Who do you hire to help you write a 1-2 hour TED talk?
August 15, 2018 4:44 AM   Subscribe

Let's say I have to give a lecture and my career depends on this, for reals. It has to be not just good enough, but fabulous. Let's say further I may not get much notice on the topic and audience or date. I would like to hire whatever the public-speaking equivalent is of a cross between a ghost-writer, an editor, and a coach. I cannot be visibly hiring such a person (i.e. I can't just post on craigslist or something). How do I find and hire this person? How much might it cost?

Given the stakes, I am willing to invest here, obviously. The topic will be academic and the talk (unlike a TED talk) would ideally engage the audience. That is, even though I said lecture, there should be some kind of participation. It needs to be content-ful and accurate but also engage people completely.

Yes, I know this sounds dramatic, but my situation is different from that of most people in a nominally-similar situation and the difference between "a great talk" and "OMG that was AMAZING" really could mean losing or keeping my job.

I am not looking to read about public speaking or go to toastmasters or such. I do not have a public speaking phobia. I am a decent public speaker.

Obviously this person must be willing to work anonymously, to never list me on their resume, to not expect a blurb or recommendation from me, etc.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This woman is a TED talk coach.
posted by pinochiette at 5:06 AM on August 15, 2018

Wondering if Dr Michelle Mazur might be the right fit?

Good luck with your talk!
posted by misspettigrew at 6:23 AM on August 15, 2018

Hi! I am a professor who sometimes teaches public speaking. Is there a reason you can't do this on the up-and-up? I think there is a big range between "hiring someone to do this for me" (shady, would need to be anonymous) and "running my speech past a professional to get some pointers and be sure it is in tip-top shape" (totally common among executives, etc). If you are at a university, I would reach out to whoever is teaching public speaking and ask for specific help (with the interactive element, for example). I do think it would be good practice to come up with some "role model" speakers you admire who are able to achieve what seems like a tall order of a completely-engrossing-but-also-scientific- lecture-demo and steal what is working from them. You might also consider talking to theater artists, whose job is literally to engage audiences.
posted by athirstforsalt at 6:27 AM on August 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

I know someone who is a TED talk coach. He lives in the Boston area but works nationally. MeMail me if you would like his contact info.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:30 AM on August 15, 2018

Professional speech writers are totally a thing! All of the ones I’ve met have worked for big companies but you could try doing a little research on LinkedIn to see if anyone with the right credentials comes up.

You might also try searching for best speech awards from your local speechwriting association and see if you click with any of the folks who come up.
posted by forkisbetter at 8:12 AM on August 15, 2018

Freelance writer here! I've done both ghost- and speech-writing and I'd be happy to chat if you'd like to drop me a MefiMail (where I can be more specific). That said, I'm very much a hermit and delivery/coaching really isn't my strong suit, so if you need a one stop shop please ignore! But do drop me a line if you'd like to :)
posted by nthdegx at 8:22 AM on August 15, 2018

A 1-2 hour lecture is a *lot* of content. I'd look for a researcher and a speechwriter to help you assemble this lecture. Literary agencies will have ghostwriters, or know who does.
posted by theora55 at 8:34 AM on August 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

If your campus has a teaching and learning center, you might consider scheduling a consultation with a staff member there. Communicating about your research is essentially a teaching task. Instructional consultants, who often have a background in conducting large workshops, could be especially helpful for brainstorming active learning tasks you can do to engage your audience. Good luck!
posted by dapati at 9:49 AM on August 15, 2018

In my experience, asking anyone who isn't in your very specific field for advice about an academic talk is a recipe for disaster. What gets one hired as a university EOR coach will tank your job talk as an academic in any other field. (On the other hand, giving the best TED talk in history would tank any job talk in my field, so perhaps I'm missing context.)

It's time to phone up all the professors you had a personal relationship in school and all your peers who are in the same field and ask them to review a practice talk. A skype practice presentation is nearly as good as an in-person one.
posted by eotvos at 10:47 AM on August 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

If this is for an academic-style job talk or similar, you could try procuring the services of someone like Karen Kelsky -- this option is also considerably more ethical than a straight-up ghostwriter. 'The difference between "a great talk" and "OMG that was AMAZING" really could mean losing or keeping my job' absolutely describes the space that academic job talk coaches specialise in helping their clients navigate, because that market is brutal as all hell.
posted by halation at 1:19 PM on August 15, 2018

I can highly recommend this coach. She does TED talks as well as different kinds of presentation and communications coaching.
posted by eulily at 1:21 PM on August 15, 2018

In the recent AskMe about how to make a great powerpoint, one of the links recommended spending 30 hours writing, refining, and practicing a 1-hour presentation, if you want the presentation to be absolutely top-notch rather than just OK & decent. Apparently that's the amount of time and effort the best people give their presentations.

Given your parameters I don't know if you'll even have 30 hours lead time, but if for example you'll have something like 2-4 days lead time then I might think about what it would take to clear the decks and spend that entire 2-4 days on writing, refining, and practicing so that you've put your own best foot forward.

That might mean getting someone (or several someones) lined up to cover your classes or other responsibilities for a few days while you put 100% into the writing, refining, and practicing presentation during that time.

Line up other people who are willing to read your presentation text, visual materials, audience involvement ideas, etc, and give feedback, others who are willing to be guinea pig audience members as you present it to them several times over the prep period, then give you constructive feedback, etc etc etc.

In short, rather then getting 'a person' who can just magic-together a presentation for your, consider assembling a team who can create the time for you to do it yourself and also (probably a separate team) to act as a support/feedback group for your writing & practice presentations.
posted by flug at 2:22 PM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

On a related note, Walter Lewin is noted for giving some of the very best interactive academic-type lectures around. But he was also noted for spending many, many, many hours refining and practicing his lectures and demonstrations. This article gives some of the details.

Just one detail noted there--Lewin invariably practiced presenting each of his lectures no fewer than THREE TIMES before actually giving it. For example, when he gave the "last lecture" linked above he had been in the building earlier that morning doing a final run-through in the room--even though this was a lecture he had given many times before, and he had been giving lectures of this type several times a week for decades by that point.

The real pros practice, rehearse, hone, and perfect. They do it every time. They don't just coast along on general ability and knowledge.

That brings me to my next suggestion: You may not know the EXACT subject of your lecture until just before, but surely you know the general subject matter and perhaps you are already giving similar lectures in this subject matter throughout the year or from time to time?

If so, start now by selecting one future lecture, give it the 30-hour treatment, run it by advisors and coaches, give it the rehearsals and refinement, etc. Get it right up to snuff.

With that one done, hopefully presented to a real audience at least once, and filed away for future reference, pick another lecture topic and give it the same treatment. Ideally you'd have 3 or 4 or a half dozen of these highly polished lectures on tap and ready to give at any time.

When the time comes for your make-or-break lecture, if the topic is one you've already prepared or similar, then there you are. But even if not, it's going to be a lot easier preparing the 7th lecture at this quality level than the 1st.
posted by flug at 5:55 PM on August 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

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