12 TEDx Talks: 12 Lessons in Public Speaking


On Thursday 18 February the TEDx University of Edinburgh (TEDxUoE) 2016 Conference was held in Edinburgh’s Central Hall for an audience of around five hundred people.

TEDx was created in the spirit of TED’s mission – Ideas Worth Spreading (if you’ve not heard of TED, check it out at www.TED.com) TEDx supports independent organisers who want to create a TED-like event in their own community and the student-led team at the university did a brilliant job of organising an exceptional event.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to coach 10 of the 12 speakers for this event and was incredibly proud of the way each of them delivered a clear, concise and engaging talk. There were a few minor hiccups on the day which can sometimes be the case with a live event, but overall the standard of talks was excellent and a fantastic example of how to do it right.

So, from my perspective as an audience member, here are some public speaking lessons inspired by each of their talks:

1. Jo Simpson – Talk Title: The courage to trust yourself… listen to the nudges

Jo is a leading authority on values based leadership and a professional speaker. She has an excellent command of the stage and took a moment to pause before she began which demonstrated her confidence and authority. She also used just two slides; simple images that enhanced a particular part of her message. The screen was black at all other times throughout the speech so that the attention was focused on her and her important message of listening to, trusting and acting on your intuition.

2. Sabrina Syed – Talk Title: How to feel in place, any place

Sabrina was one of three student speakers and charmed the audience with her relaxed style and touching anecdotes. By incorporating personal stories, she connected emotionally with everyone in the room. She smiled, used effective gestures to enhance our understanding and she also used her voice to great effect; her diction was clear and her tone rich, varied and expressive which was both pleasing to the ear and a useful tool to emphasise her key points.

3. Lynne Copson – Talk Title: How to demystify academia (and why we should bother)

As a teaching Fellow in Criminology, Lynne is no stranger to speaking in front of a group of people but we could see and hear that she was nervous as she staunchly delivered her talk despite some distracting problems with the sound system. About half way through, Lynne admitted that she felt out of her comfort zone and incredibly nervous in front of the TEDx crowd, and it was this vulnerability and her self-deprecating humour that really added to her talk. Whilst I generally don’t advise admitting you’re nervous, by introducing some humour and pointing out her obvious discomfort, the audience really warmed to her proving that being your authentic self is crucial if you want to connect with people.

4. Michael Gidney – Talk Title: Change is in your pocket

Michael is the CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation. He commenced his talk with a series of rhetorical questions which immediately engaged the audience and introduced his topic. He connected the key message of the talk to his talk title, wove in some amazing statistics and pulled at our heartstrings with horrifying photographs and stories about the people who mine for the gold we buy and wear. His message was driven home with sound bites of tweetable quotes and he included his twitter address on his final slide so that the audience could easily quote him and spread the message further.

5. Elizabeth Dulemba – Talk Title: Is your stuff stopping you?

Elizabeth is a successful children’s author and illustrator. During her preparation she worked very hard on refining her idea to a single sentence which became the title for the talk; this ensured a succinct and easy to understand message. She had a warm relaxed delivery style enhanced by her dazzling smile, open and expressive gestures and comfortable shoes! (Many of the speakers were challenged by wearing stilettos on the red carpet rug they were standing on; always find out about the floor surface where you’ll be presenting and choose your footwear accordingly!) When Elizabeth couldn’t recall a particular word she wanted to use, rather than get flustered, she just moved on so smoothly that the audience barely noticed.

6. Vimbai Midzi – Talk Title: Writing Ourselves into History

Vimbai was the second of the student speakers. Having worked as a freelance journalist and someone who frequently blogs, her writing skills were evident in her well-crafted talk. Apart from her beautiful posture, confident stance and charming smile, Vimbai shared a personal story about her father to engage the audience and reinforce her message. She also used the rule of three throughout her talk – this is a powerful technique which gives the listener a sense of completeness and helps to ensure that key points are remembered.

