Without further ado, these are the hacks I used to design my presentation—this is the anatomy of a simple, beautiful TEDx Talk:
1. Pick the right stage.
Initially, I figured I should focus on applying in New York City where I live and work. The themes included community: What makes you, you? and Think smaller. All of them were great, but they didn’t resonate with the idea I wanted to share. After researching some more, I found TEDx New Bedford. The New Bedford audience was extremely fitting: small-business owners, students, creatives, etc. Even more fulfilling was the theme: UNBOUND: What happens when we explore beyond our limiting beliefs? I knew it was the perfect opportunity to share my message on a stage with the theme that made the most sense.
2. Don’t skip the prep work.
Being selected for this kind of honor requires time and preparation. One of the best ways to make your application stand out is to have your talk align as closely as possible with the event theme and with the audience you’ll be speaking to—while still making sure your message is unique.
3. Celebrate after you get accepted.
Seriously, it’s about to get really hard, so remember the acceptance was something you wanted, and come back to the why when (not if) you start getting frustrated.
4. Practice makes perfect.
Ever wonder why the presenters seem so polished and don’t fill their speech with “ums” or “uhs”? It’s because they wrote down every single word, memorized it, rehearsed it and nailed it. It’s not easy, but to give that polished talk, you have to put in the hours.
A few speakers at the talk admitted they were going to wing it. Those same people seemed to bring the lowest energy levels in the theater. I hired a storyteller who really helped me find my voice and the vulnerability I needed to tell my story.
5. Work smarter, not harder.
While prepping my talk, I found myself randomly blanking on what line came next during rehearsal. Seeing a lot of black text on a white page can be overwhelming. Memorizing the lines one by one felt impossible.
My 5-year-old son heard me practicing and gave me a piece of valuable advice: “What if each section was a color of the rainbow?” he asked. So I segmented my talk into seven pieces and colored the font according to the rainbow. Whenever I drew a blank, my mind triggered the next color and the associated text. Once I applied this trick, the flow drastically improved.
6. Learn from feedback.
When it came time for practice runs, I turned to my toughest critics. Standing in front of my Motivate Design team was surprisingly intimidating. Before me were 20 familiar faces I see and work with every day. But for some reason, I felt the pressure. I bombed the first dry run. I ended up scrapping the entire thing and rewriting it one week before showtime, because they were right—it sounded like a great “TED Talk,” or whatever I thought one should sound like, but it didn’t sound like me.
My team gave me honest feedback, but they also reminded me of why I wanted to do this in the first place. Practicing in front of an audience you feel comfortable with will provide both support and, because you’re in front of people who know you so well, they’ll be able to highlight what you don’t see.
7. Disarm your “I can’t” voice.
“I can’t say everything I have to say in 18 minutes.” “I can’t memorize this entire speech.” Up until the point of the talk, “can’t” is a mindset that can be designed around. You just have to get out of your own way.
8. Treat yourself.
When you’re preparing for something that creates fear and doubt, it’s easy to lose sight of the excitement and confidence living inside you. Meditate, eat your favorite meal, buy a new outfit—whatever it is that makes you feel good, do it. Engaging in fun activities will help you get into the mindset of your best self.
Another rehearsal wouldn’t prepare me—it would only bring about anxiety. So the night before the event, I went to the gym and worked out. Hard. Then I did yoga. It immediately instilled readiness and excitement in me. I shifted my mindset from “can’t” to “can.” (And the new dress and shoes didn’t hurt, either.)
9. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Take this advice from my fellow speaker, Dr. Michael Rocha: “Let go of the attachment to what happens after this.” He encouraged us all to just be in the moment onstage, rather than focusing on the future or what could happen next. Those words really resonated with me. It reminded me this was an opportunity to share a message so meaningful to my life, and if I focused solely on that, others will be able to take it and run with it. I felt extremely lucky.
10. Ten seconds before showtime, take three deep breaths.
Minutes before, I almost freaked out. But I “tough loved” myself instead, toughly reminding myself that I chose to be there. I chose to give this talk and now I was choosing to rock it. The love was a set of three breaths where I reminded myself that the 1,000-plus audience was there to learn. This was just a bigger classroom than I was used to—but the most important student was my 5-year-old, and I should just speak to him.
To be honest, I’ve never been calmer as I approached the stage. Aside from the “Oh, I love that dress” comment from the first row (which made me smile), I was in the zone. And I nailed it.