A TED Curator’s Tips to Conquer Public Speaking and Crush Every Presentation

You’re standing at the front of the room and everyone’s eyes are on you. This shouldn’t be a big deal – after all, it’s just a simple presentation – but you’ve suddenly adopted a deer-in-headlights expression. Are you talking too loud? Too fast? You should slow down. What were you supposed to say next? You make a joke, an attempt at cutting through the tension you feel, and it doesn’t land. You are, quite thoroughly, mortified.

Any of this sound familiar? It does to me: I just described every presentation I ever made in college. Even now, the memories of those botched experiences come flooding back every time I’m asked to get up in front of a room. I’m sweating right now, just thinking about it.

I’m not alone. Here’s an encouraging statistic: Generally speaking, people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death.

Glossophobia, AKA speech anxiety, AKA please-don’t-make-me-talk-in-front-of-people, affects a whopping 90 percent of the population, with reactions ranging from moderate discomfort to genuine terror. This is disconcerting, considering just how much our personal and professional success hinges on our ability to communicate well.

A recent Logitech survey, conducted by Wakefield Research, found that 61 percent of office professionals in the U.S., 62 percent in the U.K., and 68 percent in the Australia believe their salary would increase if they were a stronger speaker.

Anyone who climbs up onto the TED stage makes it look easy. TED presenters are conversational, articulate, and – as described by editorial director and curator of the TED Institute, Bryn Freedman – simultaneously ”relaxed and powerful.”

These two adjectives might seem at war with one another, but the best presenters have learned to walk the line between both, appearing calm and comfortable while still commanding the attention of a room.

“Confidence is as contagious as nervousness,” said Freedman, who spends her days teaching others how to express said confidence while speaking in public. “Discomfort speaking in public is common and human. Even the most experienced TED speakers feel that fear. Walk out there confident and prepared and your audience will believe in you.”

I sat down with Freedman to learn how someone like me, who comes off nervous and inarticulate in most (read: all) high-pressure situations, can learn to remain poised and powerful while giving a captivating presentation.


1. Body language is, in fact, everything

When it comes to getting an audience to trust and listen to you, non-verbal communication is crucial, and presenters should use their body language to show the audience they’re worthy of the attention.

“If you’re speaking to more than two or three people, make sure you stand,” Freedman advised. “Square your hips to the person you’re addressing. Don’t make yourself smaller. Take up space.”

This is especially important advice for women, who are typically socialized to sit and stand in ways that minimize them: Crossing their legs, tucking their ankles, tilting their bodies to be at an angle while standing, and so on.


2. Changing your body language takes time – so practice, practice, practice

It’s one thing to say that you’re going to adopt stronger body language, but the minute you put yourself in a stressful or unfamiliar situation – like, you know, addressing a crowd of people – your body will shift to what feels natural. If you want to appear powerful on stage, you need to adjust your posture in real life, too.

You have to practice this all the time. You cannot just save it for the presentation. You have to be standing that way at the coffee shop, the post office, the bank,” Freedman said.

You can perform some exercises before your presentation to gear yourself up, as well. Freedman referenced a 2012 TED Talk by Amy Cuddy, in which Cuddy explores the way our body language influences our perception of ourselves. By adopting “power positions” and holding them for several minutes, we can trick our bodies and brains into believing we are confident and powerful, even if we don’t feel that way.


3. Prepare or be prepared to fail

There’s a reason stage performers do full dress and tech rehearsals before opening night; it’s not enough to just read through the script and hope for the best.

Freedman suggests anyone preparing for a speech mimic the conditions of the actual speech as much as possible to prevent getting caught off guard while on stage.

“You’re going to be standing when you’re giving the presentation, so when you’re practicing, stand up and read it out loud,” she explained.

Freedman also emphasized the importance of thoroughly knowing your facts, because there’s no such thing as “winging it” and nothing can save you if you go in blind.

“You need to think about the audience that you’re giving this for, what do they know, where do you start off with this conversation? How much work have you done in advance to know who you’re speaking to? Do your research,” she advised. “Be so in charge of your information and knowledge that they can’t help but listen.”


