Public Speaking Lessons from Candy Chang

Although talking about death is generally considered taboo, this TED talk from Candy Chang, titled, Before I Die, I Want To… was an inspiration. She explained  the powerful way that death clarifies life and through her art, she wanted to bring that same clarity to her local community.  So what are the public speaking lessons we can learn from this motivational talk by Candy Chang?

Candy’s pauses are powerful.

Many speakers rush through talks particularly when they are nervous and don’t allow enough time for the spaces in-between the words. Her pauses allow the audience to pause during the speech, which is EXACTLY the main message of her work!

She wants us to pause our busy daily lives to think about the bigger picture.

In addition, her  pauses act to add more “weight” and seriousness to the entire talk while at the same time giving the audience time to soak in her messages. This was an extremely effective method of communicating this particularly topic.  I wonder if she chose to do that on purpose or it was simply a natural extension of her personality? Either way, it was an effective method of using vocal variety to enhance her message. Body Gestures

If I could talk directly to Candy, to help her message be even more powerful and moving, I would suggest she use her body more purposefully. She stood still or rocked back an forth slightly at times, which conveyed either nervousness or grief.

I would have counseled her to use the stage more effectively by choosing different areas on the stage for each of the segments of her talk,  starting and ending much closer to the audience. In addition, I noticed her looking down at floor of the stage (perhaps at monitors?) which was distracting because it broke the connection with the audience.  Again, her message was about communities connecting and the breaks in eye contact did not support her message.

Her Emotional Breakdown

Talking about the death of someone that was close to you is extremely difficult to do on stage.  Emotions of the speaker are heightened while on stage so, at times, it can be quite difficult to speak.  In her case, sharing her experience of this death was critical to the talk and needed to be shared.  

I would have suggested she practice that particular section more than any other part of the talk so that she was able to deliver it with confidence (but not without emotion). 

Overall I enjoyed the talk because I experienced a similar feeling when I lost my late husband John.  His death brought clarity to my life and I understand her desire to help others see death, not as taboo, but as a way to celebrate and reinvigorate our lives.

I thought our community here could also participate in her work by answering her question in the comments.  

Before I die, I want to…

I’ll start.  

Before I die, I want to…reassure my children and husband that I love them with all my heart and that I am proud of them! 

There are 4 comments .

Stuart —

Hi Lisa

You are one of my heros. I loved your lessons on Candy’s TED talk. However, I felt that when she broke down and sobbed, that did not take away from her message, but instead made it even more real because it strongly connects with the audience. It would have been terrible if she had laughed at that monent. But for her to cry was an emotional bundle worth the moment. But I could be wrong.


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    Lisa B. Marshall —


    Just to clarify…I felt like she was able to pull it together in just the nick of time. If she had she gone a moment or two longer it would have been too much. My advice to her (and to others who will share something deeply emotional and possibly painful) is simply to practice that section in a variety of situations many, many times, so you aren’t caught off-guard by the flood of emotions.

    After my late husband’s death, I was often asked to speak. John and I were active in our community and regularly delivered speeches and made TV appearances. It was almost impossible for me to continue with those speeches for some period of time because it was just too difficult to experience the emotion on stage. My council for Candy and others, is to give yourself time to heal–pause–then practice (alot) so you are able to share your important messages – not without emotion, but in control of the emotion you want to express.

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      Paul —

      I enjoyed her presentation. You are correct in that she stood a bit too still but it could have been the gravity of her topic or that she was positioned in front of the monitors. But even though she did appear to be a practiced speaker, she spoke from the heart and delivered a powerful message. Her sincerity and emotion that came across was very forgiving from my view.

      Reply »
        Lisa B. Marshall —


        I agree the gravity of her topic required her to be planted in a spot –however, it’s always good to find the natural breaks in presentations and use them to move to another position on stage. It gives the audience a visual break and also helps to highlight important transitions.

        Also I am in 100% agreement that when you allow yourself to be vulnerable and be authentic on stage you are giving a big gift to your audience and this gift overpowers any small “mistakes” someone might make. Whenever someone asks me the ONE most important thing they can do to be a better speaker, I always say, trust your instincts and allow yourself to be authentic in your communication while you deliver the talk. If you can succeed at that you will win the hearts of the audience.

        Reply »

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