What I Learned from Teaching TED-style Speeches {Post #2}

If you're interested in having your students do mock TED talks in your class, then I highly recommend you check out this blog post about how this process went in my 8th grade classroom! I share all of my juicy tips for making the presentations a success, and I share the play-by-play of how it all went down in my class. Click through to read more!

Do you believe in the power of presentation literacy? Ever think that your students are capable of more than eyes-down, wimpy presentations with Death By PowerPoint slides?

After a year of teaching TED-style speaking (and not just in a speech class), I'm even more convinced that presentation literacy matters, that our teens can be coached to a higher bar, and that public speaking doesn't have to be the ugly stepsister of the English curriculum.

As you may know from my Part 1 blog post, my eighth graders have been on a year-long exploration of public speaking to write and present mock TED talks. (Read the last post to hear more about why, as well as how we brainstormed and drafted our speeches).

We worked on TED gradually from second through fourth quarters, in an off-and-on style, concurrently with other units. (While I think this pacing was beneficial in many ways, at least for this year, I might compress it more next year.)

It should also be mentioned that this unit was great for nonfiction reading and writing skills too, and not just speaking skills alone! We had so many good conversations about authors, ethos/pathos/logos, writing techniques, revision, bias, research, and other elements of the writing process!

Our Prep Work

Since that initial drafting stage, we did a lot of revision and practice to be fully TED-ready in May. We have...
  • Analyzed the transcripts of real TED talks as examples to imitate
  • Read articles from the TED blog, especially their advice about how to make good slides and how to overcome nerves
  • Revised our own speeches, using my Revision Bingo board for inspiration
  • Did more research on our topics to add even more facts and statistics 
  • Made modern, minimalist slides to support (and not replace) our verbal content 
  • Improved our vocals by annotating our own "scripts" and identifying where to pause, slow down, speed up, etc. 
  • Practiced our speeches in and out of class, in front of friends, teachers, and parents
  • Performed our TED talks live in front of small group peer audiences! Speeches were video recorded so I could grade them all fairly. (Note that THIS video determined their grades. The final TED event later was not graded, UNLESS they wanted to raise their grade from the small group video phase.)
Despite all this prep, some of my students were holding on to fear or needed encouragement, and to echo all of the non-fiction reading we'd done this year, I impulsively decided to pull in some experts for that last-minute pep talk.


On TED Day

On the morning of our TED talks, I tweeted at authors Carmine Gallo (Talk Like TED) and Chris Anderson (TED Talks: The Official Guide to Public Speaking), and they replied!* Both men graciously gave us some last-minute inspiration.

Here's Carmine Gallo's response:

If you're interested in having your students do mock TED talks in your class, then I highly recommend you check out this blog post about how this process went in my 8th grade classroom! I share all of my juicy tips for making the presentations a success, and I share the play-by-play of how it all went down in my class. Click through to read more!

... And TED guru Chris Anderson himself:

If you're interested in having your students do mock TED talks in your class, then I highly recommend you check out this blog post about how this process went in my 8th grade classroom! I share all of my juicy tips for making the presentations a success, and I share the play-by-play of how it all went down in my class. Click through to read more!

Their quick, gracious responses gave many kids the hype and the "whoa" factor they needed to start converting their energy from nerves into the adrenaline-fueled "Yeah, I got this" feeling. :)

*Important Note: I'm equally obsessed with the TED books of both authors. Gallo's got more class time this year simply because his was written first. I wrote a book review of Gallo's Talk Like TED here, and I will review Anderson's book as soon as I'm done reading it. (I'm in the middle of it now, and it's AMAZING.)

How It Worked
Here's how we pulled off our final TED day:

Rooms/Audiences: All students were divided into two groups. One group stayed with my co-teacher in our classroom, and the other group went with me into another space (a.k.a. the Science Lab). This was just to cut down audience size. You could do it whole-class if you wanted to. We made a "stage area" in each room by pushing back desks and making sure that the speaker would have adequate walking space. We invited younger grade levels to come watch our talks as well, so the seventh graders now know what to expect in the future. 

Tech: Each student connected his or her Chromebook to each room's respective Smart TV using an HDMI cable. (We can do it wirelessly, but we were having WiFi issues that day and wanted to avoid a transition delay with our slides.) Each room also had a presentation clicker that I got from Office Depot (see below).
If you're interested in having your students do mock TED talks in your class, then I highly recommend you check out this blog post about how this process went in my 8th grade classroom! I share all of my juicy tips for making the presentations a success, and I share the play-by-play of how it all went down in my class. Click through to read more!
These clickers have been worth every penny! Image from Office Depot. 
The Results
The result of this speaking unit? Visibly different speeches than what I had seen from them before. Their eye contact, movement, and use of slides were way better... but more importantly, they told us clear messages with facts, stories, examples, great opening lines, parallel structure, and memorable closings. They used ethos, pathos, and logos, and no two speeches sounded the same. 

Here's a sneak peek of some of their titles. I made the poster in PowerPoint and took the PDF to Staples to get printed into poster size, which only cost $20 (for color and the second-lowest paper quality). 

If you're interested in having your students do mock TED talks in your class, then I highly recommend you check out this blog post about how this process went in my 8th grade classroom! I share all of my juicy tips for making the presentations a success, and I share the play-by-play of how it all went down in my class. Click through to read more!


10 Teaching Ideas Worth Sharing

Now that we fully finished everything last week, here are my big takeaways as a teacher... both the things we did right, AND what I will do better next year.

  • It's worth the time to annotate speeches and embed vocal strategies. Treat the speech draft the same way that actors might prep a script. Intentionally planning where we will slow down, speed up, get louder/softer, and pause is hugely important. It's worth annotating into a draft and rehearsing right alongside the memorization of words.
  • When it comes to the memorization process, note cards don't need to contain your speech verbatim. It's better to have EITHER note cards OR slides that trigger your memory, as visual cues of what you're supposed to talk about next, and then just do it. 
  • It's okay to deviate from your script a little in favor of a conversational, engaging flow. Obsessively trying to memorize every word doesn't just add to our fear; it becomes the sole focus of our attention, when we should also be cognizant of what our faces, bodies, and voices are doing. 
  • Feel yourself starting to do that awkward, nervous, side-to-side swaying while talking? Turn it into a STEP mid-sway and walk to one side for a minute. Fake like that movement was intentional. (Just don't take it too far and start pacing, either.)
  • The best slides display just one thing at a time, whether it's text or an image. That one thing should be big enough to read or see, and needs to support - and not replace - what is being said.
  • Some students deserve to scaffold their audience size and build up to a large group. Sometimes, it makes sense to let a student give his or her speech with the teacher one-on-one, like during study hall, or present in front of a small group, and THEN in front of the whole class. Going straight to the full intimidation factor isn't always necessary for "learning". 
  • Telling a story early on in a speech is good for the speaker, and not just the audience's attention span. It helps build momentum and ease into the speech. Narrative hooks can be just as powerful as other hooks, like dramatic statements or asking a question. 
  • If note cards are allowed and you don't have a podium, hole-punch them and put them on a binder ring. It eliminates your chances of dropping them and getting them out of order.
  • Tweeting at an author is fun! It makes the topic more real. Don't be afraid to reach out!

Want My Materials?
Everything I used in my year of TED can be downloaded in my (updated) Mock Conference Unit. Check it out to pick and choose which pieces you might want to steal for your next speaking unit! 

1 comment

  1. Wow! Amazing class project! I will try to do the same with my EFL Speech Class this year. Thanks for sharing your great idea!

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