From education to employment

7 public speaking secrets your students can learn from TED talks

Graham Shaw, Author

How to develop public speaking confidence in the classroom.

“There is no single set formula to giving a great talk.” Chris Anderson, Head of TED.

However, what TED talks do have in common is a format where the speaker shares ideas concisely in a short, high-impact talk, typically of up to around 18 minutes.

Why learn from TED talks?

In watching TED talks students get exposure to different ways of creating and delivering a talk. In TED talks you will find a variety of speaking styles from which students can learn.

Giving short talks, even up to 5 minutes, is an ideal way for children and students to enhance their speaking skills.

The benefits of students preparing and presenting talks include:

  • Enhancing their ability to structure information
  • The skills can be used in many other situations where students write or speak
  • Building self-esteem and confidence
  • The skills will be useful throughout personal life and career
  • And much more

What can you do?

Show some TED talks to inspire your students

You may find it helpful to look on the TED website to find a talk on a topic suitable for your students.


Decide how to organise your own talks

You might consider:

  • Audience; to whom will your students be speaking?
  • A time limit is a good discipline.
  • Whether students will work individually, in pairs or small groups.
  • Topic(s)
  • Whether you may use video review

Share these 7 professional speaking secrets with your students

1. Keep the audience in mind

‘Designing a presentation without an audience in mind is like writing a love letter and addressing it: “To whom it may concern”.’ Ken Haemer, former Research Presentation Manager, AT&T.

Ask yourself; ‘Who will be in the audience?’ ‘What are their expectations?’ ‘What concerns might they have? Then write down your answers and keep these in mind as you plan.

2. Use the ‘Magic Structure’

There are the four key questions on the minds of any audience; ‘Why?’ ‘What?’ ‘How?’ and ‘What If?’ They are the basis of the ‘4 Mat System’ structure for teaching and learning, developed by Bernice McCarthy. Use them to structure your talk and in doing so you will create a presentation that is logical, easy to follow and has maximum appeal.

Structure your talk to include:

  • Why? Why should the audience listen? Create curiosity.
  • What? What is your key message? Explain your idea. Give key information.
  • How? How does it work? Give examples and evidence.
  • What If? Problems Highlight concerns and how to solve them.
  • What if? Benefits Summarise your key message. Make your ‘call-to-action’ if you have one. Describe a positive future to show the difference your ideas will make.

3. Use fewer words and more pictures on slides

Research from the University of New South Wales found that we cannot read and listen at the same time. Yet that is exactly what happens when people try to read too many words on a screen while the presenter is speaking.

People find it draining to try and read slides while a speaker is talking. A single word or key message across the screen works fine because it can be read in seconds.

Otherwise use more pictures such as photographs, graphs or charts because people find it easy to look at these and listen at the same time. Moreover, people remember pictures so easily.

4. Stand confidently

When you move around for no reason, it makes it harder for people to listen. Shifting around or swaying can also diminish your credibility. Instead, stand upright with your feet hip-width apart with toes pointing slightly outwards and stay still, unless you have a good reason to move.

This stance enhances your credibility and authority. By standing in this confident way, you increase your confidence too.

5. Use gestures

When you use your hands and arms to explain ideas it makes it easier for people to understand what you mean. Allow your gestures to naturally occur, as you would in normal conversation.

However, beware of keeping your arms constricted to your sides and making tiny gestures. Instead, hold your arms out wide to each side and you will see the width of the ‘canvas’ on which you can ‘paint pictures’ to accompany your words.

6. Make your voice easy to listen to

With just a little conscious effort you can make your voice easy for people to listen to. Speak at a natural conversational pace. Slow down to emphasise points and speed up to add energy. Drop your voice into a lower and more serious tone at the end of a sentence to give weight to an important point.

Avoid raising the pitch of your voice at the end of sentences as it will diminish your authority. Breathe deeply and project your voice to the back of the room. Increase clarity by sounding the beginnings and endings of words properly.

7. Breathe deeply to calm your nerves

If you are too relaxed it can lead to complacency. You need a sense of anticipation and to be in a state of readiness to perform well. However, you can’t speak well if you are a bag of nerves.

When we are anxious it is often because we are worried about something in the past, or what may happen in the future. In other words, our mind is not in the present.

When this occurs, simply stand upright with your arms by your side and take a deep breath Then breathe out with a long breath as if down the front of your body. Even after several breaths, you can feel a difference.

Tips on giving feedback to speakers

Separate the feedback into two sections:

  1. What is working well?
  2. What to do differently next time.
  • Be specific in your feedback by giving examples of what you see and hear.
  • If you involve the audience in giving feedback, encourage them to do the same.
  • Ask the speaker for their observations first. When they identify strengths and areas of development for themselves, they tend to have high ownership for the learning.

Video review tips

Should you decide to video the talks and offer a video-review to speakers:

  • Use the same methods of giving feedback that are described above.
  • You might play back some of the video without sound, to allow the speaker to especially focus on observing body language.

Make it enjoyable for all concerned

When you make it an enjoyable experience, students will learn more and be encouraged to further develop their speaking skills. Who knows, with a little guidance, your students may discover speaking talents they never knew they had!

Graham Shaw, Author of “The Speaker’s Coach: 60 secrets to make your talk, speech or presentation amazinghe Speaker’s Coach: 60 secrets to make your talk, speech or presentation amazing

Related Articles