What I Learned from Being a TEDx Speaker – 8 Tips on Better Public Speaking

2, Jul 2020 | Blog

Nelson Mandela said, “You never know what you can do, until it’s done.”

What I learned from speaking at TEDxHelsinkiUniversity is proof of his words.


So, do you also dream of getting on stage to give a TED talk? Are you tempted but afraid?

If you answered “yes,” or even just “maybe,” to one of the above, I’d like to share with you eight tips based on my first public-speaking experience on the TEDx stage at Helsinki’s buzzing Think Corner, a newly renovated event space at the University of Helsinki.

Being selected as a speaker at TEDx HelsinkiUniversity was a big deal for me, a dream come true even. It was exciting but also nerve-wracking and mind-blowing in equal proportions. Before I begin, though, I’ll admit that I had been on stage before giving public speeches, lectures, workshops, and presentations before an international audience. Despite this, TEDx provided a great speaker-training experience through both one-on-one coaching and group workshops. This helped me to not only deliver my speech on the importance of volunteering but also learn more about myself. In order to tell my own story, I had to reflect on it, and this allowed me to discover new things about myself.


Now here are my eight tips for giving a killer presentation in 18 minutes or less.

1. Find your next speaking opportunity

If you want to speak anywhere or just specifically on a particular TEDx stage, find out where and when the next TEDx event is taking place near you. Several TEDx events happen every day all around the world in some 150 countries, and you can apply to participate in any of them provided they accept speaker applications. If they do, check your time and financial resources. Choose your topic and prepare your best authentic self to pitch it. For TEDxHelsinkiUniversity, the pitch needed to be a video of at most three minutes. During my recordings, there were plenty of bloopers and curses but luckily also laughs. Remember to laugh, and don’t be too harsh on yourself!

Kamilla Sultanova at TEDx Helsinki

2. List your own three Criteria for Success

Once you are selected, here is a personal piece of advice for you: List your own three criteria for success before embarking on the rollercoaster experience of speechwriting, rehearsing, preparing PowerPoint slides, and setting your voice! My three criteria for success were:

  1. To show up and not get sick on the day
  2. To give my very best with the tools and skills I have right now
  3. To inspire people to see the value in modern-day volunteering.

3. Build your story with empathy

There are tons of useful resources out there to help make your speech-preparation process go smoother. One of the most important things, though, is to have a coach. You will generally get one if you participate in public-speaking contests. Be wary of having several coaches, however, because opinions of your speech delivery may differ between them, so the best approach is to listen and then make your own choice. The TEDxHelsinkiUniversity team offered us many ways to prepare, and one particular exercise came in handy when initially planning the talk and building it well.

Consider these nine questions of Juhana Torkki, a Finnish speech and storytelling expert. I find this process helps to build empathy toward yourself and your listeners. It also helps you to shape your message well and construct a narrative around it.

  1. What are you grateful for about your listeners?
  2. What are your listeners afraid of?
  3. What are your listeners proud of?
  4. What has made you feel enthusiastic recently?
  5. What scares you the most about your talk?
  6. How can you make the world a better place through your talk?
  7. What one sentence do you want your listeners to remember?
  8. How can you deliver your message in such a way that even your grandma will understand it?
  9. What personal story can you tell?

4. Ask your loved ones to listen to your speech!

I so agree with the words of brain coach Jim Kwik: “The brain doesn’t learn through consumption it learns through creation.” To deliver a speech, you will need to practice (i.e., rehearse) a lot. For sure, it’s not always a cakewalk! In my case, I needed to travel during the three months prior to my talk, so I rehearsed in hotels, on the metro, and even in taxis and airplanes. I also used various social media channels to allow my coaches and friends to check my speech for quality.

Rehearsing in front of friends and family is great because they will see you as a person and notice both your strengths and weaknesses. Ask them to listen for just 15 minutes and to spend 10 more minutes giving you feedback. Offer them a meal, a coffee, or dinner as compensation or just ask as a favor—they will all likely be glad to help you make your speech even better. If your friends are distant, use WhatsApp, Telegram, or other video communication tools. Be bold, honor yourself, and show them what you’ve got. Don’t listen to the critic inside and just remember your own conviction about why you are doing this and revisit your three criteria for success.

To boost your storytelling skills further, watch The 110 techniques of communication and public speaking by David JP Phillips, a presentation expert from Sweden. In reality, there are all kinds of experts out there, so find the one who speaks to you the most.

5. Find your style, own it, and honor it 

I am a TED fan. I’ve watched tons of great speakers and observed their varying styles when delivering a speech. It may be daunting to see these people give their best on stage, and you may wonder if you can perform even a fraction as well. Well, yes you can! Everyone has a style, so just find yours. How and when you use your voice, your body, your humor, your posture, and pauses make you unique and powerful. If you suffer from excessive negative talk, check out 8 Ways to Break Free From Imposter Syndrome. You can also find great short and workable tips from the legendary Amy Cuddy.

6. Listen to the Time to Shine podcast 

This gives some really good advice on public speaking and performing on stage. The man behind the podcast, Oscar Santolalla (a Peruvian in Helsinki), is brilliant at his work in lining up and getting real advice from international public speakers. My favorite is No. 119 by Joel Schwartzberg on how to get to the point.

7. Join a local speaking club or a network in your area

Joining such clubs and networks may mean you need to pay membership fees, but in return, you will get honest feedback and learn how to spot a good speech. You may even get to compete in local, regional, and international speech competitions. Most importantly, you find out where you can practice regularly and get a nudge along with the pursuit of excellence each time. One such organization is Toastmasters.

8. Practice the pause

If you take just one thing from reading this post, it should be to learn to pause. Make the pause your friend—focus on your everyday interactions and reflect on how often you make a pause. Pauses are powerful. They grab your listeners’ attention and allow them to reflect on what you just said. To better learn how to use pauses in my speech, I even marked them in my script, and this was quite useful. Learn more about pausing with Amy Cudy.


In summary, I hope you can release the public speaker within yourself. I learned that the fear and doubts follow you while writing, practicing, and delivering your speech. But as I mentioned at the start, you never know what you can do until it’s done. By reminding yourself about the purpose of your talk, your motivation, and why you even signed up for a public-speaking experience, you can stay grounded in your talk. I have learned that we need to be patient with ourselves, remember to breathe, be real, and use simple language.

I feel like living proof of Nelson Mandela’s words. Please, let the world hear your story and enjoy the ride! I have thoroughly enjoyed mine. I am proud of my experience and all the hard work I put into it. If you go online, you can find a TED talk about just about anything, even how to give one. You can watch my own TEDx talk below. If you find these tips useful, please leave a comment and share it with others.

What are TED and TEDx?

TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) is a conference that was first organized by Richard Saul Wurman in 1984 in Canada. In 2002, TED was acquired by Chris Anderson, who transformed it into a global foundation offering a stage to world class speakers, with talks being made available online since 2006.

TEDx events, meanwhile, are independently organized by volunteers around the world who bought into the movement of “ideas worth spreading.” The TEDx program started in 2009 having been designed to give communities, organizations, and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.

More than 13,000 events have been organized so far in over 1200 cities in 150 countries. In Finland, the TEDxHelsinkiUniversity team selected 11 speakers to present topics related to society, science, the environment, technology, and music. Similarly, another group of volunteers, whom I am particularly proud of, organized TEDxMustaqillikSquare in Uzbekistan, and this is about to launch its second round of TEDx talks.

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