TED Curator Chris Anderson has been the master of ceremony for thousands of superb speakers, from Monica Lewinsky to Bill Gates and Sting. I recently shared his video about what makes a great TED Talk. After reading his new book, TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, I found out what may be the very best way to crash and burn onstage.

Anderson's book has a particularly strong passage about preparation:

There's a lot to be said for going unscripted. It can sound fresh, alive, real, like you are thinking out loud.... But it's important to distinguishunscriptedfromunprepared. In an important talk, there is no excuse for the latter. Many unscripted talks, alas, result in half-baked explanations, non sequiturs, key elements missed, and rambling overruns.

I've been there, which is why I always prepare a least a little before every talk, speech, or presentation--no matter how well I know the audience or the material. I lean towards introversion by nature, so I have to think about what I'm going to say anyway. I suspect the "from the hip" approach is more likely from extroverted folks, which means outgoing people need to watch out for this issue more than reserved speakers do.

Think you can wing your next big talk or presentation? Anderson warns of three different, big dangers:

  • That suddenly you won't be able to, in the moment, find the words to explain a key concept
  • That you'll leave out something crucial
  • That you'll overrun your time slot

The first can make you look silly, the second can confuse your audience, and the third can frustrate everyone in the room (particularly the next speaker).

To prepare for my first TED Talk, I loved writing down my bulletpoints on index cards, practicing the heck out of it, and then memorizing it so well that I could improvise a little onstage. It's a method I still do to this day.

How will you prepare for your next big talk?