Tamsen Webster
“How to Bridge a Mental Gap”
Bridge Builder
Thursday November 2nd 2017
The Mill Auditorium  MORE INFO

“Can you make it more specific?”

“…without adding time?”

I know, I know. I put myself in this situation: I’m the one who, at my “home” event of TEDxCambridge, is usually giving feedback to the speakers. Now it’s my turn to get it. That isn’t easy.

Not because I don’t welcome the feedback. I do. No one can be truly objective about their own work. But TEDx talks are special beasts, constrained as they are by both time and expectations. They do need to be specific…but also universal enough to apply to a broad audience. They also need to be short, both for the sake of an audience sitting through a marathon of speakers and ideas, but also to help the speakers themselves focus their thinking.

So the most recent round of feedback from TEDxWilmington gave me a challenge to wrestle with: How could I be more specific without adding time?

The techniques for that are fairly straightforward, even if implementing them means killing some darlings, to paraphrase the author William Faulkner:

  • Substitute examples for explanations. Don’t tell the audience something, show them.
  • Write to a word count. Based on my work, I’ve discovered that 135 – 150 words per minute is the magic number. That means a 10-minute talk is a scant 135 – 1500 words. Writing to that word count helps make it easier to scrap unnecessary asides, filler words (really, very, just, etc.), and non-critical points. It forces you to simplify, simplify, simplify.
  • Speaking of which, kill what isn’t core to the idea. In a longer talk, there’s time to bring in interesting facts and longer explanations. Not here. If it doesn’t directly advance the idea, or the audience’s understanding of it, it goes.

Is it there yet? Almost. The concepts are, as are most of the phrasing I want – and importantly, I hit my word count! Now a new challenge begins: rehearsing it until I find the best and most natural language…while keeping the specificity…and without adding time. Onward!


Part “idea whisperer,” part message strategist, and part presentation coach, Tamsen Webster helps people and organizations like Verizon, State Street Bank, Ericsson, Johnson & Johnson, and Disney find and communicate the power of their ideas. She is the Executive Producer of TEDxCambridge, one of the oldest and largest locally organized “TED talk” events in the world. READ MORE

2nd Annual TEDxWilmington Women :: Bridge Builder :: Thursday Nov. 2nd 2017 :: The Mill Auditorium ::  MORE INFO