You can watch TED speakers to learn how to nail your opener or develop the perfect catchphrase. Or you might look to famous TED coaches to figure out how to create visuals that won't put your audience to sleep. But even if you get all these aspects of your talk right, it won't matter if you choke when you finally get out on stage.
TED can help with that too. And thankfully for those who are terrified of public speaking, the advice of the best coaches in the world is both simpler and more powerful than you probably think. In fact, it can be summed up in all of five words.
Everyone is on your side.
As Quartz's Anne Quito recently reported, "after coaching hundreds of speakers over the past 20 years, curators of the elite TED ideas conference have a simple, perspective-shifting mantra that seems to help allay nerves: 'Everyone here is on your side.'"
"A botched presentation or pitch doesn't benefit anyone," Quito reminds readers. "It isn't just embarrassing for the speaker, it's also disappointing for attendees who give their time and attention, both precious commodities. In that context, it makes perfect sense for speakers to envision a supportive audience."
To remind nervous speakers of this reality, coaches at the conference suggest speakers repeat this simple mantra to themselves before getting up on stage. They also offer simple exercises to reinforce the point.
"Early on in the talk, look out for faces that seem sympathetic," TED curator Chris Anderson has written. "If you can find three or four in different parts of the audience, give the talk to them, moving your gaze from one to the next in turn. Everyone in the audience will see you connecting and the encouragement."
Your speech isn't about you.
Anderson and the TED coaches he works with aren't the only speaking experts making this point. Quiet author Susan Cain, whose own TED talk has been viewed more than 20 million times, has made much the same point to those who think they're too shy to master public speaking.
"Remember that public speaking is not about you," Cain has advised. "It's about the audience. Your job is to take care of the audience, not to be judged by it or even to entertain it. Remind yourself that you are not seeking approval or love. You are a teacher, a giver, an enlightener."
Cain's words might be slightly different than those of the TED coaches, but her underlying point is the same. When people show up at a speech, they're hoping just as much as you are to hear an excellent, life-changing talk. They want you to succeed because you succeeding is great for them too. Keeping your focus on their desire to learn will keep you from obsessing about whether you're moving your arms in a funny way or landing every transition seamlessly.
Audiences (just like regular people) respond to speakers with a sense of service, not to those with some grandiose idea of their own awesomeness. Keeping that in mind can keep you from choking, and TED's simple mantra is a great way to remind yourself that everyone in the room is hoping you succeed in teaching the audience something useful.