How to Write a TED talk

Since the success of my first TED x Talk at the University of Pretoria “Reimagining the Future” event, I have been inundated with questions on how I went about crafting my speech. Although there is by no means a full-proof way of creating a TED x talk, these are a few questions I asked myself that I believe help unlock interesting avenues for innovative speeches:

1 – What is your aim?

In any audience you will always have a mix of supporters and skeptics before you even say a word. One way of navigating this is to explain what the aim of your message is from the onset. In this way you are describing the lens from which you are approaching the topic and in so doing, you invite the audience member on the journey with you. I did this in my opening paragraph:

“ My goal today is to lead a charge on these spaces of assault namely: the gym, our relationships and the issues of division within our very troops.”


2 – What is bothering you?

Although there is much I could have written on in terms of gender inequality in South Africa, and Africa in general, I realised that rattling off statistics on the lack of female CEO’s is not the best way to reach an audience. For the audience members watching, mainly young adults, I needed to keep my examples relevant to this target group. I also needed to be as authentic as possible, and the only way to do this is to use examples out of my own life to build towards an overall message. As I crafted my message, I asked myself how exactly patriarchal beliefs had influenced me in the last day – the last week – the last month. What incidents can I name as examples? How did I feel in those moments? What underlying societal dynamics caused these moments? What themes are apparent?

3 – How does this manifest in society as a whole?

Once you have established how this issue has inserted itself into the narrative of your life, it is time to take it a little broader. Have friends of yours experienced the same phenomenon? What is currently happening in your industry, friendship group or business sphere which shouldn’t be happening? Alternatively, what is not happening that should be happening?


4 – What research is there to back it up?

As much as a TED x Talk is based on your insights and opinions, having research to add credibility to the points you mention helps further validate your experiences.

5 – Who might feel excluded?

Whenever debates on feminism occur in the media sphere there is often a women versus men narrative that I wanted to avoid. In my speech I wanted to ensure that being pro-women, does not mean being against men. From the onset of my speech I therefore sought to ensure that men were not excluded from the conversation and that they realised that their efforts were just as appreciated and necessary in helping advance the spaces women occupy. In the opening paragraph I, for example, note: “this assault is not simply a case of male versus female-the battle being far more complex than that. This prohibits a direct confrontation, as the “enemy” cannot be clearly defined and subsequently, detected.” Later in the speech when I discuss relationships, I further note that “within battle, your allies are often your greatest asset. Our allies in this fight include both men and women.”


6 – Who might feel attacked by your talk?

Any TED x talk is driven by a desire to offer a solution, and in so doing, a problem or problematic party, is naturally identified. An aggressive attack on any party is neither educational nor entertaining to the audience member. As much as one should not back away from the core argument, always ensure that you are clarifying your stance and softening the blow on certain issues so that a spirit of collaboration persists throughout the talk.

I did this in the section where I debated the pros and cons of society’s emphasis on perfection: “Don’t get me wrong, there is a great importance for looking after one’s health, as facilitated by the construct of the gym. However, the liberating feeling of asserting your strength on a punching bag, is lost in the irony that women should get strong – just not too strong where your muscles start to threaten that of the male gaze; have a taught stomach, but do not let your six-pack straighten out the hour-glass curve leading to your hips – this would make you, unwomanly – gasp.”

7 – How is your talk relevant to the overall event theme?

Every TED x event has an overarching theme. The University of Pretoria used the umbrella statement “reimagining the future.” In ending off your talk ensure that you position it within this theme. I, for example, stated: “As I dare to reinvent the future, what is my rally cry? My charge to you. Is that regardless of rank or standing, age or creed, you take up the button of feminism in the various spaces we women occupy, however you choose to define the term of feminism. In the fight for equality, surrender is a luxury us women cannot permit ourselves.”

8 – How do you get selected to be a TED x speaker?

The key is to be an expert in your field. Being interested or even well-read in an area is not enough unless you have a credible position from which to speak your truth. Due to my experience in modelling as the youngest ever Miss SA Teen in 2010, a 2016 Miss South Africa finalist and a working model at ICE models, I was able to touch on areas concerning this industry. My standing as the founding Chairperson of the Businesswomen’s Association Student Chapter gave me authority to speak on other ways that women are negatively affected by gender inequality. My published articles on numerous local and international news sights (see below) further indicated that I was passionate about gender equality – but also that I was willing to speak out about it. Whether it be through a blog, journal articles, or your social media, ensure that there is digital proof of your relevance to the topic so that the TED x organisers’ see a value in adding you to their programme.

See the full talk here:


bye for now


Published by Mikaela Oosthuizen

Instagram: @mikaelaoosthuizen Twitter: @smilemikaela Miss South Africa 2016 Finalist BA Media Communication and Culture student Miss SA Teen 2010 (youngest ever title holder and first from Port Elizabeth)

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