How to Prepare for a TED Talk

How Do You Memorize All That? I'm often asked how I prepare for my talks - particularly for the rapid-fire, time-limited venues like the two TEDx talks and Chicago Ideas Week talk I have given.

If I Had More Time I'd Write You a Shorter Speech: Other than having a great story, useful data and a simple 1 - 2 - 3 framework, the other essential element for a great TED talk is to know your material inside and out, especially key concise phrasing required to deliver a complex topic in 18 minutes. This takes practice - but how to master 18 minutes of new material? Here's how I learn to memorize the outline of a talk and key phrases...

One Proven Approach: (That may, or may not work for you.) I follow the steps below for any new speech:

1) I write out the talk completely long-hand just the way I would say it (~10-12 single spaced typed pages for a 15 minute talk) along with movements, gestures and things to highlight. For an example click here to view my blog post on this topic.

2) Distill it to an outline with the key points and certain specific phrases to memorize

3) Start practicing using the outline - out loud (usually in the car as that’s a good place to be private) and timing myself. The first pass of my Chicago Ideas Week Talk was 34 minutes - I had to compress it to 18!

4) After practicing a few times using the notes, distill the outline to short 2 - 8 word bullets, (approximately 2 pages long) practice again and again until I don't need the notes. I memorized more than 80% of my Ideas Week talk word-for-word to the tight scripted phrasing to finish it on time while covering the topic thoroughly. This meant I practiced it ~30 times end-to-end.

5) Print the bullets on 4 X 6 cue cards - usually 4-6 of them. Staple, keep in my pocket for the talk as a backup and then don't ever use them : ) Talk pretty, bow to the applause.

In Conclusion: This process works as it forces you to A) outline your story and tighten your language B) learn key words and triggers to practice with C) allow you to show up confident in your material.