4. Don’t let your slides be a distraction

“Putting complicated text on a slide is a surefire way to get people to stop listening to you,” Freedman explained. “They’ll read the text on the slides and stop listening to what you’re saying.”

She emphasized that slides must always be punctuation for your own words and never deliver critical information that you yourself could have spoken. Text is OK, but keep it simple.


5. Be excited about your topic

According to Freedman, the worst thing you can be during a presentation is boring.

“If you’re boring, it means you haven’t prepared enough or you don’t care enough about your topic. There’s no substitute for your own excitement and energy and enthusiasm,” Freedman urged.

If the contents of your presentation aren’t inspiring you, that means you’re presenting the information wrong –– or you shouldn’t be presenting in the first place.

Rework your presentation until each sentence thrills you, and that genuine excitement will shine through to your audience.

“If you are there in a way that is not authentic, everybody remembers that. People won’t remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.”


Public speaking isn’t easy, and while it might come more naturally to some people than others, it takes commitment and practice to master. With that in mind, TED and Logitech have partnered to create the Spotlight Presentation Academy, a 1-day bootcamp to give participants the skills and confidence to crush every presentation.

They’re looking for 15 aspiring storytellers to join the summit, at which they’ll be coached by Freedman herself and work with some of the latest presentation technology, including the Spotlight remote from Logitech, which – take it from me – ain’t your mom’s old PowerPoint clicker. Participants will also have the chance to present their own talk on the New York City TED stage on July 17th.

And guess what? Logitech and TED want you to apply. You have until May 22 to head to the Spotlight Academy website to upload your short video describing your biggest public speaking challenges, the big idea you’d like to share and how better presentation skills would impact your life.. The academy will announce its participants on June 6.

“A great presentation is like a great road trip,” Freedman told me. “You’re with a super confident driver who created a trip just for you. It’s full of surprises. You don’t make a million stops, you take a couple of thoughtful stops along the way. You take the most direct and scenic route, and when it’s over you want more and you were glad you went.” 

Leave a comment below to enter to win a Spotlight presentation remote from Logitech.

Even if you don’t get to attend the academy, you can still win the latest technology to up your presentation game. Leave a comment below telling us a time you’ve had to speak publicly and we will choose 5 winners to receive a Spotlight presentation remote. You must enter by May 24, 2017 at 11:59 PM CST.

  • Rachel

    I’m a PhD student in engineering. One of the steps in getting my degree was a 3 hour exam with a presentation and then 4 professors grilling you – talk about nerve wracking!

    • Daryl

      I can LITERALLY ONLY IMAGINE! You’re amazing!

    • Daryl

      I can LITERALLY ONLY IMAGINE! You’re amazing!

  • Laura

    I was one of the valedictorians of my high school class and I made a speech at graduation!

  • I was asked to give a speech at a sales competition the year after I won. Getting to share takeaways from competing with the next group was rewarding and I loved communicating the not often thought of values of competition.

  • Katie Yarbrough

    I’m one of those weirdos who likes public speaking. I still get nervous, but I’ve always been able to do it without too much issue. I teach photography, so I have to speak in front of people at least once a week.

  • Malvika

    I had to do a group presentation for class, and I was so nervous that I practiced repeatedly for 30 min before the presentation.

  • This is so valuable! I love the point about practicing your body language all the time – great advice for women in general.

  • Dayna C

    I think genuine energy and excitement is contagious! After a presentation, I tend to give myself more grace when I know that if nothing else, my passion and enthusiasm was communicated to others. This is a great list of tips, but that final point really stood out to me.

  • Ashlan

    I’ve spent the past year as a graduate student TA for an undergraduate public speaking class. Talk about pressure! I often lectured to 170+ students about public speaking…while having to practice what I preach. Two of the biggest pieces of advice our lead professor always gave was that the audience WANTS you to succeed. They are (almost) never hoping for you to mess up or fail. The second, you always feel more nervous than you look to the audience. This always puts me at ease knowing that if I don’t look nervous as it is, then it’s a waste of energy to feel so nervous!

    • The Everygirl

      Hi Ashlan – Congratulations! You won our giveaway – please email allyson (at) theeverygirl.com with your address.

