the more your audience will love your talk and apply some of your insights to their own lives. A good message delivered in a bad way becomes a bad message… on the flip side, a ‘challenging’ message delivered in a good way can become an inspiring message and there’s nothing more glorious than holding an audience in the palm of your hand. Get prepared and let the fun begin.

#speakup #greattalk