Behind the scenes of a TEDx talk

TEDX Ladybirdlake Anna Blanch Rabe radical generosityTED stands for Technology, Education, and Design. TEDx are independently run, community & grassroots organized, but are still licensed by the TED organization. TED talk is a descriptive for the types of talks that are given at these events.

Speaking at TEDx has been on my bucket list for some time, but I was incredibly excited to be able to cross it off the list in early May.

The rules for TEDx talks are the same as for TED talks. The talk can be no more than 17 minutes long, which is about the point a talk or concept turns into a lecture. You can no longer have a teleprompter and generally speaking, you will be mic’ed up as a handheld microphone is now very rarely permitted for speakers.

So how does this compare to other speaking situations?

I was a finalist in the Patriot Boot Camp pitch competition earlier this year, discussing a legal information delivery platform that is in the start-up phase. While I have spoken at dozens of conferences, this pitch competition was one of the most daunting public speaking experiences of my career.

The TEDx experience isn’t a quick one. The selection process can take months. You may be required to submit increasingly detailed outlines, video submissions, and slides ahead of the talk itself.

For TEDx LadyBirdLake, I submitted an initial written proposal with a very short video. Then, I was invited to submit a longer video which was shared by the event organizers as one of the semi-finalists. Here is my semi-finalist video:

The challenge was for each potential speaker to encourage their communities to like and comment on the video. I was so grateful to my community for their support – I am certain it helped me feel like my talk was one that they wanted to hear. But how they ended up choosing the final talks is not something I can speak to! There were after all many more semifinalists than those who were chosen to speak.

Leading up to the event, I watched some great TED talks, and prepared my slides based on the format provided – this is essential for the talk to be uploaded to the main TED website. I have been watching and enjoying TED talks for more than 5 years – my now husband and I used to watch them and talk about them when we were dating long-distance. About 1 month out, I stopped watching other people’s talks – it’s too easy for me to turn from speaking my own story to performing based on the style of other speakers. I focused on practicing as much as I could.

I have long practiced in front of a mirror – this goes back to debating and public speaking in high school and practising arguments and presentations in law school. I returned to that habit. I recognised that breathing and speaking exercises would be helpful. This is a sprint – You want to speak as clearly as possible, and breathe well!

I also realised that for me, note cards are helpful. While many people speaking on the TED stage don’t use notes, I know that they work well as a additional layer of security for me – I wanted to focus on connecting with the audience not remembering my talk word for word. The notes provide a stepping off point – they also help me stay on track time wise. I love talking about radical generosity – and I can talk about it for hours!

I only practiced in front of someone else once before the event itself. While it would have been great to have a bunch of friends around to practice with them in advance, but frankly, nerves rose up more than i have experienced before. I felt more confident practising alone. I did, however, practice wearing the shoes I was planning on wearing for the day. This is essential for me, for two reasons, firstly to feel grounded in them, and secondly, to make sure I feel comfortable in them walking around!

I flew into Austin the afternoon before the event. I wanted to feel settled and not worried about flight delays. I ate an early dinner, drank lots of water, and tried to go to bed early. I practiced a couple of times in the evening and then left it.

I woke up early, ate a good breakfast and headed to the event. I can’t emphasise how important it is to fuel properly for an event like this. Yes, you are speaking for 17 minutes, but if you’re like me and you find events overwhelming then it can be more tiring than it might first seem.

What happens behind the scenes day of TEDx is going to depend on your organizing team. The Tedx LadyBirdLake team ran the event like a well-oiled military exercise. Timings and precision were the order of the day, but so was an extraordinary level of care. The military exercise description is absolutely apt – most of the event staff and organizing team were military veterans. It was absolutely wonderful to feel so welcomed and at home with them.

As soon as I arrived in the morning – they will give you an arrival time (stick to it!) – we did a mic check. You may be able to do it before, but as i wasn’t local we did it first thing in the morning. The headworn mic needed to be clipped and as I was wearing a dress, I was grateful for the assistance of a couple of the female volunteers who could clip it and then zip up my dress.

I was in the first group of speakers for the day and I was so grateful to be able to get up there and get it done. I appreciated that this event didn’t use spot lights which meant that I could make eye contact with the audience. This helps me gauge how I am connecting with those present – I know that it is also visible on camera. I like to move around a little while speaking so I did do some walking while on stage – from red dot to red dot.

Once I walked off the stage, I felt both relieved and overwhelmed. I sat in the green room for quite a while after my session was completed – soaking it in, and chatting to some of the other speakers. The organizing team took amazing care of us and I will always be appreciative of their kindness.

It was only a couple of days after the event that I felt like my talk had made a difference to at least one person in the room – this is the goal by the way, to make a difference to one person in the room. I received an email from an attendee speaking of the way in which my talk was the one in which he took away his “big idea.” It wasn’t just flattery – it was exactly the point of my TEDx talk – to inspire others that there are ways of doing business, and running non profits that allow for sustainable revenue models and radical generosity.

Note to self: Write an email to the next speaker who moves or inspires me!

By all means, apply to speak at a TEDx event. But be aware, this is not your usual public speaking engagement.