Hello TED. It was good to meet you!
As a reluctant communicator, I had a few goals in life. Like an artist or author, there are certain “marks” that mean a lot as you see your hard work pay off.
TED Talks are one of these. Personally, I love the entire concept of TED; they are quick, powerful and inspirational. I’ve watched dozens of talks through the years.
For anyone who has a message, a passion, a story that they want to spread — TED gives you that opportunity. As a communicator, you hope to inspire the audience at the event; as a leader, you hope to inspire the world through the video that is released after the talk.
You have to plan a message for both realities.
A few months ago, I was invited to speak at TEDx Raleigh. It was the best of both worlds for me, since I live in Raleigh.
Of course, I accepted and it was on. I was under the gun to create a new, 18 minute message. Of course, it must be delivered without the aid of notes on stage and it must be an “idea worth spreading”, a talk filled with a mixture of stories, data and solutions to the problem.
The Planning Stage
I’m ABSOLUTELY convinced that greatness comes through planning and preparation. The greatest speeches were well conceived, rehearsed and delivered. They were not accidents.
After I accepted the invitation, I immediately begin to plan. I cleared my schedule quickly so I would have time to focus.
They did a great job!
I immediately begin to read multiple books by Nancy Duarte; they were VERY helpful.
I also reached out to Eric, Deidra and Kristen, who have all spoken at TEDx events within the last year. They put this entire process into perspective as they all communicated the same thing: they were worked hard, had to deal with nerves, and loved the opportunity to speak at TED.
After the initial planning, I went through weeks of pure agony. I only had 7 weeks from the time I accepted to the time I had to speak. Of course, four of those seven weeks, I had to travel. Time was not on my side.
Finally after many iterations, I landed on the message idea, content and flow. Let me share some key advice: Your talk MUST be authentic. Don’t try to be someone you’re not, or else you will fail.
I set up two practices events. One was a private, invite-only event at Raleigh Coffee Company. The other was an advanced toastmasters group; of course, most of that group is filled with professional speakers.
I wanted to do a few “live” practices before the actual event. Both of these practices were rough, but I was able to solicit some amazing feedback that was SO helpful.
The Day of the event
I woke up at 4AM. My talk was scheduled for 11AM, but I had to be at the event by 9:30AM. I rehearsed my talk two times that morning. I also tried to visualize EVERYTHING. I walked through all aspects of the day. Of course, I always listen to Muse before I do live talks. Their music gives me energy and helps me to focus and drown out all the noise and distractions.
I ate a very simple, clean breakfast and drank lots of lukewarm water (avoiding cold or hot), and I sucked lemon throat lozenges to avoid dry mouth.
I also made sure that I had backups of my presentation via dropbox and a thumb drive.
Now, I’ve been very focused on this event all week and I had to definitely deal with some nerves along the way, but as for the day of the event, I had zero nerves. I felt like I had command of the topic, structure, stories and flow. I also knew, that at this point, it was what it was — improvement was impossible. I had to trust that the 100 hours of preparation, planning, and practice would pay off on game day.
And I think that it did. I received some incredible feedback after the talk and multiple emails as well. No doubt, I’m sure that I made plenty of mistakes. When I get the video, I may retract these statements. I guess we will see.
Here’s some data that may be helpful if you have to give a TED Talk or any important talk soon.
Hours: I would say I spent a good 70-100 hours on the talk.
Practice: I practiced 15-20 times in my home office to work through flow, presentation and to memorize key words to trigger the CLICK for my slides. I used Keynote and practiced with my remote in presentation view, and I also practiced in normal view WITHOUT any slides. I wanted to make sure I had mastered the flow and I wanted to be ready for any tech issues the day of the event.
Practice Live Events: Two events. Again, these were key in getting myself ready for the actual event as well as garnering valuable feedback that I was able to incorporate before my Tedx talk.
Let me conclude with this: when you stand before a group of people, they’re giving you their time. You have an opportunity to inspire them, share your story and activate them to care about what you care about.
Live presentations are big impact opportunities, so prepare well and do the necessary work that is needed. And, when it’s all over, you can rest and be at peace that you did everything in your power to deliver the best possible talk and the rest is out of your control.
Work hard, enjoy the moment and the rest is history.