  • Sara

    I had to give a presentation at the Academy of Management conference on executives’ meaning-making processes for corporate sustainability, when my PhD supervisor let me know that she wouldn’t be able to make it in time. I was so nervous, but I returned to Amy Cuddy again and again, while also trying my best to remember that no one wanted me to fail! Both mental prompts provided a helpful (albeit still elusive) sense of self-awareness, assurance, and relaxation.

  • Danielle Aaronson

    Thanks for sharing these awesome recommendations! As a speaker and facilitator, everything above resonated AND it is so good to have the reminder. Sometimes I don’t find the time to prepare and practice as much as I would prefer, or I practice, but it’s sitting in front of my computer talking in my head. This is a great reminder to get myself plugged in, stand up, and imagine the audience is already there! Thanks so much!

  • Amber Rementov

    Hello! What an incredibly insightful article. Thank you! I am currently a graduate student working towards a Masters in Public Health with a concentration in Health Promotions. I absolutely love my coursework and find every class more interesting than the last. I truly desire to make an impact in people’s lives by creating programs that provide opportunities for health and wellness, but I am limited by my genuine fear and insecurity for public speaking. Recently I was given an opportunity to present a health promotion program that I created for a class at my husbands company. They love the program and would like to implement it, but I keep putting it off because I’m afraid I will blow it! Another recent opportunity that is at a smaller scale but just as terrifying is my desire to go before the board of my children’s school and present reasons why we should amp up security and readdress some of the health programs we offer. I am frozen with fear when I could be making a real difference in the wellbeing of others. Please help!

  • Claire Cole

    Love this! Although I’m an anomaly and actually love public speaking, I always want to improve. I used to teach group swim lessons to kids, so it involved speaking to an easily distracted audience a lot lol.

  • Megan Shaw

    Last year at work I was asked to conduct a full day of training for a group of 120 people. I don’t usually like presenting period, and this was the largest group I had ever presented to by far! I practiced and practiced, and it ended up going really well! I have been asked to deliver the training again this year, and the session is actually this weekend. I’m feeling a bit more confident this time, but the nerves are still there so this post couldn’t have come at a better time 🙂

  • Nikki Laraja

    Public speaking can be the scariest thing, these tips are super helpful!


  • Jazmin Ortega

    As an ESL student in high school I signed up for speech and debate to practice my English. It was sink or swim, and it helped immensely!

  • Jane M Agnew

    I speak publicly to students in my Business and Professional Speaking course every day. I like to tell my students no matter how small the venue or the audience, you have more opportunities than you realize to speak publicly and professionally every day!

    • The Everygirl

      Hi Jane – Congratulations! You won our giveaway – please email allyson (at) theeverygirl.com with your address.

      • Jane M Agnew

        Wow thats great! Thank you!

  • Nicole

    Great tips! I remember learning about power poses before my dissertation defense a couple of years ago. I’ll definitely keep the other ideas in mind when I’m giving guest lectures and job talks for faculty interviews in the next year! Another tip that really helped me was to focus on teaching your audience about your ideas rather than thinking your goal is to prove yourself to them. 🙂

  • Jena

    I recently managed a large project for work and it has led to interest on how we were able to make the project so successful. Very unexpectedly I was asked to speak at the software company’s annual conference and in a presentation for our consultants’ prospects. I am very grateful for the opportunity to improve!

  • Laura Chavez

    I’m a student of journalism and psychology in Venezuela, innovating in presentations isn’t difficult here, but when I think about my work in another country I get scared of not being able to control the tools provided as I should

  • One of the things I’ve had to do the last few years is giving podium presentations at an annual conference, being in front of well-known researchers gets me nervous as times but it’s exciting being in the moment and knowing that I got this.

  • Brittney Ranard

    I help out with my company’s onboarding sessions. Which means small crowds, but frequently.

  • Kendra

    I have many stories from high school and college but most currently I struggle speaking to my colleagues. Put me in front of a large group of students and I’m fine! As soon as I talk to 5 or more colleagues the nerves set in. Being the special education teacher at my school, I face these situations almost daily when talking with general education teachers about various topics.
    This was a great article with easy tips I can implement. Thank you!

