Part two of a post that’s intended to give you some insight into the effort that is needed in advance of TEDxDublin and also perhaps, to help you if you would ever like to give a TEDx or prepare for another major speaking event. [Part 1 is here]


Most of our speakers this year elected to use visual aids to support their points. As always we had a mish-mash of styles and quality, but for the most part the issues faced by the speakers on the visual front were:

  • Visibility – they had sourced images, but they were too small on the screen and would be essentially invisible to half or more of the audience
  • Quality – they had images, but they didn’t convey the point strongly enough. In some cases that meant shooting new images, in some we could find what we needed in the Fortify libraries and in some, we had to do extensive PhotoShopping to achieve the desired result. Not, I hasten to add, any wrinkle-removing or mammary enhancement, rather it was about trimming out distracting elements on the screen and focusing the audience’s eyes on what mattered.
  • Ownership – because TEDx Dublin is filmed and uploaded for the world to see, all speakers have to sign a release granting permission for TED to use their material and also stating that they either own, or have permission to use, all materials shown in their talks. This is not a problem for the majority of speakers in other settings, but can be very tricky for TEDx events. For example, Prof Shane O’Mara’s hilarious talk on The Zombie Brain initially consisted of screenshots from well-know zombie films and TV shows. He even had some very appropriate and recognisable clips and trailers. He attempted to secure permission to use these from the studios concerned, but quickly got mired down in the miles of red tape they threw in front of him. Finally, we decided to use fonts and creative commons images to illustrate his points throughout the talk.
  • Misconceptions“I’ve been told you should only use one slide per minute.” We heard that a lot. “I just want to use my slides as a roadmap for the talk.” That was also a common thought expressed by speakers right back since the first TEDxDublin in 2009.

As a summary of the advice we gave to our speakers I would say this. Slides should only ever be used to reinforce the point you are trying to make. Sometimes, they are the point – you are showing a person, a situation, a place, a formula, a process, or the outcome of an experiment. But in many cases, people still, after all these years, are throwing in images as ‘decoration’ for a slide.

Robin Ince doing what he does best with no clutter detracting from his talk.

Robin Ince doing what he does best with no clutter detracting from his talk.

We have a minimalist stage setup for TEDxDublin – black background, huge screen, speaker, circular red carpet. It’s very stripped-back speaking. With over 2,000 people looking at you, you need to know your words cold and you need to have a reason for anything that’s up there on the screen. So our speakers agonise over every little detail – which, to be honest, many of them wouldn’t have before. (The exceptions I can immediately think of were Kevin Abosch in 2012 and Kevin Thornton this year – both of whom are world-class photographers and who pour their hearts into every pixel they show.)

I guess the most common feedback I hear as we travel through the process with the TEDxDublin speakers is, “I had no IDEA how much work was involved in making a talk good enough for TEDx.” And work they did, gentle reader. What you see onstage for 15-18 minutes is not just the result of a lifetime of talent and focus on the subject matter (for that, after all, is why the speakers are there in the first place); it’s also the result of weeks and months of honing and polishing.

Oh lord - that's a lot of seats!

Oh lord – that’s a lot of seats!

When I hear positive feedback for a speaker I have worked with, I am always delighted – even more so for speakers for whom public speaking has been a particular challenge. But I am also always reminded of Michelangelo’s great remark:

“If people knew how hard I work to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem wonderful at all.”