7. Catherine Wilson – Talk Title: Making Poetry Loud

Catherine is a successful performance poet and her talk stood out as a result of this. Her skilful use language was a real treat and demonstrated how using descriptive expressions, rhyming, alliteration and other writing techniques can connect emotionally with an audience and take them on a journey. In addition, Catherine owned the stage, was fully present and really lived the words as she spoke them, taking time to think and connect with her thoughts before using her body and voice to portray the feelings linked to her words.

8. Jennifer Culbertson – Talk Title: The hidden symmetry of language

A Chancellor’s Fellow in the Language Evolution and Computation research group at the University of Edinburgh, Jennifer was able to take a complex topic and provide a simple example to prove her argument that despite the huge differences between languages spoken around the world, language is still a unifying force of human connection. She used a well-designed slide presentation to demonstrate the idea and she concluded with the words “The final message to take home is this…” before sharing her closing comments which left a very clear message with the audience.

9. Matthew Bailey – Talk Title: My genes don’t fit! Living in a salt-saturated society

Matthew is the Director of the Centre for Cardiovascular Science in Edinburgh and he bounded onto the stage with liveliness and enthusiasm which radiated into the audience. His energy, open body language and eye contact were very engaging. Whilst there were opportunities for some of his slides to be simplified, he did use his own hand drawn images which made his presentation more unique. After talking about the implications of too much salt in our food, Matthew also left every individual in the audience in no doubt about what they should do next. He strongly encouraged everyone to 1. get their blood pressure checked and 2. be salt aware, then reinforced his point with his final line, “We have to change it, we can change it and I think that’s an idea worth spreading.”

10. Chloe Edmundson – Talk Title: Unleashing the potential of university eco systems

Chloe was the final student speaker and a perfect example of how taking on feedback and practising diligently can transform a presentation; the difference in her talk from our first coaching session a few months prior to the masterclass a couple of weeks ago to the actual event was outstanding. This was not only in the way the content was structured but also in her body language which was much more relaxed than I had seen previously. Chloe also incorporated a quote in her talk which neatly connected her opening to her conclusion and underpinned her message.

11. Emma van der Merwe – Talk Title: Why I do something every day that scares me

The biography in the programme states that Emma is a storyteller, world traveller and amateur adventurer and this was demonstrated in her moving talk which started with a beautifully told personal story and was filled with anecdotes throughout.  Emma also shared a statistic about suicide about three minutes into her talk and made it relevant by explaining that since she started speaking four people somewhere in the world had died by suicide. By sharing three decisions she made and how they had helped her manage her depression she was able to demonstrate the life changing benefits of stepping beyond your comfort zone. She offered a simple challenge to the audience with her final line “Why not do something every day that scares you?” – a powerful ending to an inspiring talk.

12. Deri Llewellyn-Davis – Talk Title: Everest: F*** the fear, it’s not real anyway

Deri is a speaker, entrepreneur and author who aims to enable businesses and individuals to fulfil their potential. Whilst sharing his personal story about being on Everest when the earthquake hit Nepal in 2015 resulting in an avalanche and the death of more than twenty people on the mountain, Deri demonstrated a number of techniques that set him apart as a speaker. His well-designed slides included personal photographs and diagrams to indicate the scale of Everest and he specifically acknowledged his Scottish audience by mentioning Ben Nevis as he talked about the mountains he has climbed. Whilst he was speaking about his own experiences, he turned this around and frequently used the most powerful word in presentations: YOU, which really helped him to connect with the audience. And he used the element of surprise; for example half way through his speech he revealed that F*** in the title was for Face The Fear, Feel The Fear and Free The Fear which brought an audible chuckle from the audience. Finally, rather than scurrying off the stage immediately he was finished as I have often seen presenters do, Deri owned the applause and gave his audience the opportunity to show their appreciation for his talk.


During the conference, we are also treated to some videos of TED talks from around the world and I particularly enjoyed seeing Benjamin Zandar’s talk ‘The transformative power of classical music’. I loved his energy, humour and fabulous demonstrations on the piano which helped people to listen to classical music differently – watch this TED talk if you want to know how to fully engage an audience.

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction.

Mel's book 'The Authority Guide to Pitching Your Business - how to make an impact and be remembered... in under a minute!' is available on Amazon. To find out more go to www.melsherwood.com or follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_