How to create your rough draft TED talk in 30 minutes ( four steps )

Posted: February 29th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Exercises for speakers, Practice, Speechwriting, TEDx and TED | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »


Have you ever had that “hmmm” moment or moments where the idea of giving your TED talk plays out in your mind?

During the TED Full Spectrum live conference on Wednesday, 2/29th, many folks in the audience will ponder just that (me too!). People will gather to watch the Full Spectrum event via live stream in Washington, DC (thanks to the kind folks at TEDxPotomac). And I can’t wait for the tremendous exchange, conversation, and ideas.

A nudge toward self-reflection
Is some part of you waiting for a particular nudge or external deadline before preparing your TED-calibre story (sometimes that’s a productive block in my work or what clients confront too)? Which begs the question: what really keeps us from recognizing and shaping our prized ideas – and share with others whether it’s a TED community or other engaged, valued listener?

What really prevents us from preparing our ideas beautifully, honestly, and clearly for future yet-to-be named audiences?

A word about time & the talk of your lifetime:
From my TED/TEDx collaborations so far, a TED-calibre talk takes 30 to 200 hours of prep depending on the speaker’s starting point of clarity and available stage time for the talk itself.

So I vote we start.

Right now.

No matter what stage or type of audience you envision for this ‘talk of your lifetime,’ engaging your own preparation on your own time – right now without facing an immediate deadline – can be incredibly crystalizing. That type of initiative can bionically empower your ideas and self-expression — stimulating greater readiness for serving future audiences.


Clarity puts the mind in a position of presence and ownership — two pillar qualities for guiding an audience through an irreplaceable experience.

So let’s start our own guerrilla prep work right now.

Are you in for 30 minutes?

The primary purpose at this point is to assert an idea and start.

That’s it.

As in the mission here is to make tangible progress on your TED “idea worth spreading” — plus ultimately get your TED / TEDx talk in draft form.

These (4) steps will guide our exercise with an emphasis on asserting perspective and escaping fear of imperfection.

    Only criteria: get a first draft down in 30 minutes by continually producing and resisting self-criticism in this timeframe.


  • 1. Set the timer for 8 minutes.
    Then start putting notes on paper (please put electronics in another room; the pen and paper keep the mind in a stronger meditative state). Just start writing in response to this consideration: consider what motivates you – and how that motivation is teachable. And as it helps your brainstorming effort, let yourself consider these brainstorms in different types of context and impact: professional, personal, spiritual, analytical, and creative.

    Task 1:
    Then write down a one-sentence assertion about a belief which you hold true. If it helps, add the phrase “I believe” before your assertion – with an example as: “I believe public speaking is a timeless community builder.”

    Please remember: encourage selection (and de-selection).
    Perfection is not the end game. What is? getting on the board with your ideas. If you have more than one assertion (again just one sentence in length), certainly write them down. Then choose one to champion for the sake of this draft exercise and carving out your TED “idea worth spreading.”

  • Check-in:
    Do you have a one-sentence, teachable assertion written down now about what motivates you? Great. That’s your potential TED talk’s main idea. That’s the journey you’re taking a future audience on. Nice!


  • 2. Set the timer for another 8 minutes.
    Now it’s time to think in story-based scenes. Ask yourself: what moments have shaped your one TED idea? What risk or discipline, what huge or subtle decision, what unforeseen experience, what trajectory, what observations, what research, what pivotal conversations, what gift, what anecdotes, what teachings – what is “the what” which influenced the teachable truth in your asserted idea? Reflect quickly but with permission. Write.

    Task 2:
    Then select (3) to (5) of these story-based scenes.

    Please remember: storytelling relationships
    View stories/scenes as the audience’s potential road map to understanding your asserted idea. Each story should exemplify and relate to your idea in some way. So your favorite memory of riding a sweet Shetland pony in the 5th grade should relate to your idea. If not, gently coach yourself to let it go. The Shetland pony will only distract your audience from your idea’s impact and merit.

    Creating structural integrity with relatable content is key here.

    As you continue beyond this exercise in the days ahead, there will be ample chances to further flesh out, critique, and change your course as needed. For now though, the goal is to start thinking in scenic terms and to build a story archive from which to draw from. Build, build, build this archive for your storytelling power. Storytelling is rich, compatible food for the human mind. Done with keen attention by the storyteller, it can give the audience a chance to absorb, engage, and punctuate thought right along with the speaker every step of the way.

