I am glad to report there is one thing I was able to cross off my bucket list as of last night – doing a TEDx talk on stage. It is now the following morning and as I sit here sipping my coffee watching my dogs eat their breakfast, it just hit me. I did it! Now what do I do?
I’ll tell you what I do. I need to do exactly what I tell my students to do after every presentation. Take some time and reflect on the experience and think about what you learned. So, here are some lessons learned from my first date with TED:
- Do the groundwork. This would not have happened if I had not submitted the application in the first place. Speaking at a TEDx event has been on my radar for a couple of years now. It wasn’t until January 2017 I started taking the concrete steps necessary to make this dream a reality. I joined a TEDx group on Facebook and used a spreadsheet to track events I identified from the TED.com website as possible speaking opportunities and I started applying. I was told “no,” so I applied again.
- Be flexible with your idea and be open to suggestions. Just because you believe your idea is worth sharing doesn’t mean the event coordinators will. If they see potential, they might contact you and ask for an interview. This is what happened in my case. I had to explain how my topic connected with the overall theme of the event and I had to show I could explain it in a concise and clear manner.
- Be ready for some tough love. Getting feedback is a part of the public speaking process. The speakers met a couple of times to present rough drafts of their presentations to the whole group. We were all assigned coaches, so that helped a lot. There’s something about presenting in front of a group of professionals whose sole purpose is to look for ways to make your speech better. They will be blunt and they will be particular with the feedback concerning everything from the idea itself to the order of the speech points to the words you choose to use and to your delivery style. I know for a fact their feedback made my speech better.
- If you thought you practiced enough, you haven’t. I’ll write another blog about this particular lesson learned. In retrospect, there are many things I would do differently to better prepare for the talk. Some of those observations include simplifying the speech to include the content of the speech as well as the slides. This particular lesson is deserving of its own blog post, so stay tuned. I plan to do a complete analysis when the video is released.
- Be in the moment and enjoy the connections you're making. This is a great opportunity to network and meet professionals in a variety of fields. I’m humbled to have been included in such a wonderfully diverse and talented group of speakers. I plan to keep in contact with as many of them as possible. I found them to be inspiring and full of great ideas and advice. My biggest regret is not making them take selfies with me.
- Learn to accept a compliment. This is probably the most difficult for me. I know exactly where I messed up in the speech and I know exactly what I could have done better. I even tell my students the most important part of the speech is the message. As long as the audience remembers the overall message, you’ve done your job. I had several audience members approach me after my talk to tell me they loved it and even had a couple of them ask me if I’d be willing to come to their place of work and do a talk. But the whole time they were telling me how much they liked my presentation, I was thinking about all the things that could have been better. There is a time and place for reflection and working on improving the speech, but while members of the audience are telling you how much they liked it is not the time. Enjoy the moment and express your heartfelt gratitude that someone connected with your message.
- Planning your outfit is stressful. I found myself going to department store after department store looking for the “perfect” outfit. I wasted hours of my time trying on clothes and getting mad at myself for skipping out on the gym. Rather than finding the perfect outfit for the event, I did manage to find a few cute shirts and some new slacks I could wear to work. I guess all wasn’t lost. A few days before the event, I actually Googled “what to wear for a TED Talk” and found a few articles had been written on the subject. I wasn’t alone! Apparently, many speakers stressed out over the same thing so I was relieved to know I wasn’t weird. The best advice I read was to be yourself. You want to be comfortable and feel like yourself during the talk. It made total sense! So, I picked an outfit I would normally wear to class to teach. Professional and comfortable.
- Learn to say no to other opportunities and focus on this one. After I had already been invited to speak at this event, I noticed another event very close to home had announced it was accepting applications for speakers. I was so excited, I started the application process. While answering some of the application questions, it dawned on me I needed to be using that time to complete the task at hand. I already had a talk booked! Get through this experience completely and see what happens. I might love it; I might hate it. I would no doubt learn from it. Stay the course. I’m so glad I made that decision because now I know I definitely do want to do another talk and other opportunities will present themselves as long as I keep looking for them.
Having a date with TED is an exhilarating and exhausting experience. Everything from applying to an event to picking the outfit is emotionally draining, but it is so well worth it. If I had to do it all over again I absolutely would! I hope to get the chance. As a matter of fact, I’m pulling out the spreadsheet and starting the process all over.