People have been asking me lately, what’s it like to do a TEDx talk?
Easy to say that now, but if you had asked me an hour before the talk, I might have told you it’s the most nerve-wracking thing you could ever subject yourself to.
Here’s why. In just ten minutes, three months’ worth of hard work will either go very well, or very badly. There is no safety net when you do a TEDx talk. No teleprompter, no lectern, no notes. It’s just you, the red carpet and thousands of viewers, in person and online. Live.
For a guy who’s accustomed to being on the other side of the camera, that was going pretty far outside my comfort zone.
Here’s why I did it: I believe that Personalized Video has the potential to fundamentally improve the way we engage with people online. It is an “idea worth sharing,” and there is no better way to share it than by doing a TEDx talk. There was a personal reason too. This was an opportunity (a challenge, really) to become a better, more confident public speaker.
So when TEDxWilmington invited me to speak at their annual conference on August 16, I said yes. What I didn’t realize then, was how much work it would entail. First, the required reading: Chris Anderson’s book “The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking” (highly recommended by the way,) numerous articles about how to present effectively, how to memorize your talk, what to wear. The TED playlists: dozens of exemplary TED talks, by many of the best speakers on the planet. And every week there were different deadlines: An outline of my talk, first draft of the speech, first draft of the PowerPoint deck, run-through on video, you name it. With feedback from the TEDx “Tribe” at every step. I pretty much spent the summer of 2017 preparing for my TEDx talk.
That was a good thing. Because it forces you to think things through very carefully. And to be prepared.
One of the other speakers (a veteran of national politics) told me it was the hardest thing she’d ever done.
I can’t tell you how many times I walked along 15th Street beach in Avalon, rehearsing my talk. I’m sure people thought there was something seriously wrong with me.
We had a rehearsal the day before the event. It went in the order of the actual program, so I was one of the last speakers. Thus I had the extreme disadvantage of hearing all the excellent, polished, experienced speakers who went before me. When it was my turn, I stepped on stage, heart pounding. The calming techniques I had learned served me well and I managed to get through my talk reasonably intact. The main criticisms afterwards were that I was not dynamic enough, and didn’t smile enough. Of course not, I was terrified.
The next day was the real thing, and I arrived reasonably confident, wearing a new outfit I had gotten the weekend before at Macy’s. You really know who your friends are when they plunk down $100 for a ticket and give up a whole day in order to support you. So it was wonderful to see them in the audience. As the talks began, I sneaked backstage a couple times to see what was going on. There is a queue of speakers on deck. First, you get mic’d up. Then you go into makeup. Then you wait in a holding area, where the truly wonderful members of the Tribe do their best to keep things light. I watched a few talks from backstage. Everyone did really well, and the audience was tremendous.
At one point, I found an empty room on the third floor of the Queen Theater. I stood there and ran though my talk, looking out at the city of Wilmington. For some reason, I thought of my parents, and wondered what they would have thought of this. And I started to cry. It’s funny, the things you think of at times like that.
And then it was time to go on. Ajit George, the TEDx organizer, introduced me in his gracious, personable way. I took a deep breath and stepped on stage with the biggest smile I could muster. I locked onto the table that my wife and kids were at, and started. My brain and mouth were pretty much on auto pilot at that point. Up until the video.
About two-thirds of the way through my talk, I showed a sample Personalized Video. It was 90 seconds long and do you know what? As it was playing, I completely blanked on what I would say next. Words escaped me, words that I had practiced probably 200 times. That was a scary moment. As the video was finishing, I thought about that room on the third floor and suddenly the words came rushing back to me. I finished the talk, people applauded and it was over.
As I came off stage, I was ushered into the green room for a quick video interview. One of the questions was, what should people know about doing a TEDx talk? My answer was that you’d better be passionate about your subject, because you’re going to be living it 24-7 for the next three months. And right then, my kids (who had sneaked backstage) burst through the door, busting the take. Which was perfect.
I am grateful to have been given this remarkable opportunity. If you get the chance, go for it.
P.S. My talk will be online this fall. I’ll post when it’s available.