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  • 3. Set the timer for the next 8 minutes.

  • Revisit the stories/scenes you just selected. Now consider them in the context of useful, teachable conflict. As in, do one or a few stories reflect difficulty in some way? Is challenge, risk, pain, or potential disappointment revealed or acknowledged? Or simply, is consequence of what could happen if your idea is rejected apart of your perspective?

    Task 3:
    Be as honest and willing as possible to disclose a story that is difficult to tell.

    Please note: The goal is not to be falsely dramatic or emotionally manipulative. At the same time, framing a core idea and point of view with 100% happiness or sense of perfection can disengage. It can compel the audience toward boredom or mistrust.

    If conflict or some layer of contrast can be shared with your audience — it can be an irreplaceable trust builder and clarifying agent for your TED-calibre idea.

    Please remember: honesty and clarity
    Always be asking yourself with these stories/scenes: are they shaping enough context for my idea to be understood?

    Check-in: a word about inspiration
    It may be temping to refer to favorite TED talks to observe their voice, their perspective or creativity. Resist this. This exercise is the chance for you (us!) to see our truest conviction clearly even when an audience does not exist. This process must be authentically owned by our own desire to express and to achieve clarity of expression. Lean on your own inner reservoir of clarity, drive, and desire to understand (and to be understood).


  • 4. Set the timer for the final 6 minutes

  • Consider your main idea, the scenic stories, and the compounding impact of what they mean. How do they uniquely convey meaning literally? Does the structural framework create a sense of journey? Does the structural integrity frame or undermine your intended meaning? How can your ideas create a sense of arrival for your audience?

    Task 4:
    Write down a vision of impact for your audience. Resonate’s Nancy Duarte (Holy Smokes an incredible resource and philosophy) calls this ‘the new bliss.’ As in how do you envision the ideal result, the ideal benefit, the ideal hope, the ideal outcome of your adopted idea and supportive material?

    A kinder, more empathetic world? An accessible education for every human being? A sustainable standard of living for the disenfranchised? Violence replaced by social entrepreneurship?

    Please remember: warts are apart of creativity.
    Throughout this creative digging, possibly inner voices may crop up i.e. “This is dumb, a waste of time, I’m no Al Gore on TED’s stage, who do I think I am, I hate this rough draft, where is my IQ?!”

    Please consider those thoughts as mental warts — and a useful indicator.

    They indicate a sense of ownership.

    They exist as a knee-jerk reaction to imperfection or a lack of clarity or both. Roll with it and continue. These creative warts indicate a sense of ownership for being clear. It’s a rough gig, the clarity business (…neat phrase from Content Rules). But that’s the business we are in when it comes to recognizing, asserting, and carving out ideas. It’s not a surface exercise.

    Let us dig deep and true.

    Check-in: Our audiences owe us nothing.
    Keep going with your reflections, uniqueness, and process — empathizing with the audience’s experience 150% of the time.

    Always be asking: Is there enough context in my talk to frame my conviction and deliver meaning?

    Are you delivering as unconditionally as possible? Or do you really, really want the audience to think you are smart and inspirational and brilliant and the new Steve Jobs?

    Our audiences owe us nothing.

    I invite you to consider:
    We as speakers are here to serve audiences with our clearest, most original, most resonant, most integrity-rich best.

    I invite us to share ideas in this light, for an unconditional offering of a cherished idea is a beautiful thing.

    Congrats for diving in and realizing the talk of your lifetime (I’ll dive in too!).

    Really, really exciting.

    What would you add to get your ideas off the ground, and into talk-of-a-lifetime shape?

More resources and perspective:

“Big Idea” image by Kerr Photography, Creative Commons

“Lightbulb arrow” by Vistavision, Creative Commons

One Comment on “How to create your rough draft TED talk in 30 minutes ( four steps )”

  1. 1 Weekly Diigo Posts (weekly) « The Reading Zone said at 5:35 am on March 4th, 2012:

    […] How to create your rough draft TED talk in 30 minutes ( four steps ) […]

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