The worst part about blowing it the first time I was invited to speak at the TED conference was that I didn't even realize just how fully I had blown it.

It still makes me cringe. I want to puke, really.

"We think you'd do a great job, John, so we want you to speak at TEDActive this year and we're giving you a short amount of time because we might be able to play it later in the week from the main stage at TED--we want TEDActive to be represented...:" said Kelly, the woman who chooses the speakers for TED and whom I love beyond words.

So, I started thinking about what I'd talk about. TED talks are cutting edge. Check out the Top 10 TED talks of 2016 for some very cutting edge, cool stuff. People at TED like to hear about what's new and exciting. The talks are life changing, I thought. They're so popular that the Onion spoofs them, even.

At that time, 2010, I was working with an online game company called Entropia Universe. This was before bitcoin and Entropia was the only game world to allow people to put money in and take money out at a guaranteed, fixed exchange rate of 10 PED (their online currency) to $1 USD. It was cutting edge. Virtual worlds were hot getting hotter and that's where I started to go wrong. I thought it would be good for me to talk about that.

1. I did it for me

And it might have been... But, I did it for the wrong reasons. It was my field, at the time and I thought my company would benefit from the exposure. Of course, it would cement my credibility, as well... And, just think about how great it would be for all those movers and shakers to be talking about us. That was only my first mistake, though.

2. I crammed it all in

Since the goal was to have my talk potentially be shown during the conference I only had 4 minutes. But, I had so many wonderful, important, amazing things to say. So, I made my second, really big, mistake. I crammed it all in to my 4 minutes. I knew better, but I was blinded by my ambition.

3. I talked too fast

Finally, since I had crammed it all in, I had to talk faster than I would have, otherwise and that was just the icing on the mud pie I had baked. As you can guess, the talk was not chosen to be replayed later. It was never put up online. It did NOT get a million views. I have a copy locked away that I watch once in awhile just to keep myself humble.

So, how can you avoid my fate? It's simple.

Live by the TED Commandments

First of all, I later found out that there is actually something called the TED Commandments; scroll down just a bit to Feb 20th--this blog is by Rives, who is awesome. I broke the majority of them.

Commandment IV says, "Thou Shalt Tell A Story." Nope. I didn't do that!

Commandment VII says, "Thou Shalt Not Sell From the Stage, Neither Thy Company, Thy Goods, Not They Desperate Need For Funding; Lest Thou Be Cast Aside Into Outer Darkness." Well, I was trying to be subtle, but I was still doing it. Outer Darkness for me! Click through and read them all. Print them out and keep them handy. I believe the TED Commandments are something to follow for any conference speech, if you want it to be really great.

Curate your information

Second, my friend and mentor Craig Valentine (the 1999 World Champion of Speaking) told me, "When you cram your information in, you cram your audience out!" Touche! I tried to land a whole bunch of points and ended up landing precisely none.

Focus in on your message. TED coaches speakers to focus on their ONE idea worth spreading. That's singular, not plural. Again, useful anywhere. Curate all of the things you say and only bring the very best, most important to the stage.

Slow down and be present

Finally, I spoke too quickly. Speaking quickly has people doubt your expertise. They feel like you're trying to slide something past them. You seem to have low status. Speaking more slowly, however, works the opposite way. Pauses make you seem brilliant. Slower speakers get rated as much higher in expertise. Slowing down and giving your message its due makes you seem higher in status. After all, the lion doesn't need to hurry for anybody. Slow down, look at people and stay present.

Speak for the audience, not yourself. Focus; curate your content and only convey an appropriate amount of information for the time you have. And, slow down, for heaven's sake. I wish knew then what I know now, but that's how I found out. The hard way. But, if you learn from my painful failure you can make your TED talk, or any talk, sing.

Published on: Apr 6, 2017
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