Top tips for TEDx – or any talk for that matter!

Barbara Moynihan TEDx talk

Over the past 10 years or so TED has become a global phenomenon. TED is the global stage where speakers get to share their big idea.  TEDx events (as defined on TED) are organised by curious individuals who seek to discover ideas and spark conversations in their own community.  As a TEDx speaker coach, my role is predominantly to help the speakers in the physical delivery of their talk.  After all, it is their idea, their talk and their job to put it together.

I have been a TEDx speaker coach since 2014 and have loved every minute of coaching speakers to deliver at their very best.  However, when I did my own talk in Dublin in 2016 – “You probably are more intelligent than you think you are” I picked a few insider insights which I now share with the speakers I coach.

While these tips are primarily intended for TEDx speakers – they can be helpful for any talk.

  • Get clarity on your idea.

This might sound pretty basic – and it is!  You have to get absolute clarity on your idea.  Your idea may change slightly as you prepare your talk, that’s okay.  However, from the outset you need to be clear enough to get your idea into a sentence of no more than 20 words.

For example, my idea was:  there are many types of intelligence and everyone is intelligent in their own way. Fourteen words – in case you were wondering!


  • It is a talk!  It is not a lecture.

“What is the difference?” Well, a lecture is more relaying of information.  A talk, is more of a conversation with your audience.  When you change your mindset, to giving a ‘talk’, it makes you think more about bringing the audience into your talk – rather than talking at them.

This shift in mindset also helps you to be more conversational in your wording. It encourages you to increase your “YOU” to “I” ratio.  Really great speakers manage to make the audience feel included in their talk.


  • Marie Curie (the first woman to win a Nobel Prize) said:

“Have no fear of perfection: you will never achieve it.”

This is true of your talk – as of many other things in life.  In my own talk I made 2 booboos.  Firstly, I stumbled over my words – more than once!  In fact, I stumbled in the opening sentence.  I can tell you, I had practised that opening sentence many many times, and yet, in the heat of the moment, I mixed up my words.  When this happened, I did what I always recommend others to do.  I just smiled and continued.

The second booboo was a bigger one – well, it was to me anyway.  As I walked off the red circle, I glanced at the clock and noticed I had one full minute left.  “How could this be?”  While I felt I had spoken a little bit on the fast side, I knew I had not spoken at a rate that would have me finish a full minute early.

I discovered afterwards I had left out a chunk of my talk!  However, nobody would have noticed – except my 2 speakers coaches.  Yes, I was greedy – I had 2 coaches, not one!

Now, if any of you look at my talk – you would not notice.

My talk made total sense without it.  So, don’t worry if you leave out a part of a talk, so long as your audience has got the general gist – as in, your big idea, then all is okay.  There is absolutely no need to be perfect.


  • Open with impact.

No need to thank the MC, signpost what your talk is about, say how thrilled/excited/honoured you are to be giving this talk or to introduce yourself.   Just dive straight in.

In my talk, I was straight into an incident that had happened when my daughter was 6 years old.  Charlotte Blease, TEDx Fulbright Dublin 2014 – “Hypocritical oaths — medicine’s dirty secrets”, dived in with the words “True fact about George Clooney” and led into a fascinating story.

With regards to introducing yourself, for those in the room, the MC will have explained who you are.  For those watching you on the TEDx platform – your bio and details of your talk will show either beside or underneath your video.  Some people like to mention early on in the talk, what they do, this usually reinforces their credibility on their talk topic.  Going back to Charlotte Blease, she mentions that she is a cognitive scientist – leaving us in no doubt that she knows exactly what she is talking about.


  • Close with impact.

Be very crisp and clear.  This feeds back to point number 1 – have absolute clarity on your idea.  If you have been really clear on your idea, you are well on your way to having a closing that loops back to this idea – possibly with a call to action for the audience.


  • Do not refer to other speakers on the day.

This tip is very specific to TEDx.  Usually, this would go against the grain when speaking at a conference or other event, where it is often encouraged to link forwards or backwards to other speakers.  However, you need to think of your video on the TEDx platform.  Your video needs to be able to stand alone – references to speakers that viewers have not seen would serve no purpose.


  • Make things easy to understand for those online.

For example, rather than saying “here in Kilrush” … say “here in Kilrush, a coastal town in the West of Ireland”.  It puts your location in context, so that the people who don’t know Ireland, will be able to understand where you are talking about.


  • Avoid duplication.

Sometimes, I have seen people share several quotes, consecutively on the same point or theme.  I believe it is much more impactful to deliver one quote with punch, rather than list off a few quotes.  Always look at your content and check to see if you can remove irrelevant duplication.   Which leads me nicely into my next point….


  • Less is more and more is less.

If you are scripting your talk, allow 120 words per minute.  This will give plenty of time for pausing, for the audience to clap or laugh – or both!  The worst thing you can do is to have so much content that you race through your talk.

If you don’t pause.  You lose the impact.


  • Record yourself on your phone, listen back, refine, repeat.

Once you are comfortable with your content, practise it on others and get feedback.  When you have the talk fine-tuned and are happy that it is your final version – do one last recording.

Then keep playing it.

Over and over.

Play it on Bluetooth in the car as you travel, or on the bus, or while walking, ironing, working out, cooking.  It is going to muscle memory.

I know TED recommend memorising.  Personally, I think this puts HUGE pressure on you as a speaker.  I prefer to recommend that you play it over and over until you become comfortable with the content.  By the way, I did this for my TEDx talk and still left out part of it!  Anyway, going back to Marie Curie – let’s not worry about perfection.  All we want to do is give our talk our best shot.


  • Slides come last.

If you are using slides, do not create them until after you have crafted your talk.  Your talk is your talk and the slides should be the visual aid to reinforce your message.

For my own talk, initially, I did not plan to use slides at all.  However, in the talk I was referring to the 7 types of intelligence.  I felt it could be a bit tricky for the audience to get a handle on them without a few slides.  If you are using slides, make sure that they fit within the TEDx technical guidelines and ensure you do not infringe on copyrights.

Sir Ken Robinson’s talk is the most viewed talk – ever.  I had the opportunity to hear him speaking at a conference here in Dublin last year.  He was just as I would have imagined him from his TED talk.   He came across as himself, in real life, as he had in his talk.

He did not use slides in Dublin.

He did not use slides in his TED talk.

You can view his talk here.

Finally, if you want ONE more tip that could hugely help you – have a read of this