Anatomy of the Prototypical TED Speaker

Anatomy of the Prototypical TED Speaker

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Tell A Story

What do all TED speakers have in common?  What do all great speeches have in common?

Sarah Fretwell embodies what a great speaker does.

A great speaker tells a story. The story is never self serving. It’s always a message the speaker was compelled to deliver.

Sarah is not only a prototypical TED speaker, but she is also the prototypical Road To TED guest. We caught her in throws of  preparation for her TEDx SkidRow performance. I believe we’ve captured the anxiety, the nervousness, and the excitement that’s inherent in being only weeks away from delivering the most important talk of her life.

The Challenge

Putting together a show like ours can present challenges. The biggest challenge of all; to make it engaging, valuable and interesting for the listener.

So much so, that they are riveted to everything we say. When you can grab the reader or listener in a way that tunes everything else out in our noisy world, you’re doing it right. One of the many ways the best shows do this by following a format.

So the first thing Dino and I did when we set out to co-host Road To TED was to create a format. Now of course, we also wanted it to be a loose format that we could have some fun with. But make no mistakes, this show has a format to it.

The main component is that each episode is an interview with a future or past TEDx speaker. And the topic of the interview will be their journey to their talk. Our goal is not to study our guest’s topics, but how to become a better speaker. So what we want to talk to them about is public speaking.

How This Episode Almost Went Bad

So it’s quite interesting to see how we, or more accurately I, derailed this episode and broke from our format. It is actually quite instructive.

At first I was mad at myself for letting it happen. But after listening again to the interview, I realized how this was actually a hidden gem of a lesson on public speaking.

But First…

Before I go into the details of the story, first let me tell you about our guest. Sarah Fretwell gave her talk at TEDx Skid Row in Los Angeles on September 8th, 2013. The talk titled “The Truth Told – Unreasonable Activism – A Jounrey Into The Democratic Republic Of Congo”.

This was a call to action for Sarah, an award winning photographer, that literally came to her in a dream. She went to the Congo to document the rape of young women in the war torn Democratic Republic of Congo.

What happened then was a call to activism for Sarah. As you can hear, she is an incredible advocate for helping these women. Her story and talk will tug at your heart strings as it did mine.

In this episode we open strong asking her several questions about her speaking experience. As she was answering, I was messaging Dino over Skype that I wanted to ask her about her talk topic. So I took the interview completely off topic and broke our format. But it was great.

But It Was The Perfect Lesson On Public Speaking

I was pulled in by the story of what she was doing. I had heard enough about the topic that it peaked my interest and I had to know more. I found her passion for it to be almost hypnotic. Plus, this topic just struck a chord with me.

I have always been a cause guy. I am a pretty easy mark to be pulled into a charity or public service group. I was a member of a Rotary club working on clean water projects around the globe. I volunteered my time helping kids with many different issues. I volunteered for the March Of Dimes, a senior care organization, just to list a few.

What I have never done, however, is completely immerse myself in a cause. And I think part of me regrets that and wants to.

So Sarah’s story, her talk topic, intrigued me. And that is the big lesson for me.

Sarah is indeed the prototypical TED speaker. She isn’t there talking about herself. She has a cause that is bigger than her. Her passion and enthusiasm for it grab you and wont let go.

Why All Speakers Should Do This

How can we all bring that to our talks? How can I as a speaker, grab a person’s attention so much that they no longer care about whatever format they have set for themselves?

Just like I broke from our show format, I want to be able to do the same to my listeners. I want them to be so engrossed in what I do that their attention can flow no where else. And this, I believe, is a tremendous lesson for any aspiring speaker.

0So even though we may have veered of the course we set, the aha moment was huge. Here is Sarah’s performance. I LOVE that she managed to take copious amounts of video during her mission to Kongo and interlaced her talk with those images. It really brought the experience to life, and it made me feel like I was there with her. Brilliantly done.


Click to find out more about Sarah’s Truth Told project. Follow Sarah on Twitter. Visit Sarah’s blog. Sarah’s favorite TED talk is The power of vulnerability by Brene Brown.

Post Interview Discussion

After our interview with Sarah, Dino and I talk about what we’ve learned and at one point I bring up West Wing and the “view of the world” clip. So you don’t have to go searching, here is the clip I was referring to:

This is YOUR Road To TED

If you’re preparing for a TED talk and you’d like to come on the show and share your road with us, contact Mackenzie. What is your favorite TED talk? What’s your best speaking advice? rate and review

Written by Mike Brooks

Mike is the founder of Nuclear Chowder Marketing, LLC and is dedicated to helping small businesses get more customers online. He is also a podcaster who hosts the Nuclear Chowder Online Marketing For Small Business podcast. His goal is to become a well-known public speaker.

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