The Anatomy of a TED Talk: Susan David’s “The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage”

The Anatomy of a TED Talk: Susan David’s “The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage”

The Anatomy of a TED Talk - Susan David

Are you allowed to feel what you feel?

In this talk, Psychologist Susan David, shares that the radical acceptance of all of our emotions — even the messy, difficult ones — is the cornerstone to resilience, thriving, and true, authentic happiness.

“Courage is fear walking,” says Psychologist Susan David, challenging her audience to embrace their true emotions. 

A while back, I introduced you to the FRAMEWORK we use with our clients to create their talks. It breaks down the presentation into different key elements that contribute to an overall great talk. This is NOT A FORMULA –  it’s a simple framework– the box which holds the sand– so that you can create your unique, authentic talk!

This framework has helped people write TED-style talks, keynote speeches, 5-minute pitches as well as full day-long workshops. It can be adapted to the context of your presentation while guiding you to cover the most important elements for effectively connecting with your audience.

So let’s take a look at how Susan’s powerful talk lines up with the framework!




Susan begins her talk with a hint about her background and an invitation to learn:


MINUTE 00:11 “In South Africa, where I come from, “sawubona” is the Zulu word for “hello.””




MINUTE 00:11But what does it take in the way we see ourselves? Our thoughts, our emotions and our stories that help us to thrive in an increasingly complex and fraught world? 


MINUTE 00:42This crucial question has been at the center of my life’s work. Because how we deal with our inner world drives everything. Every aspect of how we love, how we live, how we parent and how we lead. The conventional view of emotions as good or bad, positive or negative, is rigid. And rigidity in the face of complexity is toxic. We need greater levels of emotional agility for true resilience and thriving.” 




MINUTE 01:14  My journey with this calling began not in the hallowed halls of a university, but in the messy, tender business of life. I grew up in the white suburbs of apartheid South Africa, a country and community committed to not seeing.”


MINUTE 01:53 “My father died on a Friday. He was 42 years old and I was 15. My mother whispered to me to go and say goodbye to my father before I went to school.”




MINUTE 03:30  “But one person did not buy into my story of triumph over grief. My eighth-grade English teacher fixed me with burning blue eyes as she handed out blank notebooks. She said, “Write what you’re feeling. Tell the truth. Write like nobody’s reading.” And just like that, I was invited to show up authentically to my grief and pain.


MINUTE 04:29 Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility. We are young until we are not. We walk down the streets sexy until one day we realize that we are unseen. We nag our children and one day realize that there is silence where that child once was, now making his or her way in the world. We are healthy until a diagnosis brings us to our knees. The only certainty is uncertainty, and yet we are not navigating this frailty successfully or sustainably.


MINUTE 05:55In a survey I recently conducted with over 70,000 people, I found that a third of us — a third — either judge ourselves for having so-called “bad emotions,” like sadness, anger or even grief. Or actively try to push aside these feelings. We do this not only to ourselves, but also to people we love, like our children — we may inadvertently shame them out of emotions seen as negative, jump to a solution, and fail to help them to see these emotions as inherently valuable.”


MINUTE 08:01 “Research on emotional suppression shows that when emotions are pushed aside or ignored, they get stronger. Psychologists call this amplification. Like that delicious chocolate cake in the refrigerator — the more you try to ignore it …  the greater its hold on you. You might think you’re in control of unwanted emotions when you ignore them, but in fact they control you. Internal pain always comes out. Always. And who pays the price? We do. Our children, our colleagues, our communities.”




MINUTE 10:31So, how do we begin to dismantle rigidity and embrace emotional agility? As that young schoolgirl, when I leaned into those blank pages, I started to do away with feelings of what I should be experiencing. And instead started to open my heart to what I did feel. Pain. And grief. And loss. And regret.




MINUTE 11:01When we label our emotions accurately, we are more able to discern the precise cause of our feelings. And what scientists call the readiness potential in our brain is activated, allowing us to take concrete steps. But not just any steps — the right steps for us. Because our emotions are data.


MINUTE 12:33But there’s an important caveat. Emotions are data, they are not directives. We can show up to and mine our emotions for their values without needing to listen to them. Just like I can show up to my son in his frustration with his baby sister — but not endorse his idea that he gets to give her away to the first stranger he sees in a shopping mall.” 


MINUTE 12:56We own our emotions, they don’t own us. When we internalize the difference between how I feel in all my wisdom and what I do in a values-aligned action, we generate the pathway to our best selves via our emotions.” 




MINUTE 13:59 In my research, when I looked at what helps people to bring the best of themselves to work, I found a powerful key contributor: individualized consideration. When people are allowed to feel their emotional truth, engagement, creativity and innovation flourish in the organization. Diversity isn’t just people, it’s also what’s inside people. Including diversity of emotion. The most agile, resilient individuals, teams, organizations, families, communities are built on an openness to the normal human emotions. It’s this that allows us to say, “What is my emotion telling me?” “Which action will bring me towards my values?” “Which will take me away from my values?” Emotional agility is the ability to be with your emotions with curiosity, compassion, and especially the courage to take values-connected steps.


MINUTE 14:59But when our moment comes to face our fragility, in that ultimate time, it will ask us, “Are you agile?” “Are you agile?” Let the moment be an unreserved “yes.” A “yes” born of a lifelong correspondence with your own heart. And in seeing yourself. Because in seeing yourself, you are also able to see others, too: the only sustainable way forward in a fragile, beautiful world. Sawubona.” 


If you are saying to yourself… easier said than done, this formula looks great, BUT not sure how it can work for you, then download the 7 STEPS TO WRITE YOUR TALK framework and let me walk you through it. DOWNLOAD NOW 


In Clarity,




Dolores Hirschmann is an internationally recognized strategist, Clarity coach, TEDxOrganizer, Speaker & Author. She has over 20 years experience helping entrepreneurs, companies & organizations realize their potential—by guiding them to CLARITY—to define their CORE IDEA, message and market strategy needed to reach their next level of growth. As a Speaker Coach Dolores guides speakers to go from successful professionals to thought leaders in their field. If you would like to learn more visit: or download her free resource “STAND OUT THE TED WAY”
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