11 Lessons I learned from my TEDx talk


1. It takes me several weeks to develop an intelligent presentation.  A remarkable presentation takes weeks because I need to give the idea time to self-develop.  NY Times columnist David Brooks refers to this as “letting an idea marinate.” John Cleese of Monty Python fame advises using all of the time possible to develop your creative ideas.

My process:

a. Identify the original topic (that I eventually trashed) during a jog. My best ideas usually peek out around mile 3 or 4. That I trashed the topic is inconsequential. That I had a topic was a starting point.

b. Iterate on the topic over the next few days and talk it out with my wife.

c. Map a concepts into a slide presentation.

d. Research to see what content and data is available (For example, I thought I’d find time series data on the number of salespeople employed but this data wasn’t available after hours of searching)

e. Build out slides.

f. Delete slides.  I built more than 35 slides and had only 17 in the final presentation including a blank first slide and the title slide.

2. Presentations require data. This means factual information synthesized from several sources that creates an “A-ha!” moment for the audience.  It’s not about generating new content – it’s about presenting existing information in a new framework.


Hans Rosling’s 2009 TED presentation is a wonderful example.


In 20 minutes, it is impossible to teach a new idea from the beginning, so structure the presentation around existing knowledge. The audience will engage because they’re starting from familiar territory.  You hook them at the end when the thought path leads them to a place they never considered.


In my case, I used cultural perceptions about salespeople using Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” and recent movies about the sales profession – Glengarry Glen Ross and Boiler Room as the starting point then broke the mold with data as I progressed.


3. There’s a performance curve.  Even when carefully selected, some speakers will disappoint.  They’ll fail to invest the preparation required to deliver a memorable presentation and this is your opening.  This is where placing best practices into action differentiated me from everyone else.  It’s a combination of:

a. Topic

b. Preparation

c. Content
(See #1 above for arriving at a, b, & c)

d. Presentation slides/visual quality – I met with Jim Prost who volunteered his time to the speakers in preparation and read “Presentation Zen” on Jim’s suggestion.  (I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve had this book on my shelf for three years and never read it.)

e. Passion/enthusiasm – A willingness to be emotionally naked.  If you believe it, share it.

f. Presentation (verbal & physical) – Be well-rehearsed and comfortable.  Know your slides.   I prepared my verbal presentation by typing out my words in Evernote, then timing the delivery. I learned that I needed to be at minute 9 when I got to my key slide (see #2). By knowing this outcome, I worked backwards to cut down the first section of the presentation by 40%.  Then I wrote out notecards twice and rehearsed live in front of my wife, then twice more by myself.  By the time of the presentation, I didn’t need the notecards and knew my slides by memory and where I would be in my presentation at each moment.

4. Prepare for the stage. I was expecting a grand stage like you see on the TED.com videos where I’d be free to saunter about the stage, glance at slides, and use movement as a way to emphasize key points of the presentation. Our stage was small and restrictive. The back-lighting was red and generally dark. I work dark pants (okay, jeans, but I swear it’s okay. It was Saturday in San Francisco!) a white shirt and a navy suede sport coat. With the dark background and lighting, I worried that the video would not show well.

There was no visible timer or slide viewer in front of me as expected and I didn’t want to turn around to glance at slides to assure I was on course.  This caused some trepidation for me, but see 3e – once onstage, I knew my stuff and rolled along.


5. Know your audience. This audience was mostly MBA students and most were international students.  But… the presentation was recorded for the TEDx YouTube channel for a mass audience to view later. So which was my audience?  To feel connected and share my enthusiasm, I chose the students with whom I could play along the way by generating smiles and nods. That engagement was far more important to keep me cruising than presenting for the camera thinking about a YouTube viewer three months from now.


Plan how you are going to engage the audience before and after the talk.  I should have engaged more with the audience instead of sitting backstage for final edits and preparation.  That said, given that I needed these final edits, it was worth the cost in my case.  Next time, I will be sure to set a goal of talking to at least 10 audience members before and after.


6. Write your own introduction and rehearse it with the person introducing you.  Jim Prost recommended this and I simply let it fall off my plate.  It wasn’t until 30 minutes before I was introduced that I knew who was introducing me, yet she had developed an introduction and had been rehearsing to say it from memory the entire afternoon. Yikes! In the introduction, she mispronounced “SalesQualia” and didn’t mention my book. The introduction is your teaser – help the introducer set the right state of mind for the audience.


7. Prepare notecards and know your slides blind, then put them away.  If you follow #3, the presentation will flow naturally.


8. Bring food.  Prepare for the external environment.  We were in No Man’s Land in San Francisco for a Saturday (near the corner of Samsome and Broadway). NOTHING is open on the weekends, not even the Starbucks across from our building. The event organizers had a wonderful green room with dried fruit, energy bars, Odwallas, and coffee.  Speakers were asked to arrive at 12:00noon and I was scheduled for 4:20. I’m an eater plus I can be particular about what I eat because of my race training, and there weren’t enough of the right calories to keep me from hunger. I should have packed my own food just in case.


9. Ask for help.  Everyone wants you to be successful.  Jim Prost donated his time to review presentations the Tuesday before the event and only two or three speakers took advantage.  Dirk, Laura, and Alex (the primary event organizers) had every detail of the day planned and launched immediately into action for any unforeseen requests.  Remember – the organizers are at risk too – they want you to impress the crowd because they sold the attendees on the event in the first place.


10. Ask to help.  There are always details that need filling. Offer to help. Caution when offering suggestions – you may think your suggestions are good but it’s likely that the organizers already considered that idea and now you’re making them feel bad that they couldn’t or didn’t execute on it. Carry boxes, serve food, run errands. Contribute to the event.


11. Thank everyone several times.  Do this in person and follow with a personal note.  Praise, praise, praise everyone from the organizers to the minimum-wage caterer. Everyone matters and they’re all there to make you look good and promote yourself.


[View the presentation slides on Slideshare.]

[View the event Flickr stream.]


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