  • Jasmine

    As a business student in her third year of college who goes to competitions to pitch business plans, I have had the opportunity to give my fair share of presentations. However, it is tips like these which really help the next one be even better than before. Thank you for sharing this advice. I’m looking forward to incorporating it into my next proposal, and to hopefully present more like the girlbosses in this article. Keep shaking the world through your art of presentation.

  • Amy Cuddy’s ted talk is amazing!

  • Nicole

    Wonderful tips that I am looking forward to put to use with some upcoming training I will be presenting!

  • susansmoaks

    this is awesome, thanks for the chance to win

  • Miriam Ben Abdallah

    I’m a medical student and I had to give a speech to scholarships donors about the impact their generosity has on student life. It was only a 20 minute talk but it wasn’t to a room of 300 donors and students! Luckily it was a topic about which I am passionate and I made time enough to prepare. It went well and they told me donations were at an all time high after that dinner!

  • I was getting ready to award a scholarship at my sons senior class night. I didn’t know I’d have to make a speech. Long story short I winged it and ended up giving an inspirational speech. Icing on the cake was a parent thanking me when I sat down. Mission accomplished;)

  • Chrissy

    I used to be very afraid of public speaking. It took practice and years of experience for me to become comfortable standing in front of an audience. Public speaking was a requirement for one of my first full-time jobs. I had to give an introduction to my employer and discuss what we do. I rehearsed until I felt I was knowledgeable and comfortable enough to give a good presentation. I became better at it each time and now I consider myself a good public speaker.

  • Jessica Adair

    I had to speak in front of 15,000 people in downtown LA. It was my first time speaking to a crowd that large. I love public speaking and I put off writing my speech until the night before, I finished writing around 3am. The next morning I drove to DTLA, had a double shot of espresso and seamlessly delivered a strong speech. The reason it went well and not disasterous was because I was speaking from the heart. I had a written speech in front of me but didn’t need to reference it often because I was telling a personal story, I knew the sequence of events, I knew the facts like the back of my hand and I knew that sharing my story could help others, which is the most exciting meaningful part of all. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbUoMk4cJ3A

  • Mackenzie

    Like Rachel below, I’m also a PhD student in biochemistry and I agree that giving presentations doesn’t seem to ever get easier! Although, the more presentations I give, the more familiar I become with how much time and thought goes into perfecting each one. I get a little bit faster each time!

  • Jennifer J. Pawluk

    As a communications specialist, and lifelong storyteller, I will be presenting a workshop on how to shape a culture of storytelling on May 28, 2017 at the Canadian Public Relations Society national conference!

    • The Everygirl

      Hi Jennifer – Congratulations! You won our giveaway – please email allyson (at) theeverygirl.com with your address.

      • Jennifer J. Pawluk

        Wow, thank you!

  • Monica

    I had to speak publicly at a leadership summit for my job. I was super nervous but it went really well, mostly because of #3. I practiced a ton and knew the information so well I could speak comfortably and be myself.

  • Tamerri Ater

    I’ve had to present several times to large crowds at work in the last few months and although I improve with every presentation my anxiety level is always at its highest before I go up. I have another one this week in front of some major VIPs and I’m hoping to crush it. Thanks for these tips!!!

    • The Everygirl

      Hi Tamerri – Congratulations! You won our giveaway – please email allyson (at) theeverygirl.com with your address.

  • sandra

    when I defended my thesis

  • Colleen715

    I recently started teaching a course and it brought me back to all those college presentations. The presentation remote would be great for the coming Fall semester!

  • Nicole Petrone

    I work in as an administrator in a school district and constantly need to be prepared to public speak. My biggest goal in life is to make a positive impact in education. Without strong public speaking skills I don’t think I would be able to reach my goal. Great article with fantastic tips!

  • Cassie

    Hasn’t happened yet, but I’ll be defending my master’s thesis in the fall. These tips are perfect for preparing!!

  • Angi Barrs

    I am a teacher and have to speak to students quite often. I had to present to other educators recently about innovative literary lessons. Thank God my hands didn’t shake! 🙂

    • The Everygirl

      Hi Angi – Congratulations! You won our giveaway – please email allyson (at) theeverygirl.com with your address.

      • Angi Barrs

        Thank you so much! I will send an email right now!!! Can’t wait to use this at school. 🙂