Updated: Jun 15, 2020
"73% of humans fear public speaking more than death." - National Institute Of Mental Health
A shocking statistic but truly there are few things that evoke greater anxiety in humans than public speaking. The pressures and paranoia of failure when the stakes are high have always been very real.
As humans, our fears go back to our primordial roots where we perceived predatory animal eyes watching us as a threat to our existence. Today, the consequences of not communicating eloquently while you lay out your most vulnerable self, giving the talk of your life in a harsh online and offline world is enough to send most bodies into a frozen state.
No surprise there then that I, like many TED speakers before me, did not manage to sleep a wink the night before my talk where 1,500 eyes would be watching to a sold out audience in the Philharmonic Hall of Luxembourg 🙀.
But the deeper reason for my insomnia that night wasn't just the incredible pressures that surround the deliverance of a killer talk, it was also the fact that the invitation casually landed on my desk on at 18.18 (Luxembourg time) on 02.05.2019, just 6 WEEKS before the talk was set to take place. And I happened to be in 6 countries in those 6 weeks, managing one of the biggest events from the road for my company, while touring heavily across Africa, America and Ibiza.
6 weeks spread across 6 timezones to prepare for the talk of your life.
Most speakers prepare for their TED talks at least 3-6 months in advance. Some speakers even go to the lengths of hiring speech writers and coaches to maximise their success.
But there was no way I was going to turn down this opportunity, and so as I got on a plane to Marrakech a few hours later, I started researching how one even prepares for a TED talk and that's when I started discovering crazy rules of thumb for TED speakers like 1 hour of speech rehearsal for every 60 seconds of speech.
Spending so much time on rehearsing could sound counter intuitive when the best TED talks have appeared as natural as possible, but the truth is most TED speakers prepare for their speech in this way for two main reasons:
1) They can maximise their attention towards things like pronunciation, vocal range & body language - all of the essential components of communicating powerfully.
The beauty of TED talks and why they have been so successful is because they remove all physical barriers in order to be as authentic as possible to the audience. This means no lecterns and most certainly no notes, which in turn puts a lot more pressure on your delivery style.
2) When the big day comes you could experience a brain freeze at some point during your speech, and trust me this will happen for many reasons, it could even be as simple as getting tripped up by seeing the 18 min countdown on stage staring back at you as you perform.
With no notes to hand, by rehearsing relentlessly your mind will quickly be able to bounce back to the key point even if you formulate it differently from the written version. It really is fight or flight mode up on that stage!