Courtney Spence on How Giving TED Talk Improves Public Speaking

In Chapter 1 of 19 in her 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, non-profit executive Courtney Spence answers "What Did Giving a TED Talk Teach You About More Effectively Telling Your Story?"  The preparation process for her TEDxPeachtree talk in Atlanta teaches Spence to separate her story from her organization and focus on identifying core values and believes.  Spence discusses how she then was able to create a narrative arc to more effectively tell her story in the TED Talk time constraints.  Courtney Spence returns to Capture Your Flag for her Year 3 interview.  As Founder and Executive Director, Spence leads non-profit Students of the World to empower college students to use film, photography, and journalism to tell stories of global issues and the organizations working to address them.  Spence graduated with a BA in History from Duke University.


Erik Michielsen: What did giving a TED talk teach you about more effectively telling your story?

Courtney Spence: I was honored to give a TED talk in Atlanta in November. And I had a few months to prepare for it. I think the great challenge was for me not using notes. As a public speaker, I tend to always speak with notes of some capacity, whether it’s the actual speech written out or just some sort of bullet points. So it really challenged me to come up with a very effective narrative arc that would make sense for me as I was actually giving the speech. So it wasn’t that I had notes to refer to but the story really kind of followed into a path that would make it easy for me to deliver it and easy for me to communicate it. I also had a very strict limit of time and wanted to really incorporate media elements as a part of my speech and so it was also challenging because the kind of, the number one rule was that you couldn’t talk about what you did. Like you couldn’t talk about your organization for more than just setting up what it was that you were going to be speaking about.

So, you know, I was talking about the transformative power of storytelling in areas that are going through recovery from massive situations whether it’s Haiti or New Orleans. These are experiences that I’ve had through my organization but haven’t – but wasn’t able to talk about Students of the World. So it was really – it was a really wonderful challenge because I recognized that when I often speak, I often speak about Students of the World, so this was really more about what do I believe in? What has Students of the World taught me? What do I think is a really important message that needs to be conveyed? And for me that I feel so passionate about places like New Orleans and Northern Uganda and Haiti, and the need for the continuous storytelling to come from these areas that have gone through earth-shattering, literally earth-shattering disasters, either man-made or environmentally made. So it was really – it was a nice opportunity to force me to really dig deep and figure out what I believe and how to communicate that effectively. And it was wonderful.